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Acta No. 3, Jerusalem: SICSA, 1994


Antisemitism and Its Opponents in the Russian Press: From Perestroika until the Present


Theodore Friedgut

Copyright ©1994, Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism. All rights reserved


Among the innovations appearing with perestroika was open discussion of antisemitism in Russia's press. Newly-emerging nationalist groups, and a section of the Russian intelligenstsia, centered in the literary unions of the Russian Federation, began publishing voluminous accusations against the Jews as foreign despoilers of Russian culture and/or malevolent seekers of world domination, in the spirit of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Jews served as the scapegoat for a perceived loss of national identity and culture that disoriented these Russians. Opposition to antisemitism came from a newly-public Jewish press, and from those of the Russian intelligentsia who thus affirmed the liberal democracy basic to their values. For the first time since the end of the 1920s, Russian courtrooms became a venue of contention between the antisemites and their opponents.


Among the many revolutions started by Michael Gorbachev, perhaps the most important to the society of the Soviet Union was that of glasnost, the opening of all social problems to free public scrutiny and discussion. This led to the release of a multitude of social tensions into the public arena. Economic, ethnic, cultural, religious, and political complaints that had been taboo under the Soviet regime suddenly appeared in the newspapers, on television, and in the literary and social journals that traditionally have played a central role in the formation of public opinion in Russia.

Under such conditions, it was no surprise that antisemitism should find expression. Though the Russian revolutions of 1917 had included the eradication of national hatreds among their political goals, a number of factors worked toward survival of antisemitism in numerous parts of the communist state.1

In street demonstrations, public meetings, political rallies, and in certain sectors of the Russian daily and periodical press, expressions of antisemitism grew steadily along with the growing freedom of expression. This was not unexpected, for the Soviet regime had fostered a concerted antisemitic campaign for over twenty-five years, nurturing numerous “experts” whose profession was the denigration of the Jewish religion, the Jewish personality, Jewish history, Zionism, and the state of Israel. Where the antisemitism of the late Stalin period had been conducted under the code word of “rootless cosmopolitanism,” Soviet antisemitism of the later period was more direct and open. From Trofim Kichko's 1963 “Judaism Without Embellishment,” through Evgenii Evseev's “Beware! Zionism,” and Lev Korneev's series of books and articles in the early 1980s, millions of copies had been distributed in the USSR and translated for foreign consumption. It could not be expected that these “experts” and their influence would disappear overnight with the opening of Soviet society to free debate. In fact, it could be considered natural that antisemitic expression should be one aspect of the social conflicts that emerged from the dizzying instability of the economic and political systems of the crumbling Soviet state, and from the anxieties and bewilderment of citizens who were witness to the collapse of the authority and values that had stood at the center of their world for seventy years. As we will discuss here, one of the roots of current antisemitic expression in Russia is the cultural and civic identity crisis that affects contemporary Russians.

What was new and encouraging in the conditions of glasnost was that this was no longer a one-sided harangue against the Jews, but that in broad sections of the Russian press both Jews and non-Jews were now able to answer the antisemites, exposing falsifications, and posing liberal pluralist human values as an alternative to the bigoted exclusionary views expressed by the antisemites. In part, this was a continuation of the historic debate between progress and reaction in Europe starting from the process of emancipation of French Jews at the end of the eighteenth and start of the nineteenth centuries, a debate that continues into our times. In this debate, the attitude toward the Jews, or toward other powerless minorities was a litmus test of a person's values. As one Eastern European intellectual noted in reference to contemporary Russian antisemitism, the reactionaries wear antisemitism as a badge of identification. Their expression of hatred for Jews introduces them to one another. In a different, though related, aspect this was part of the political struggle for perestroika in which elements opposed to Gorbachev's social and political reforms tried to brand the reforms as a sinister foreign manipulation, in which Soviet Jewish “cosmopolitans” and other “left-wing liberals” served as tools for the undermining of the Soviet system.

