Saturday, August 4, 2018

Putin Regime Restrains Anti-Semitic Actions but Not Anti-Semitic Propaganda, Shnirelman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – Viktor Shnirelman, an anthropologist who has specialized on anti-Semitism in Russia for 25 years, says that the Putin regime has restrained anti-Semitic actions but not anti-Semitic propaganda, an indication that it retains the image of the Jew as enemy of Russia and will keep that in reserve until the need to use it arises.

            That conclusion is offered in his new book, Three Myths about a Conspiracy: Anti-Semitic Propaganda in Contemporary Russia (in Russian, Moscow: Academia, 2017, 390 pages), that has been reviewed by Svetlana Solodvnik for Yezhednevny zhurnal (

                In this book, she says, Shnirelman notes that “the beginning of the 21st century in Russia has been characterized by an unprecedented upsurge of xenophobia. Xenophobia in these attitudes clearly gives pride of place to gastarbeiters; but it has a more developed ideological foundation” which in many cases relies on myths historically applied by anti-Semites to Jews.

            Three of these “xenophobic myths” are especially popular, the anthropologist says: the myth of the anti-Christ against whom all good people must struggle, the myth of the Aryan nation, and the myth of the Khazars.  Solodovnik provides brief summaries of his arguments in each case.

            The myth of the anti-Christ goes back to early Christian times and has been typically but not always associated with the Jews.  Since the end of Soviet times, this myth, often spread by republication of the notorious forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” has been especially widespread in discussions among extreme Russian nationalists.

            Fortunately, Shnirelman says, this propaganda has not attracted much of a following in the Russian population; but the ideas remain widely available and could spread under certain conditions.

            The myth of the Aryan nation is typically associated with the Nazis who viewed the Germans as the true Aryans. But among Russian nationalists over the last 150 years and especially in recent decades, Shnirelman says, there are many who argue that Russia is the true Aryan nation, especially now after becoming more northern after losing its south in 1991.

                “Today, ‘the Aryan myth’ is directly connected with identity,” Shnirelman says, allowing people to believe in their own greatness however bad conditions are at present by postulating the existence of a perfect ancestral background. 

            But the third myth, that of the Khazars, is especially powerful in Russian nationalist discourse, the anthropologist says.  The Khazars have been praised at some points for allowing the Russian nation to emerge and condemned at others for becoming a Jewish state that threatened Russia’s very existence. The latter view is more commonly held now.

            But the most intriguing if most absurd evolution of the use of the Khazar myth came after the Maidan in Ukraine. Then, some Russian nationalists began to argue that Ukraine was the “New Khazaria” and as such a mortal threat to the continued existence of Russia and Russians as such.  Likely as a result of pressure from above, that idea has lost currency more recently. 

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