Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 233

The issue of anti-Semitism has again raised the temperature of Russian politics. Yesterday, Russian government officials and politicians from various parties condemned an anti-Semitic remark made the previous day by Viktor Ilyukhin, the radical communist who heads the State Duma’s security committee. On December 15, during the course of hearings aimed at impeaching President Boris Yeltsin, opposition Duma deputies said that Russia’s decline in population over the last seven years might have been avoided had there been more Russians in the president’s inner circle. They called this decline the “genocide” of the Russian population, and attributed it to the predominance of Jews on Yeltsin’s staff.”

Reaction to Ilyukhin’s comment was swift: The Yabloko faction in the Duma submitted a resolution condemning the remarks–a resolution similar to the one it submitted last fall to condemn anti-Semitic remarks made by communist deputy Albert Makashov. The motion failed. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky, who called for a ban on the Communist Party of the Russian Federation following Makashov’s remarks, repeated that call Wednesday, saying that force should even be used, and that people like Ilyukhin and Makashov should “sit in the dock, not in the Duma.” Nikolai Bordyuzha, Yeltsin’s new chief of staff, met with Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev, also a Communist Party member, to express the Kremlin’s alarm at the anti-Semitic orientation of some legislators and to ask Seleznev to use his authority to prevent an “escalation” of the nationalist mood in the parliament. Following the meeting, Seleznev said it was necessary to “legally regulate” the problem of political extremism and that the “vertical of power (hierarchical power structure)” in the country had to be strengthened (Russian agencies, December 16).

Many observers said Ilyukhin’s remarks were part of a deliberate strategy, not simply an emotional outburst. One Russian daily newspaper said that Ilyukhin and his radical allies were trying to provoke the Kremlin into banning the Communist Party in order to “strengthen the party’s image as the main opposition force” (Kommersant daily, December 16). Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said that Ilyukhin’s demarche was “not accidental”–that there was a logical “chain” linking it with Makashov’s earlier remarks (Russian agencies, December 16). Indeed, some observers believe that any possible communist plans to move toward a social democratic strategy have been pre-empted by Otechestvo, the movement formed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. According to this view, the communists have decided to reinforce their electoral base in Russia’s economically depressed countryside. Aleksandr Osovtsov, acting vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said that Ilyukhin’s comments were aimed at “beefing up the dwindling communist electorate at the expense of raising the temperature of nationalism” (Russian agencies, December 16). Whether the communist radicals have coordinated their actions with the party’s leadership, including Gennady Zyuganov and Seleznev, is unclear. One newspaper today said that Ilyukhin’s remarks put the Kremlin and the communist leadership in an equally uncomfortable position (Moskovsky komsomolets, December 17).

In any case, the communists were unrepentant over the remarks. Ilyukhin responded to the criticism by invoking his right to free speech while saying, at the same time, that he had been quoted out of context. Communist deputy Tatyana Astrakhankina on Wednesday asked the Duma’s committee on information policy and communications and press service to look into the possibility of revoking the accreditation of journalists from Russia’s three main television channels–Russian Public Television (ORT), Russian Television (RTR) and Independent Television (NTV)–in connection with their “tendentious and nonobjective” coverage of the Duma’s impeachment committee (Vremya-MN, December 17).