Another novelty of the perestroika period was the phenomenon of the judicial system becoming involved in cases in which antisemitism was the central question. The trial of Konstantin Smirnov-Ostashvili, a Pamyat activist, the suit between Alexander Romanenko and Nina Katerli in Leningrad, and even a police complaint against a woman who harassed her neighbor with antisemitic leaflets were all new to the contemporary Soviet scene. More important than the novelty of these cases was the raising of the question of defining limits to freedom of the press and of public expression. The entire long judicial and legislative process that in America was marked out from Justice Holmes' landmark decision that freedom of speech does not give the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded hall, i.e., that social dangers must be weighed against the claim to absolute freedom, now lies before a newly-independent Russian judiciary, with its very different historical background and legal traditions. At the time of writing, this process was being tested in court cases against two Moscow editors whose newspapers were closed because of the violently inflammatory nature of their antisemitic publications2 The Russian public is as yet too much divided on fundamental issues of the nature of its society, and the values on which the future of Russia should be based, to face the question of individual moral responsibility and restraint in relations with other persons. This will grow only slowly, if at all, as the society stabilizes and heals its wounds. Until that as yet far off day, the intervention of the courts is the only reliable defence available to minorities in Russian society.

The Locus of Antisemitism in the Russian Public

If during the pre-Gorbachev Soviet period, antisemitism, like any other public phenomenon, was regime-controlled and inspired, this is in no way the case today. Even at the end of the Brezhnev period it would appear that there was a policy decision to diminish the discriminations practiced against Soviet Jews with regard to higher education and employment, and later to mute considerably the strident antisemitic campaign that followed Israel's invasion of Lebanon. The aim of this policy, that first began to take shape at the end of 1979 when emigration was cut down, was to lessen the pressure for emigration rights, mobilizing the Jews of the Soviet Union into the general effort to overcome the economic crisis that was affecting the USSR. The policy found expression in Brezhnev's statement to the 26th Congress of the Communist Party at the beginning of 1981, calling the Communist party to fight “against all phenomena foreign to the nature of socialism, such as chauvinism and nationalism, against any sort of nationalist distortions, whether they be, for instance, antisemitism or Zionism.”3 The fact that this policy was not consistently followed, but that some of the worst antisemitic propaganda was published in 1983, after Brezhnev's death, was a sign of the depth to which antisemitic views had penetrated into the ruling apparatus of the Soviet Union, as well as an indication of the use of antisemitism as an instrument of international policy.

In the period of perestroika to the present, there proved to be several social groups that are the principal sources of antisemitic expression. The most prominent of these has been the group dominating the Russian Federation's Writers' Union. The executive of the organization, and its main journals, Molodaia gvardiia (Young Guard), and Nash sovremennik (Our Contemporary), along with the newspaper, Literaturnaia Rossiia (Literary Russia), devote enormous resources to antisemitic publications.4

Much of this antisemitism originates in a deep identity crisis that is wracking the Russian intelligentsia.5 These writers, after all, had fully accepted the regime-imposed task of being “engineers of the human soul,” remodeling Russian culture along modern lines of communist internationalism based on urban, industrial society. Yet the writers' origins, like that of the vast majority of Soviet society, lay in the village. After all, the majority of Soviet citizens lived in the countryside as recently as 1961, and to this day one third of the population lives in villages. But the Bolsheviks had only scorn for the “idiocy of rural life.” Village society with its religious core, its family-centered economy, and its seasonal rhythms of labor and leisure had been totally transformed under communist rule. But these traditional elements, regarded by the communist regime as reactionary, had been the foundations of much of Russian culture. When the new, Bolshevik version of Russian culture wore thin, the former party stalwarts found themselves without an identity. The first traces of this crisis can be found in the works of Vladimir Soloukhin, Fedor Belov, and the writers of what was called the “village prose” movement that began in the mid-1960s. These writers saw the degradation of village society under Soviet rule as the source of the social crisis that was evident in the USSR in its latter years.6 But the antisemites of the Russian Writers' Union are on the whole of lesser literary stature. Many of them were long-time party functionaries within the union rather than outstanding writers. Unable to reconstruct their Russian identities in any positive manner, they seek a malevolent anti-Russian conspiracy as the explanation, and rewrite seventy years of communist history as a Masonic-Jewish anti-Russian genocidal plot. In this they are not only raising the traditional question “Who is to Blame?”7 -- but by raising the bogeyman of a sinister foreign plot they are diverting public opinion from their own active part in the destruction of traditional Russian culture.

