By Paul Goble
Even though the number of anti-Semitic actions in Russia has fallen and anti-Semitism has been marginalized, Russian society is far from free of anti-Semitic stereotypes and clichés; and there is the danger that the current economic crisis could reignite this ancient plague, according to a new study by the Levada Center.
That study, being presented today at a Moscow conference on combatting anti-Semitism, was summarized yesterday by Elena Mukhametshina in “Vedomosti.” The journalist stressed it is “a mistake” to think that “antipathy to the West has been able to weak hidden inter-ethnic conflicts inside Russia” (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2016/11/01/663147-evreiskii-vopros-utratil-ostrotu).
The conference which was organized by the Russian Jewish Congress will be celebrating the progress of the fight against anti-Semitism in Russia, According to Yury Kanner, its president, who cites the American Anti-Defamation League, “Russia is in last place among the countries of Eastern Europe as far as anti-Semitism is concerned.”
The Levada Center report shows that at present, only eight percent of Russians say they have negative attitudes about Jews but rather larger percentages have anti-Semitic and xenophobic attitudes (eight to 16 percent), think in anti-Semitic or xenophobic clichés (18 to 35 percent), and believe that Russians should be privileged over other groups (40 to 65 percent).
The report suggests that “anti-Semitism has been very much marginalized and is concentrated on the periphery of civic and social life,” suggests that “anti-Semitic stereotypes and clichés have weakened but not ceased to be part of mass consciousness.” According to Kanner, the greatest danger is that the economic crisis will spark its reemergence as a force.
There are reasons for concern. Since 1990, the share of Russians who believe that the number of Jews should be limited in senior posts has gone up by ten percent, the number who say they believe in a world Zionist conspiracy by about the same, and the number who say that it would not be desirable to have a Jew as president of Russia has gone up by 14 percent.
Natalya Zorkaya of the Levada Center said that “xenophobia in the 2990s shifted to the Chechens and Asians; moreover, many Jews left the country.” As a result, today, she says, Jews are viewed as a social group like many others but one that Russians still prefer to maintain a certain distance from.
That could change, of course, given that “the lengthy ideological campaign on behalf of conservatism and ‘the spiritual rebirth of Russia’ could involve ‘the growth stimulated by the authorities of Russian nationalism and heightened ethnic intolerance.” But so far, few want to recognize as ethnically based many of the conflicts in Russia or view them as inevitable.
The sociologist continued with the observation that the increasingly primitive black and white imagery propaganda is promoting “will not be able to create a highly moral individual” and that individual may turn to xenophobia, including anti-Semitism, because it is a way of blaming others for one’s own problems.
At the moment, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA Center, observes that Jews are not at the top of the list of groups Russians most dislike and that explicitly anti-Semitic actions against them are relatively rare. But whether this continues will depend in large measure on the nature of Russian government propaganda.