Aleksandr Mikhailov, the newly elected governor of Kursk Oblast, apologized to his predecessor, Aleksandr Rutskoi, for comments he made last week which were widely perceived as anti-Semitic. Mikhailov, who is a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), said in an interview with Kommersant that Rutskoi, who was disqualified from the October 22 gubernatorial election, had been backed by the tycoon Boris Berezovsky and the Russian Jewish Congress. Mikhailov also claimed that he was backed by President Vladimir Putin in a struggle to “liberate” Russia from the “filth” which had accumulated over the last decade–an apparent reference to Jews–and added that Putin was ethnically Russian while Rutskoi’s mother was Jewish (see the Monitor, November 10). In a statement carried yesterday by the official Itar-Tass news agency, Mikhailov said: “I publicly apologize to Rutskoi and his mother. I sincerely regret that my answers to straightforward questions were understood negatively. From this I drew the necessary conclusions. I have always respected and still respect people independent of their nationality, be they Russians, Ukrainians, Jews or Tatars.”
Mikhailov made his apology following after meeting with Georgy Poltavchenko, Putin’s representative in the Central federal district, which includes Kursk Oblast. Poltavchenko reportedly summoned Mikhailov to take him to task for his “impermissible” comments to the press. Following the meeting, Poltavchenko quoted Mikhailov as saying that the remarks had been the result of exhaustion and a lack of political experience. The presidential representative said he was sure both that Mikhailov’s comments did not represent the governor’s “ideological position” and that Mikhailov would not “repeat this mistake.” Poltavchenko said he thought that he and Mikhailov would be able to “work together normally.” Following the publication of the interview in Kommersant, Putin reportedly canceled a meeting with the Kursk governor-elect, which had been scheduled for November 18. Yesterday, leading members of the liberal factions in the State Duma, including Irina Khakamada of the Union of Right-wing Forces and Sergei Ivanenko, condemned Mikhailov’s interview for espousing nationalism and anti-Semitism. Khakamada criticized both Putin and the “power structures” for failing to “react clearly” to Mikhailov’s interview.
Meanwhile, Kommersant reported today that while Mikhailov issued an apology for his comments to the national media via the official state news agency, he delivered a different message about the controversy in an interview with Golos Naroda (Voice of the People), the organ of the Kursk branch of the KPRF. “The full-scale campaign of open persecution has been inspired by certain forces. We Communists have long been used to that,” Kommersant quoted him as telling the local KPRF paper (Russian agencies, Kommersant, November 15).
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