Not only writers contribute to the antisemitic publications of Molodaia gvardiia and Nash sovremennik. Among the articles published are a considerable number signed by persons identifying themselves by affiliation with provincial institutions of higher learning, or alternatively, signing themselves “historian” or some such. For these persons, the two journals serve as a most convenient pulpit from which to preach their views of Russian history and society. In particular, they conduct political polemics with the liberal journalists of Ogonek and Moscow News. Upon reading these pieces one quickly discovers the tendentious and derivative nature of their sources. As historians they generally fail the most elementary test that is put before undergraduate students, that of facing their sources critically, and striving for a comprehensive evaluation of all relevant data.

Three additional loci of antisemitism deserve attention here. The military press is one such center. The equation of Zionism and imperialism by Soviet propagandists, and the recurrent theme of “vigilance” against subversion made Jews a convenient target for military propagandists through recent years. Zionism was equated with imperialism, and Jews with Zionism. Therefore Jews were presented as a foreign body hostile to Soviet power. The most extreme such expression comes in the journal Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, largely due to the nationalist and neo-Stalinist outlook of its editor. An additional source of antisemitic expression has been the Russian nationalist dissident group formerly identified with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. As an emigré, Solzhenitsyn does not figure in our analysis, and the question of his attitude toward Jews has been long since discussed. Of this group, it is the mathematician, Igor Shafarevich, who has emerged as the ideologue, due to his essay “Russophobia.” Contemptuous of communism, Shafarevich adopts a purely nationalist approach, echoed in large part by the functionaries of the Russian Writers' Union who, unlike Shafarevich, were, up until recently, loyal servants of the regime. Not all of this group were active dissidents like Solzhenitsyn and Shafarevich. The Leningrad surgeon, Fiodor Uglov, a solidly establishment figure, was active in the regime's campaign against alcoholism, and under perestroika headed the All-Union Temperance Society. He consistently attributed to the Jews the introduction of alcohol to Russia and the intentional fostering of drunkenness in order to undermine the Russian national character.8 The third group represented among the antisemites is drawn from the neo-Stalinist wing of the Communist Party. The best known representative of this group is the Leningrad chemistry teacher, Nina Andreeva, who first came to public notice when her letter to the newspaper Sovetskaia Rossiia was published, condemning Gorbachev's reforms as left-wing liberal socialism displaying “an overt or covert cosmopolitan tendency, some kind of non-national `internationalism'.”9 On Russia's contemporary political scene, the communist reactionaries have linked up with the ultra-nationalist proto-fascists to form what is popularly known as the “red-brown coalition.” This was not an entirely unexpected development. One school of historiography has pointed to nationalist dominance in the Bolshevik movement from its advent to power.10 In the mid-1960s the dissident historian Andrei Amalryk had pointed out the exhaustion of Marxism-Leninism as an ideology and the adoption by the Soviet regime of nationalist Russian values as a substitute.11 Nevertheless, neither the accuracy of the diagnosis nor the present-day results are of any substantial comfort to those Russians and Jews who saw perestroika and glasnost as openings to a new era of liberal and pluralist values.

