Monday, October 29, 2018

Xenophobia among Russians Higher Now than in 1991 but Directed at Different Targets, Levada Center Polls Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 –Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada Center polling agency, says that the level of xenophobic attitudes in Russia is higher than it was when the Soviet Union came apart but somewhat lower than in was in 2013 and very much directed against different groups now than earlier.

            Anti-Semitic attacks are lower, he says, but “the level of diffuse, mass xenophobia has increased significantly.” Anti-Caucasian attitudes have now given way to anti-Roma and anti-immigrant views, especially towards gastarbeiters from Central Asia, and racist attitudes toward Chinese and Afro-Americans” (

            The core group of xenophobes, the sociologist continues, “forms from eight to 15 percent of the adult population, increasing to 20 percent at moments of serious social crises.”  Around them are sympathizers with racist views “but are not ready to open action in support of them,” polls suggest.

            That means that 45 percent – nearly half of the population – is ready to support repressive measures against migrants or people of different nationalities by the state, Gudkov continues.  He says that the views of most Russians can be characterized as “’latent aggressiveness” that will come out if the state indicates its support for them or at least stands aside.

            Perhaps most worrisome, Gudkov says, is that there has been “a weakening of the immunity [of Russians] against xenophobia and anti-Semitism. If in the mid-1990s, about half of the population spoke out against any forms of xenophobia and racism, today, only 25-30 percent” do the same.

            In response to the horrific attack on the synagogue in Pittsburg, Berl Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia, said that something like that could happen in Russia although he welcomed the decline in anti-Semitic attitudes he sees and the backing of the state against any manifestation of anti-Semitism (

            Attacks like the one in Pittsburg, he said, “can take place anywhere … in Russia today, the situation is better than in Europe and even in America,” a major change from the 1990s when “the level in Russia was worse than in either of them.” Even so, there is anti-Semitism in Russia in everyday life, online and in the media. That is “worrisome.”

            Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko points to an even more worrisome possibility. He argues that “state anti-Semitism in Putin’s Russia is ‘our armored train’ which stands in reserve. The principle of proletarian internationalism, one of the cornerstones of Soviet ideology, did not interfere with Stalin’s state anti-Semitism” (

            “For Putin,” Yakovenko continues, “who does not have any ideology in his head at all, there are no obstacles to including anti-Semitic rhetoric at the state level. There can be any of a number of causes: from deteriorating relations with Israel in Syria to the need to find a new internal enemy.”

            “The most curious thing is that the Satanovs, Solovyevs, Kemis, and others are completely able to stand at the head of the column of the pogromshchiks.  Remember the Anti-Zionist Committee of Soviet society? Something like that could be created in Putin’s Russia from among the Russian ‘Jew-Patriots’” as soon as the Kremlin gives the word.

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