(August 8, 2008)
Volume 8, Number 32
August 8, 2008
A Weekly Human Rights Newsletter on Antisemitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in the Former Communist World and Western Europe
EDITOR: CHARLES FENYVESI
(News and Editorial Policy within the sole discretion of the editor)
Published by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union ___________________________________________________________
The Russia authorities crack down on minority Christians while the news media whip up hysteria. Regional media is playing a role reminiscent of the Soviet era by demonizing minority Christians at the same time that federal and regional government agencies are engaged in a widespread hate campaign. Here are five examples that UCSJ monitoring has detected.
1. ORTHODOX CHURCH AND FSB HAVE ‘THE SAME GOAL.’ In Elista (capital of the Republic of Kalmykia), the government newspaper "Pravitelstvennaya Gazeta" ran an interview on July 26 with an Orthodox clergyman who all but admitted that his church cooperates with the FSB (heir to the KGB) in its efforts to suppress competition from minority Christians. He made accusations against minority Christians, which the paper published without allowing any of the groups an opportunity to respond. Father Anatoly of Elista's Kazan Cathedral listed the "sects" in Kalmykia as Baptists, Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. He argued that during the 1990s, the government allowed these groups to use money to "discredit” the Orthodox Church" and "buy up buildings and build camps where the psychological brainwashing of children took place." But, he concluded, due to the church's educational work and cooperation with local authorities, all "sects" except for the Witnesses are now inactive.
Father Anatoly gave as an example a successful effort to stop "sects" from preaching in the public schools, which is illegal in Russia. Yet the Orthodox Church has been able to do it in several regions within the context of a government-approved program known as "Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture."
Considering the country-wide scale of recent actions against minority Christians and past KGB infiltration of religious groups including the Orthodox Church, the most revealing part of the interview concerned ties between the local Orthodox diocese and the FSB. When asked if the church cooperates with the FSB, Father Anatoly replied: "'Cooperate' is too strong a way of putting it. During the years that the FSB has existed it has not held the reins of power inside the Russian Orthodox Church. But nowadays only that organization [the FSB] can stop the funds that come into Russia from abroad that are aimed at dismantling society. Religious sects are directed specifically towards doing that. Both the church and the FSB in this respect have the same goal: to keep our society whole. We don't want to make sectarians into martyrs, but the religious lives of sects ought to stay within the bounds of their churches."
2. PASTOR CALLED AN AMERICAN SPY. The Krasnoyarsk supplement to the popular national daily "Komsomolskaya Pravda" dated July 26 ran an article, titled "American 'Zombifies' Residents of Zheleznogorsk," slandering minority Christians and the United States while alluding to charges of espionage that are commonly leveled against foreign missionaries. The article tells how a 67-year-old American preacher from an unspecified American-Swedish church (most likely the Pentecostal "New Life") "penetrated" the closed city of Zheleznogorsk, the site of nuclear waste storage and a secret chemical plant. Outsiders are forbidden to enter the city without permission, yet the pastor allegedly had sneaked past controls and was detained during a service he conducted there, fined, and expelled. If true, the story confirms a breach of the law, but the article reeks of paranoia and misinformation.
The opening paragraphs described the nuclear waste storage facility and then presented the elderly pastor as a direct threat to national security. "Therefore the appearance of an American prophet inside the closed city had the effect equivalent to a bomb exploding," the article stated. "Especially because the infiltrator didn't bother to hide himself, but instead gathered city residents for his preaching."
"Seeing a foreigner in our city, especially one who is agitating for some kind of religion, wasn't possible in the past," a police spokesman was quoted as saying. "There are off limit sites here which our fellow citizens are not allowed to visit. And here a foreigner is all of a sudden in your face!" The pastor was detained "the moment he put the small crowd into a trance and they started speaking gibberish," the author wrote, possibly referring to the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues (which raises the likelihood that Pentecostals live in the city who may have even invited the pastor to preach to them, since the author's characterization of mass hypnosis lacks credibility). The FSB "did not find any dangerous items or things that would belong to a spy" on the pastor's person. Unlike other publications, the paper quoted the pastor’s response that stressed that he was spreading the word of God.
3. JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES CALLED ‘ANTI-GOVERNMENT.’ In the northern city of Murmansk, prosecutors are taking a tougher line than they did earlier this month in the wake of a Jehovah's Witnesses congress in that city. As we reported earlier, prosecutors issued a warning to stadium owners that they were violating the law if they allowed such a congress to take place, citing a regulation that stadiums are only meant for sports. According to a July 26 article in the local newspaper "Vecherny Murmansk," the prosecutor of the city's October District, Maria Kravetskaya, gave an interview to a local Orthodox Church publication vowing to "punish those guilty" of allowing the Jehovah's Witnesses' meeting to take place and to "not allow further violations of Russian law." The "Vecherny Murmansk" then quoted an official from the diocese as saying: "The Murmansk and Monchegorskaya diocese has regularly warned regional and city officials about the illegal activities of this totalitarian and anti-government sect." The article ends by warning that "this sect has followers in almost every major population center of the Murmansk region. The number of its adepts exceeds several thousand people." No Witnesses are quoted to refute the accusations.
4. CONSTRUCTION OF CHURCH NOT PERMITTED. In the far-eastern Sakhalin Region, a July 30 report by the local news agency Ostrova revealed that a campaign in Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsk pressured the mayor into refusing permission for Jehovah's Witnesses to build a kingdom hall. The report does not say when this happened, but it was announced by Egor Kholmogorov, a visiting historian with links to the Russian Orthodox Church. According to him, the campaign generated 1,000 signatures and persuaded the mayor, who, Kholmogorov admits, "had no formal basis to ban" the construction.
5. ORTHODOX CLERGY LEADS CRUSADE AGAINST JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. In the Rostov Region, the local supplement to the national daily "Moskovsky Komsomolets" reported on July 30 that Orthodox clergy led a "crusade" against Jehovah's Witnesses in Novoshakhtinsk. Town officials allowed the anti-Jehovah's Witnesses to march, and Mayor Aleksandr Brizhanov pledged his support, quoted as saying: "The city administration, along with Orthodox residents, are concerned that thousands of followers of alternative 'churches' have converged on Novoshakhtinsk from all over southern Russia."
JURY FINDS THREE GUILTY OF MURDER IN MOB VIOLENCE. A jury in Saratov, Russia found three men who participated in a mass attack on minorities guilty of murder, according to the government daily "Rossiyskaya Gazeta" dated July 30. Five other men face charges of "hooliganism" in an attack that involved about 60 assailants, the vast majority of whom never faced charges.
The violence stemmed from an incident at a slot machine where a man from the Caucasus allegedly made lewd comments to a Russian woman who threatened to tell her friend about it. The man did not back down and agreed to settle accounts with her friend later that evening. About 60 men showed up, only to find that there was nobody there to brawl with. They went after two members of an ethnic minority who happened to walk by, but they escaped without injury.
Then one of the defendants suggested the men to attack a nearby construction site where workers, primarily from the Caucasus, were known to be sleeping. Two of the defendants cornered a guard at the site, cut his phone lines, and warned him not to call the police. The mob then burst into the building, beating the people there with hammers, shovels, and clubs for about 10 minutes. Some of the victims jumped out of windows, others hid. Zurab Albastov, 32, a law student and father of two, was struck about 20 times with a hammer and shovel and died at the scene. Construction worker Azrudin Galimov lived for a few days after the attack in a hospital before succumbing to his injuries.
Prosecutors presented the jury with a video of the attack that a witness shot. It showed one of the defendants approaching the site with a wooden club in his hand. The defendants' lawyers therefore had no choice but to admit that their clients took part in the violence but they claimed that they did not strike the blows that took the victims' lives. The strategy did not convince the jury.
On August 1, the news web site Saratov Inform reported that three defendants were sentenced to between 13 and 15 years on charges of "murder motivated by hooliganism." It is not clear why nobody was charged with hate crimes.
MOST MUSCOVITES OBJECT TO MIGRANTS, POLL FINDS. More than half of Muscovites regard the presence of migrant workers in the capital unacceptable, according to a new poll reported on August by the Siti-FM news web site. Close to two thirds of respondents agreed that migrants should be expelled, according to the study by the Miklukho-Maklaya Institute. The report quoted Mayor Yuri Luzhkov warning that the city is beset with a crime wave by migrants, an assertion that human rights activists question.