The Varieties of Antisemitism

The antisemitism of these groups is expressed in a number of ways, and in the majority of cases the various types of antisemitism are intertwined. This is particularly so in those publications that are eclectic and derivative, gathering antisemitic accusations from any source available. Nevertheless, for analytic purposes it is possible to separate several themes. The most prominent, and probably the most interesting intellectually is that of “Russophobia,” the expression of antisemitism as a result of the Russians' loss of cultural identity. The basic outlook of the persons in this group, exemplified by Shafarevich, is a belief in an immanent national character. Russians are believed to be open, accepting, and hospitable. They are deemed to have a unique cultural mission in the world, expressed through their Eastern Orthodox religion, the traditional village community, and Russia's position in the world as the northern Eurasian land mass. Essentially, this view derives from the Slavophilic philosophies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in their struggle against the introduction of the industrial and democratic values of Western Europe and America into Eastern Europe. These philosophies regard Jews as non-assimilating, exclusionary, manipulative, and power-seeking. Even more important, Jews are seen as a foreign implant into Russia, and with their estrangement from village collectivism and their imputed propensity for individual activity and individual profit, they become the embodiment of those values rejected by the Slavophiles. This group of antisemites also demonstrates a consistent propensity to judge people as collectives rather than individuals. They are firm believers in national character as a dominant and unchanging force. If a Jew or a Russian performs a certain act, it is because of his ethnic origins, and not due to any personal or other social pressures. The myth of an organized Jewish conspiracy is thus easily assumed, and Jewish participation in the murder of Nicholas II and his family is transformed into a Jewish ritual murder replete with cabalistic signs. If a Jewish woman made an attempt on Lenin's life, this was because she was a Jew and international Jewish powers hated Bolshevism. The fact that the woman was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary party, a group that perpetrated thousands of assassinations both before and after the 1917 revolutions, is deemed incidental to her ethnic origins.

A second type of antisemitism is purely instrumental. It is a part of the opposition to perestroika as a program of political and social reform. In this scheme, Jews are depicted as not inclined to socialism, and therefore supporters of individual economic activity. They thus flock to the banner of perestroika, seeking economic advantage. The “lackies of perestroika” are charged with blackening the history of the Soviet Union so as to discredit its principles and replace “Soviet patriotism” and “proletarian internationalism” with foreign values of individualism and profit. As the writer Vasilii Axionov phrased it: “the word `Jew' has become a euphemism signifying anything disliked: a liberal, a Westernizer, a modernist, in general `not one of ours.'”12 This type of antisemitism was expressed emphatically by Andreeva in her infamous letter to Sovetskaia Rossiia, and echoed by various party and government officials, particularly in the provinces of Russia. There is nothing new in this, for such expressions were even more openly pronounced by Nikita Khrushchev to visiting socialists and communists in the late 1950s in justification of his policies limiting employment and emigration possibilities for Soviet Jews.13 Whereas Khrushchev was defending his policies by advancing anti-Jewish stereotypes, today's antisemites have been using attacks on the Jews to discredit any continuation of Gorbachev's reforms, whether in the cultural or the economic fields.

A third type of antisemitism is that which goes in the guise of anti-Zionism. This group claims to be fighting only against Zionism, and denies any wholesale prejudice against Jews. Even Shafarevich, faced with criticism both at home and abroad because of his writings about a “small people” that plotted the destruction of a “great people,” rather lamely claimed that his accusations were aimed only at Zionists and not at Jews. On the face of it, the claim of honest anti-Zionism may be appear perfectly reasonable, for since its emergence as a political ideology in the late nineteenth century, Zionism has faced opposition both within and without the Jewish community. Such opposition is generally based on disagreement as to the definition of the Jews as a single nation, and on the desirability of establishing a national Jewish state. The creation and continuing existence of Israel has done much to attenuate this debate in most of the world. For the Russian antisemites, however, Zionism is presented not as a movement for the establishment of a national state, but as an international conspiracy for universal Jewish domination. As such, it strives to infiltrate Jewish communities wherever they exist, recruiting their members for its own ends. Every Russian Jew is thus seen by these antisemites as an actual or potential agent of a hostile power. This is the calumny of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, revived and affirmed anew. Where the “national” antisemites see primarily the destruction of Russian culture, the “international” antisemites warn of a danger to the entire world, with Russia standing as the last bastion of freedom against Jewish Imperial domination. At times the neo-Stalinists join this school of antisemitism, accusing Trotsky, as a hidden Zionist, of subverting Lenin's revolution, destroying everything that was Russian, and weakening Russia, clearing the road for world Zionist rule. In this version, the origin of the purges of the 1930s lay in the attempts of the Trotskyites to destroy the Russian elements of the Communist Party, while the continuation from 1938 on was Stalin's rooting out of the followers of “Judas Trotsky” and his clique.

