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Russian Parliament Under Fire for Failing to Censure Extremist

November 9, 1998
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The lower house of Russia’s Parliament is facing accusations of fueling anti-Semitism after it rejected a resolution criticizing a Communist lawmaker for anti-Jewish remarks he made last month.

President Boris Yeltsin criticized the Duma, saying he was “indignant” at the rejection of the motion to censure Gen. Albert Makashov, who recently said, among other things, that “it is time to expel all yids from Russia.”

“Extremism will not take the upper hand in Russia,” Yeltsin said in a statement.

In fact, Makashov is not alone in blaming the Jews for Russia’s economic hardships. Anti-Jewish banners were evident at two rallies that drew 20,000 people over the weekend to mark the 81st anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

The rejected motion, which did not criticize Makashov directly, said his comments were “harsh and bordering on rude” and had provoked concern across society. It fell far short of receiving the 226 votes it would have needed for passage in the Duma.

Pyotr Shelisch, a Jewish member of the Duma, said it was “important that the vote did take place showing where the Communists stand” on the issue of anti- Semitism.

Boris Berezovsky, a Jewish tycoon, went so far as to call for the banning of the Communist Party, the main opposition party in the Parliament.

The debate in the Duma received unusually extensive coverage in the Russian mass media.

One television channel, NTV, called Nov. 5 a “black day” for Russian Communists who showed their worth when they “trampled on multiethnic Russia.”

In Washington, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry commended Yeltsin for his remarks, but also called for further action.

“It is time to look for ways to make fundamental changes in how the Russian people and Russian leadership think of their fellow Jewish citizens,” Mark Levin, executive director of the NCSJ, said in a telephone interview. “Now is the time to dig out the root of systemic anti-Semitism that exists in Russia. It needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand.”

Russian state prosecutors had said they were considering bringing criminal charges against Makashov, and the Communists had said they would dissociate itself from his statements.

But these attempts by authorities to prosecute Makashov over his remarks have stalled. As a Duma deputy, he enjoys immunity from prosecution and can only be stripped of this by the chamber.

And the Communists appear to have reneged on their earlier promise.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov tried to limit the damage caused by the affair by saying that Makashov had been issued a reprimand by the party. But Zyuganov also said in an interview last week that if some Jews are insulted by Makashov’s remarks, Communists are ready to take part in a “Russian-Jewish dialogue” that should also involve “numerous facts” of humiliation and insults to the Russian people.

Other hard-line legislators also defended Makashov. Another Communist lawmaker, Yuri Chunkov, said that many people in his native Siberia share the views expressed by Makashov. And Vassily Shandybin, a Communist representing central Russia, said all Jews are to blame even when a single Jew acts as a “traitor.”

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, chimed in by saying that the remarks were understandable given the hardships experienced by the Russian people.

For his part, Makashov said the issue was not one of anti-Semitism. He said that by using the word `yids’ he meant to attack Zionism, which is a “threat to Russia.”

Some analysts suggested that the issue could damage the future electoral chances of the Communist Party. The rejection of the draft is said to have seriously embarrassed Zyuganov, who was absent from the Duma during the vote.

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