U.N. PANEL CONCERNED WITH RISE IN RACIST ATTACKS IN RUSSIA. On August 4, a Geneva-based U.N. panel questioned whether Russia is doing enough to combat racism, while human rights groups said the government is partly to blame for a rise in hate crime, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Data from Amnesty International and a U.N. investigator showed that the number of racist attacks in Russia has increased since 2002, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racism said. The U.N. panel expressed additional concern that mainstream publishing houses and media outlets in Russia, as well as the Internet promote racist views. The government does not compile figures on racist attacks, AP noted and cited the Moscow-based Sova Information-Analytical Center to the effect that at least 85 people were killed and almost 600 injured in racially motivated attacks last year.
MIGRATION OFFICIALS COLLECT MILLIONS IN FINES. The St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Federal Migration Department levied 120 million rubles ($5.2 million) in the first six months of this year from raids it carried out on more than 17,000 employers of illegal immigrants, including trading and construction sites, matching the amount of fines it collected in the whole of last year, “The St. Petersburg Times” reported. "But only half of the amount has so far reached the state coffers as most of the violators are too poor to afford the fines," said the head of the department, Colonel Yury Buryak. "About 80,000 rubles in fines for employing an illegal manual laborer is quite a big burden for most employers, but the penalty is worth it as it makes an employer think twice before taking the risk." The penalty for an individual employing an illegal worker is a maximum fine of 50,000 rubles.
"Judging from random raids our inspectors carry out, the violations revealed are only a tip of the iceberg," Buryak said. "We are fighting a war which is almost impossible to win when employers are running for cheap laborers in pursuit of quick and big profits, forgetting the fact that illegal immigrants live in this city at the expense of tax payers," he said in response to a question whether his department had any way of measuring the economic contribution foreign workers make to the city and its surrounding region.
ANTISEMITIC INCIDENTS RISE 9% IN BRITAIN. There was a 9% rise in antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom in the first half of 2008 compared with the same period last year, Britain’s authoritative Community Security Trust (CST) reported. Up to June, there were 266 incidents compared with 244 last year. Some 166 were incidents of abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, hate mail, and graffiti. CST suggested that its improved communication with smaller Jewish communities "goes some way to explaining the overall rise." Incidents involving Jewish students or academics and at colleges rose 88%, from 26 to 49. There were also 29 incidents involving Jewish schools and schoolchildren. However, violent assaults were down, from 54 in the first six months of 2007, to 42 in 2008.
* * * QUOTE OF THE WEEK, SOLZHENITSYN’S LEGACY * * * "A great writer is, so to speak, a secret government in his country," Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in "The First Circle," published in the United States by Harper & Row in 1968.
THE HERO WHO EXPOSED THE LIES OF AN EMPIRE
Solzhenitsyn Soared as the Gulag’s Chronicler; His Decline Saddened Admirers
There were at least two Alexander Solzhenitsyns.
The first was the writer who created masterpieces of literature comparable to those of Tolstoy and who relentlessly told the truth about the Soviet Union regardless of the consequences. He was the most effective spokesman in countering the ideology that claimed to own the ineluctable future not only in its Soviet homeland but across the globe.
A high school science teacher from the provinces, unknown and unpublished at age 43, Solzhenitsyn was an overnight sensation in 1962 with his brilliant, spare, understated novella, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." It soon became clear that he commanded a unique talent as a chronicler of the gulag in non-fiction as well as thinly disguised fiction. In his book “Cancer Ward,” he offered cancer as the metaphor for the sickness of the Soviet system.
But the second Solzhenitsyn was self-centered, obsessively narrow-minded, and a Jeremiah wannabe. His pride knew no bounds. He saw himself as a personification of historic Russia with a monopoly on the truth. After his return to Russia from 18 hermit years in Vermont, he turned into a living icon held aloft by leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, by segments of the nationalist right, and, most prominently, by Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer who by a strange twist of fate became head of state.
David Remnick, “The New Yorker’s” Russian-speaking editor and a rare foreign visitor admitted to Solzhenitsyn’s presence, voiced his ambivalence in 2001: “In terms of the effect he has had on history, Solzhenitsyn is the dominant writer of the 20th century. Who else compares? Orwell? Koestler? And yet when his name comes up now, it is more often than not as a freak, a monarchist, an antisemite, a crank, a has-been.”