The last group is that of the “zoological antisemites.” This is a familiar phenomenon in the world, and needs little elaboration. The Jew is everywhere a sinister and malevolent foreigner, an instrument of satanic evil. Often this is intertwined with the concept of a universal Jewish conspiracy, but the main focus is on the individual Jew as the intrinsic and congenital personification of evil. This is essentially an offshoot of Christian theological antisemitism that saw the Jews as individually and collectively tainted by their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and blamed them for the crucifixion. In this context, and given the history of antisemitism in the pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church, it is important to note that the revival of public religious activity in Russia has not been accompanied by Church propagation of antisemitism. The newly emergent religious establishment has concentrated on re-creating its material and moral domain, and tending to the spiritual needs of the Russian people. While various “national-patriotic” groups have raised the issue of Jewish culpability in the destruction of churches and the repression of the Russian Orthodox religion under communism, Church authorities have totally eschewed this debate, looking forward rather than back. The zoological antisemites remain an isolated lunatic fringe, few but vociferous, and dangerous as a simplistic answer to the pent-up frustrations of a disoriented and disgruntled public. For the liberal Russian intelligentsia, this group is perhaps the most difficult with which to deal. Their accusations of blood libel, ritual murder, and satanic conspiracy are echoed not only by the ignorant, but by supposed intellectuals on the pages of literary journals. To combat such vestiges of medieval superstition with rational discourse often appears as frustrating as sweeping back the tide with a broom.

The Techniques of Antisemitism

In examining the various expressions of post-Soviet Russian antisemitism, the reader will easily discern the principal techniques of the antisemitic authors. First of all, they are highly derivative, copying one from the other, and presenting third or fourth hand information as representing an irrefutable source. Thus a purported quotation from the Zionist philosopher Ahad Haam is copied from a propaganda tract of the Palestine Liberation Organization, published in Moscow, without checking against the Russian-language editions of Ahad Haam, which are today once again freely available in any major Russian library. A second technique is the selective and distorted use of quotation from Jewish sources, purporting to prove from the mouths of the Jews themselves the truth of the antisemites' complaints. Here again, the purported quotations can be compared with the originals and the falsifications pointed out. In one recent case, Professor Herman Branover, an immigrant scientist to Israel, sued Pamyat, the extreme Russian nationalist group for totally falsifying his memoirs, and won his case in a Russian court. The Pamyat defence was that the item had been copied from a Russian-language newspaper originating in Los Angeles.14 Exposing such falsifications has little deterrent effect on the falsifiers and accomplishes little in changing their opinions, for theirs is an emotional, rather than a rational approach. Nevertheless such proof is important to prevent the lies from persuading a more open-minded public that the antisemites have a case. Another form of distortion is the use of social statistics from a generation or more ago, presented as though they applied today, when the position of Jews in Russia has changed greatly. Molodaia gvardiia at various times has presented its readers with the statement that Jews held “more than half” of the Ph.D and Doctor of Science degrees in the Soviet Union.15 In 1987, an official Soviet source set the percentage of Jews among Soviet Ph.Ds at 5.2, along with 9.7 percent among Doctors of Science.16 The antisemites quote these statistics to claim a disproportionate influence of Jews in Soviet and post-Soviet society, and therefore their blame for the miserable condition of the country. The prominence of Jews among Soviet scientists has declined sharply and steadily over the past thirty years. The selectivity of Soviet, and now Russian, antisemites comes into play particularly in historical analysis, together with the previously-mentioned characteristic of attributing collective guilt to the deeds of individuals. Thus Jews are portrayed as practically the sole perpetrators of all the horrors and excesses of the Soviet regime, and never as its victims.

