By Paul Goble
Increasing support for the slogan “Russia for the Russians” and growing hostility to immigrant workers is easily explained by economic difficulties that cause people to blame immigrants, but rising hostility toward Jews, who are not immigrant workers, has a somewhat different source, Aleksey Makarkin. It is a revenant of Soviet times.
A Levada Center poll found that roughly half of all Russians now support the slogan, “Russia for the Russians,” and that 71 percent favor limiting the admission of migrant workers from Central Asia, the Caucasus and even Ukraine to the country, both up over the last two years (levada.ru/2019/09/18/ksenofobskie-nastroeniya-v-rossii-rastut-vtoroj-god-podryad/).
When times are good, people are prepared to be welcoming, the Moscow analyst says; but “now people feel much less optimism;” and because their wages haven’t gone up but inflation has, they begin to look for someone to blame, for someone to blame for their own problems (mk.ru/social/2019/10/11/pochemu-lozung-rossiya-dlya-russkikh-nachal-podderzhivat-kazhdyy-vtoroy.html).
“Apathy in society about which people correctly speak is not simply the kind of apathy when someone withdraws into himself and doesn’t think about anything,” Makarkin continues. “It is accompanied by growing anger and the search for an enemy. And one of these enemies become strangers who, from the point of view of people, present a multitude of problems.”
In reporting Makarkin’s observation, Dmitry Popov of Moskovsky komsomolets says “this isn’t new. We have already had such periods – incomes fall and that means labor migrants are guilty.” A simple and understandable explanation and one that points to a simple and understandable policy: keep them out.
But why are the Jews on this list? Why has hostility to them among Russians gone up from four percent two years ago to 17 percent now? “Have you ever seen in Russia a Jew who was a labor migrant?” The explanation for that is somewhat different and arises from stereotypes from the 1990s and those which were part of Soviet propaganda.
Russians have begun to forget what things were like in the 1980s and 1990s, Popov quotes Makarkin as saying. For a time, the anti-Semitism that officials promoted under the Soviets or that radical nationalists did in the 1990s appeared to have become completely irrelevant.
“But now,” the Moscow political analyst says, as times have gotten worse, “these memories are beginning to come out. And when you seek the guilty, you suddenly recall what you read in your childhood long ago and you think maybe it is turning out to be true?”
Makarkin’s observation points to at least three conclusions, all of which are worrisome. First, so many people have celebrated the decline in anti-Semitism in Russia since Soviet times that few have felt that it is something that could re-emerge and thus few have felt compelled to work to combat.
Second, the fact that anti-Semitic attitudes have arisen at a time when anti-immigrant ones have intensified highlights something that many have observed in other connections but again has not attracted the attention it should in Russia: once people find hostility to some outgroups somehow acceptable, they are likely to shift it to others including the Jews.
And third, this suggests that unless a concerted effort is made to combat xenophobia generally and anti-Semitism in particular, the dangers that a sufficient base of support for both will emerge and become part of the Russian political scene, something that would be a tragedy for all.