Sunday, October 25, 2015

Soviet-Era Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism Returning to Russia Today, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – Many who regret the passing of the Soviet Union have conveniently forgotten that that system was riven with xenophobia and anti-Semitism and as a result are either permitting or even promoting the return of those twin evils in Russia today, according to Igor Yakovenko.

            Many in Russia and beyond its borders have forgotten the many ways in which anti-Semitism not only informed Stalin’s thinking and practice but continued right up to the last days of the USSR, the Ukrainian commentator points out, with a numerus clausus even more insidious than any in tsarist times (

            They would do well to remember the words of “the most popular Soviet minister of culture, Yekaterina Furtseva, who said that the number of Jews in higher educational institutions should be equal to the number of Jews working in the mines.” And they should recall the number who were forced to study not where they wanted and were qualified but elsewhere.

            And “if it didn’t work out that all the Jewish intelligentsia was sent to the mines,” Yakovenko continues, [the Soviet state] was able to drive out its representative from those parts of science where they were traditionally strong and to send them into areas closer to production, that is, closer to the mines.”

            But the Jews were hardly the only people discriminated against as a people in Soviet times. There was a whole scale on which various nations and nationalities were ranked and treated as a result.  The second secretary in all union republics, for instance, had to be an ethnic Russian to supervise those “considered second class by definition.”

            Peoples with large diasporas were “more suspect” than those with small ones, he points out. Thus, Armenians faced real barriers in their careers while Georgians “in an analogous situation were given a green light.”

            And “the idiotism of xenophobia affected also those peoples who were repressed during the war. Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks, Volga Germans, Balkars and Karachays up to the last minute of the existence of the USSR were considered ‘resentful’ peoples and remained under the suspicion of the state.”

            After the end of the Soviet Union, it appeared that all this was going to dissipate, “but this was an illusion: ‘persons of Caucasus nationality,’ ‘migrants from Central Asia,’ ‘Georgies,’ and ‘Ukies’” continued to be referred to by many in the population and by government media outlets as well.

            Russian society “lacks immunity to xenophobia,” and that lack is to be found not just in marginal groups but “in all strata.” People are not ostracized for expressing xenophobic views, or their views are dismissed as secondary if they are somehow “’ours’” rather than “’theirs,’” a slippery slope if there ever was one.

            Compounding the problem is the fact, Yakovenko says, that “in our press, including among liberal authors, it is considered appropriate to laugh over ‘the grimaces of political correctness’ in America and in Europe.” Russians don’t understand that those “’grimaces’” are a way of boosting immunity against such evils.

            To be sure, he argues, it can represent or even cultivate a certain hypocrisy. But he adds that he is “for hypocrisy which forces xenophobes to conceal their views.” It would be better if a Navalny didn’t talk about exiling all Georgians or if an Anton Nosik didn’t say or get away saying that “a dead Syrian is always better than a live one.”

            It is possible to understand fascism and xenophobia and anti-Semitism, Yakovenko says, but to understand these thing is in no way to forgive them or to obviate the need for fighting against them. “To kill a Syrian just because he is a Syrian is exactly the same crime as killing a Jew because he is a Jew.”

            Nations vary widely, but this cannot be the basis for any calls to discriminate or destroy them as such, he argues.  That is something Germany had to learn after its experience with 11 years of Nazi rule. “The Russian people has been sick much longer, and its recovery will take much longer as a result.”

            But that reality, Yakovenko says, must not become “the occasion to desire the destruction of an entire people even if now looks so bad and brings so many misfortunes to its neighbors.  Xenophobia has always existed, unfortunately, and consequently the struggle against it in all its manifestations must go on as well.

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