Last week in Moscow, founder of the Moscow Jewish History Museum Sergey Ustinov was shot point blank by an unknown attacker. Attack happened right at the front of the museum — killer conspicuously wasn’t hiding from the surveillance cameras.
Mr. Ustinov had survived the attack and was rushed to a nearby hospital in critical condition. Moscow police is looking for the attacker.
No official comments were issued to the press yet. No one has taken any responsibility for the attempted murder.
Press coverage of the event was astonishingly low – only two newspapers reported the event.
Mr. Ustinov was not an opposition activist at all. He just had published a quite reputable piece, proclaiming Russian President Putin a genius of international politics.
Mr. Ustinov was attacked at the same day Moscow City Court had sentenced a leader of a Neo-Nazi Russian ‘Battle Organisation of Russian Nationalists’ (BORN) Ilya Goriachev to life in prison.
There is a lot of dark corners and unanswered questions in this case. BORN members has committed three murders of antifascist activists. One of the victims was a brother to Russian MP, now an adviser to Putin’s administration. BORN leader openly talked about his connections to Kremlin while being questioned by police and in court. Two of its’ operatives were never caught by police – one apparently fell victim to an accidental explosion, and another is still at large.
There are more than 40 known Ultra-nationalist or Neo-nazi groups active in Russia now. Many of them have a long history of violence. Almost every openly admire Hitler and sport different kinds of Swastika as their symbol. In 2007 ABC News reported that there is estimated 50 to 70 thousand Nazis in Russia, half of the worlds’ total. There were no new credible reports on the situation published since, so there are no reasons to believe that the situation grew any better. In 2011 around 60% of Russian citizens supported the slogan “Russia – for Russians” according to major Russian opinion research body Levada Center.
That was no matter of much concern for Russian Jewish diaspora until now. Majority of the victims of racist attacks were immigrants from Central Asian republics.
It is of no concern even today. No official Jewish body expressed any concern with the attempted murder of Mr.Ustinov.
But ordinary members of Jewish community in Russia are very seriously concerned. Aliya from Russia have nearly doubled in 2015 and is expected to rise even more in the following years. This is sharper increase even than that of French Aliyah, which after terrorist attacks from last year increased 25%. Only Aliyah from Ukraine had a greater increase.
Mr Goriachev, speaking in court said that everything he did was for Mother Russia and that modern policies of supporting ethnic Russians in Russia and beyond it’s borders is exactly what he was looking for. Mr Goriachev was not raving mad.
Since February 2014 Russian government declares itself a protector of all Russian-speaking peoples everywhere in the world. A law has been passed allowing President to use armed forces for protection of Russians beyond Russian borders. Crimea was captured and then annexed under the pretext that Ukrainians are going to ethnically cleanse Russians there. The same happened in Donbass, where self-proclaimed Republics asked Moscow for immediate rescue from looming extermination of ethnic Russains, being prepared by Ukrainian “junta”.
While there is no evidence of persecution of ethnic Russians in Ukraine on any scale, there is a lot of information about direct involvement of Russian neo-nazis in fighting against Ukrainian government forces in Eastern Ukraine. At the onset of Russian invasion into Crimea a reformist synagogue there was painted over with swastikas and “Death to the Jews” slogan. After a month of events, leading to formal annexation, Reformist and Chabad rabbis and their families had to leave the peninsula citing wide-spread anti-Semite sentiment and looming threat of violence. A phenomenon, never before registered in Crimea since the collapse of USSR.
While there are no credible evidence of antisemitic violence in occupied Eastern Ukraine, leaders of self-proclaimed republics recently made several open statements blaming Jews for inciting revolutionary events in Ukraine – “Euromaidan”, wassaid to bear it’s name from “yevrei”. A lot of effort is being made by Jewish Agency, Joint and other structures to move the Jewish population from the conflict zone there.
At the same time Russian opposition leaders and supporters are being labelled by government-controlled press as “traitors to the nation”, a term coined by infamous Mr. Goebbels. Several times huge banners with faces and names of Russian opposition leaders of Jewish descent were openly put up at the central avenues of Moscow, labelling them as “aliens” and “5th column”. Links between someones’ anti-government position and his supposed Jewish ancestry are made by official propagandists more and more oftenly.
25th February this year most notable leader of anti-war protest and former Government Minister and MP Vladimir Nemtsov was shot four times at point-blank range in front of Moscow Kremlin, a couple of steps from Red Square. Right from the start of the murder investigation, it became clear that killers were close to one of the staunchest Putins’ supporters – Chechen leader Akhmat Kadyrov. Meanwhile Mr. Putin in his official condolences telegram called Mr Nemtsov mother by her maiden Jewish family name, making an obvious hint of Mr Nemtsov Jewish descent.
At the end of May in the city of Ekaterinburg local attorney’s office took from a local Jewish school texts of Tora and Tanach to examine them for “extremism” which constitutes a crime in Russia. If found “extremist” sacred Jewish texts can be banned in Russia altogether and everyone printing, reading or disseminating them will become a criminal. This would mean effective persecution of Jews.
Last week, Israel’s new minister of absorption paid a visit to Russia. He clearly stated that Israel expects a serious increase in numbers of Olim from Russia. This can be an understatement. Nationalist rhetoric, obvious finger-pointing and ominous actions of law-enforcement authorities revived fears of possible persecution once again.
Antisemitism and violence are more and more aggressively lurking in the shadows of Putin’s Russia and while not expressed openly as an official government policy it is more and more evidently becoming one of the unspoken but conspicuous features of Russian political discourse.