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Human Rights Advocates Gather to Declare ‘emergency’ in Russia

More than 1,000 activists from across Russia gathered here over the weekend to declare a national human rights “emergency.”

But many Jewish leaders, objecting to the gathering’s anti-Kremlin tone, stayed away.

Speakers at the two-day Emergency Congress in Defense of Human Rights, sponsored by the liberal Yabloko Party and some U.S. foundations, denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war in Chechnya, as well as alleged human rights violations and encroachments on freedom of the press.

Grigory Yavlinsky, the Yabloko leader who attracted a large number of Jewish voters in Russia’s last presidential elections, said there is a clear totalitarian tendency in Russian society, which he said threatens the constitution.

The congress, organized by former dissidents, including Yelena Bonner, the widow of former political prisoner Andrei Sakharov, was militantly anti- Kremlin, which was the reason many Jewish organizations preferred to stay away.

Alexander Axelrod, who works in the Moscow office of the Anti-Defamation League, said he did not take part in the congress because he considers the anti-government stance of its organizers unproductive.

But Leonid Stonov, a former Soviet refusenik who now works for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, used the congress to draw attention to what he called a disturbingly high level of xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Russia during the last two years of the former President Boris Yeltsin’s term and in the first year of Putin’s.

According to a report by the UCSJ, “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions: 1999-2000,” anti-Semitism remains a bellwether for Russia’s civil society and its view of democracy.

While the most violent incidents declined in 2000, Jews continue to face hatred in several regions, as local officials have allied themselves with anti-Semitic elements within Communist, neo-Nazi, Russian Orthodox and other groups.

These forces act with near complete impunity, sending the message that neither the central nor local governments will adequately protect Russian Jews, said the report.

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