The Russian antisemites invest considerable energy in the cultivation of foreign contacts and sources. We have already mentioned Pamyat's use of an American Russian-language source for its propaganda. In addition, one of the group's leaders, Dmitrii Vasilev has been in frequent communication with Jean-Marie LePen, the French chauvinist political leader. Foreign sources are often cited to support antisemitic claims as to the Jewish world conspiracy, even in cases where such a source, in addition to being antisemitic, may have been anti-Communist. A case in point is the citing of publications by the English journalist Douglas Reed, a one-time correspondent for the London Times who opposed Hitler's Nazism, but believed in a “Judeo-Communist” conspiracy to rule the world.17

In summary it may be stated that these characteristics brand the vast majority of Russian antisemitic publications as propaganda efforts of the most transparent nature. They attempt to use the new freedoms of expression offered by the period of glasnost and perestroika, but display no understanding of the responsibility that must go with freedom of the press. Whether written by journalists, academics, or literary figures, they are generally branded by the same selective and tendentious qualities. Their object is not the discovery of truth, but the discrediting of Jews.

The Scope of Present-day Russian Antisemitism

It remains for us to discuss the place that antisemitism holds today among the social and political currents of Russia. Looking at the mass of publications, one might tend to see antisemitic activity as the center of the political stage. Indeed, there are many groups for whom this is so. The Writers' Union of the Russian Federation, in its meetings and publications does indeed appear to devote a disproportionate percentage of its time to discussions of matters Jewish. Pamyat was ostensibly founded to remember and revive the traditions of Russian national culture. Some of its seven or eight splinter groups appear to remember only hatred for Russia's Jews. Yet this is only one minor current in the vast, bubbling cauldron that is Russia's social and political life today.

In March 1990 there were elections to the Russian parliament and to the country's many thousands of local councils.18 Extreme nationalists like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and some of his followers gained seats, calling themselves the Liberal Democratic Party. Although Zhirinovsky -- with his xenophobic calls for an imperial Russian policy and support of anti-American forces in the world -- received nearly seven million votes in the May 1991 elections for the presidency of Russia, the “National-Patriotic” organizations garnered only a very small percentage of the votes nationally, and had no success in Moscow nor in most large cities where the voters generally installed a reform-inclined city council. Among the public at large, the “Jewish Question” obviously was marginal to their voting considerations. On the regional level, the old-line communist functionaries generally retained control (it should be remembered that the elections took place when the entire USSR was still under Communist Party rule). In a number of regions the heads of local councils proved to be of the antisemitic tendency noted above. However, in no region did antisemitism become a central issue.

Public opinion polling has blossomed in Russia in recent years, and both Russian and foreign researchers have inquired as to the feelings and stereotypes harbored by Russians. One such poll was conducted in December 1989 on a representative sample of 2,696 Soviet citizens from all parts of the country and all walks of life.19 One of the many questions in this survey dealt with the individual's perception of various nations.

TABLE I: National Characteristics as Perceived by Soviet Citizens (%)







Initiative, Energy












Reliable, Faithful 












Hypocritical, Cunning 












Willing to help 












Put down, Demeaned


















Independent, Freedom-Loving 












Clearly there are strong stereotypes operating here, not only regarding Jews, but other nations as well. The Jews however, emerge with a consistently more negative profile than the other nations. Moreover, this profile (secretive, hypocritical, miserly, power-loving) fits the stereotype of the antisemites. On the background of the negative traits attributed to them, even their energy and rationality may be interpreted against them. They are not popular among their neighbors, and are not seen as underprivileged or discriminated against. At the same time, although the Jews emerge badly compared to other nationalities, nowhere is there a massive or even a majority condemnation of them. Other opinion polls carried out among various samples of the Russian population have also turned up moderate results. A poll of Moscow residents found one third believing that antisemitism was a phenomenon widespread in Russian society, but found about one third openly accepting of Jews and only 7-9 percent harboring hostility toward Jews.20 Another poll, conducted by the Times-Mirror group defined 26% of its sample of 13,000 persons as holding negative views of Jews, compared with 34% in Poland, 24% in Germany, 22% in the Ukraine, and 14% in France.21 Antisemitism is not a mass phenomenon in Russia, though it cannot be said to be negligible. The distribution of antisemitic literature on the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities strikes the eye. The number of newspapers and periodicals presenting a consistent and prominent antisemitic stand has grown slowly. In May 1991 it was reported that forty-nine newspapers with antisemitic content existed in the Soviet Union. A year later the number had grown to fifty six.22 Though many of these publications have proven ephemeral, publishing three or four issues and disappearing, there are more and more new antisemitic newspapers identified with large and stable political groups. Den, Sovetskaia Rossiia, Molnia, all have joined the central press, and have a large circulation.

Despite two waves of rumors regarding imminent mass pogroms in 1989 and 1990, there has appeared no organized violence against Jews as Jews in Russia or in the other former Soviet republics. Jews preparing for emigration have been the target of criminal attacks for the sake of robbery. Jewish bazaar stands and homes were attacked along with those of Armenians and others by a frustrated football crowd that rioted in the town of Andijan in Uzbekistan, but anti-Jewish pogroms as such have not materialized. Though its shadow was more terrible than its substance, the potential for such violence was clearly a strong factor in the emigration of over 400,000 Jews in 1989-91. In a poll of Soviet Jewish leaders who met in Moscow in December 1989, those from Leningrad and Moscow overwhelmingly believed in the possibility of mass anti-Jewish violence. The continuing economic and social crisis in Russia maintains this potential. While few of those we have discussed as antisemites would take an active part in organizing pogroms, the presence of Pamyat groups in Moscow and in many provincial cities, and even more violent paramilitary fascist organizations in St. Petersburg, allows no room for complacency.

From Gorbachev's rise to the time of writing in mid-1993, antisemitism has remained stable in its locus and dimensions, but Russia as yet is far from stable. The prolonged economic and social dislocations, and cultural confusion characterizing Russia over the past five years are a classic background for the rise of antisemitism. The cultural background and historical precedents of antisemitism are present and used in current intellectual debate throughout Russia. Yet Russian culture and politics were never wholly one-dimensional, and there is a strong current of educated urban society that sees the saving of Russia in its joining the European world of rationalism, pluralism, the rule of law, and parliamentary democracy. These groups, whose development was hindered by the Russian autocracy at the end of the nineteenth century and were uprooted by the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, are the best hope that the sowers of current Russian antisemitism will never see their crop mature. 


1. For a survey of these factors see Zvi Gitelman, “Glasnost', Perestroika, and Antisemitism,” Foreign Affairs, Spring 1991, pp. 141-59.

2. Aleksei Batogov, editor of Russkoe voskresenie (Russian Resurrection), and Aleksei Andreev, editor of Narodnoe delo (The People's Cause), have both been charged under Article 74 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code which prohibits incitement to racial or ethnic hatred. Publication of their papers was suspended pending the outcome of the trial.

3. The formulation may be found in the text of Brezhnev's speech published in Pravda, March 24, 1981. Gorbachev repeated this slogan practically verbatim to a plenary session of the C.C. CPSU in January 1987.

4. For a detailed examination of the antisemitic content of these two journals see Josephine Woll, “Russians and Russophobes: Antisemitism on the Russian Literary Scene,” Soviet Jewish Affairs, 19:3 (Winter 1989), pp. 3-21.

5. See Sergei Stratanovskii, “What is Russophobia? Thoughts on I. R. Shafarevich's article `Russophobia,'” Zvezda (Leningrad), No. 4 (1990) pp. 173-79.

6. For an analysis of this phenomenon see Philippa Lewis, “Peasant Nostalgia in Contemporary Russian Literature,” Soviet Studies, vol. 28, no. 4, October 1976, pp. 705-24.

7. “Who is to Blame?” is the name of a well-known polemic on the overall social and political ills of Russia in the nineteenth century; It is copied by present day polemicists, most notably those writing in Molodaia gvardiia and Nash sovremennik, who focus their discussions on the Jews.

8. See, for instance, Fiodor G. Uglov, Iz plen illusii (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1986).

9. The letter, “I Cannot Give Up my Principles” was published in Sovetskaia Rossiia, March 13, 1988, p. 3. An English translation can be found in FBIS Daily Report, SOV-88-051.

10. See Mikhail Agursky, The Third Rome: National Bolshevism in the U.S.S.R., (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985).

11. Andrei Amalryk, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? (New York: Harper and Row, 1970).

12. Leonid Mlekhin, “Could it Not Happen Here?” Novoe vremia, no. 36, 1990, p. 29.

13. See Khrushchev's remarks in Benjamin Pinkus, ed., The Soviet Government and the Jews, 1948-1967, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 54-58.

14. For another such falsification, see the purported interview with Lazar Kaganovich, denigrating the Jews as a nation, published first in a suburban Moscow newspaper, Puls Tushina, prominent for its antisemitism, and partially republished in the liberal weekly Argumenty i fakty (June 9-15, 1990). Kaganovich's protest that no such interview had ever taken place was published in the following issue of Argumenty i fakty.

15. See, for instance, Molodaia gvardiia, no. 12, 1989, p. 185. Vestnik evreiskoi sovetskoi kultury, no. 17 (35), August 15, 1990, traced the "genealogy" of this claim from E. Evseev's 1981 book Racism Under the Blue Star through Alexander Romanenko's 1986 The Class Essence of Zionism, and into repeated use in Molodaia gvardiia.

16. See Viacheslav Konstantinov, “Jewish Population of the USSR on the Eve of the Great Exodus,” Jews and Jewish Topics in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, no. 3 (16), 1991, p. 20, Tables 15 and 16. The Soviet degree of kandidat nauk is equivalent to a Ph.D., while Doctor of Science (Doktor Nauk) is a more advanced degree, often the equivalent of professorial rank.

17. For a discussion of Reed's views see Richard Thurlow, “Anti-Nazi Antisemite: The Case of Douglas Reed,” Patterns of Prejudice, (London), vol. 18, no. 1, (January 1984), pp. 23-34.

18. Zhirinovsky became known world-wide when his ill-named Liberal Democratic Party took 22.8% of the popular vote in the 1993 elections to the Russian Parliament. It is instructive to note that in the voting in single-member constituencies, Zhirinovsky's party won only five of the 225 seats contested.

19. Full results of the poll are in Obshchestvennoe mnenie v tsifrakh, no. 1 (8), January 1990 (Moscow: All-Union Center for the Study of Public Opinion).

22. See, “How Many Antisemites are There Among Us?” Moskovskie novosti, no. 21, May 27, 1990, p. 15.

21. See Alexander Benifand and Tanya Basok, “Antisemitism and the Collapse of the Former Soviet Union,” Soviet Refugee Monitor, vol. 1, no. 2, February 1992, p. 17.

22. See Intelligence Report, no. 17, December 1992, (London: Institute of Jewish Affairs), p. 1.  

Theodore H. Friedgut is professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He earnedd his Ph.D. at Columbia University. He is the author of Political Participation in the USSR (Princeton University Press, 1979) and Iuzovka and Revolution, vols. I and II (Princeton University Press, 1994). In addition he has published numerous articles on Soviet politics and policies affecting Jews.




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