Now that Solzhenitsyn’s heart stopped beating at age 89, it behooves us to remember him in his first role and read and re-read his magnificent trilogy “Gulag Archipelago,” his “home” for eight years. According to “The Washington Post” front-page obituary, he “shocked readers by describing the savagery of the Soviet state under the dictator Yosif Stalin. It helped erase lingering sympathy for the Soviet Union among many leftist intellectuals, especially in Europe.”
Yet another Solzhenitsyn was a youthful Communist believer. Then, during World War II, he served as a front-line artillery captain, brave and competent. But at war’s end, he was arrested for referring to Stalin in a letter to a friend as "the man with the mustache." He served seven years in a labor camp in the wastes of Kazakhstan and three more years in internal exile in Central Asia. He began writing in the gulag, memorizing some of his work so it wouldn't be lost in the event that the authorities seized his manuscript.
In 1970, Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel Prize for Literature, a surprising choice by the Swedish Academy that praised him for "the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature." Soviet authorities barred him from traveling to Stockholm to receive the award and official attacks on him mounted under Leonid Brezhnev’s de-destalinization in 1973, after the first volume of his non-fiction gulag trilogy was published in Paris. The following year, he was arrested on a treason charge and expelled the next day to West Germany in handcuffs. A worldwide condemnation of the Brezhnev regime followed, but President Gerald Ford, worried about offending the Kremlin, declined to receive him in the White House, a snub the writer never forgave.
In 1976, Solzhenitsyn settled in the tiny town of Cavendish, Vermont with his wife and sons. In monkish seclusion, he worked on what he considered his life's great work, a multivolume saga of Russian history titled "The Red Wheel." Many readers found it tedious and hectoring. At times, he sounded propagandistic, even Bolshevik style.
He decided that the West was decadent and rejected Western pluralistic democracy with its emphasis on individual freedom. He cultivated contempt for popular Western culture that sounded exaggerated but fit in with his role as a prophet inveighing against corruption and immorality. But there is little to argue with his analysis of the Cold War, even though most Americans do not like to hear about his point about the futility of negotiations with the Kremlin. In June 1978, he made a rare public appearance, at Harvard University. He said: "The split in today's world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception, to the illusion that danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is a much profounder and a more alienating one, that the rifts are more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a Kingdom--in this case, our Earth--divided against itself cannot stand."
But the celebrations upon his triumphant return to Russia in 1994 soon turned sour. He complained that most Russians do not read his books and he expressed disdain for his country’s runaway capitalism and consumerism. He retreated from public view and spoke up rarely.
In the 21st century, Solzhenitsyn’s increasingly strident vision of Russia’s unique Orthodox destiny, separate from the West yet possibly its savior, was endorsed by Putin under his presidency. "Any ancient deeply rooted autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the Earth's surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking," Solzhenitsyn said in the 1978 Harvard speech. "For one thousand years Russia has belonged to such a category."
Biographer Michael Scammell cited Nikita Khrushchev defending his decision to allow the publication of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich": “There’s a Stalinist in each of you; there’s even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil.” The Stalin era, Solzhenitsyn wrote quoting Alexander Pushkin, forced Soviet citizens to choose one of three roles: tyrant, traitor, and prisoner. Yet after the Kremlin banished him, Solzhenitsyn became a prisoner of his own intolerant, nationalist world view, betraying many of his admirers. He turned into an anti-Stalin.
A much-quoted part of the second Solzhenitsyn persona was his final work, “Two Hundred Years Together,” about Russians and Jews. While dismissing the right-wing populist notion of a "Jewish conspiracy" behind the 1917 revolution, he focused on the prominence of Jews in the early Bolshevik leadership. There were critics who smelled more than a whiff of antisemitism. Solzhenitsyn rejected the charge, this time softly, saying that he "understood the subtlety, sensitivity, and kindheartedness of the Jewish character."
Following Solzhenitsyn’s death, former dissident Natan Sharansky said that the charges ought not to overshadow the fact that had "changed the lives of millions of people."
We should remember Solzhenitsyn in his best years when his words shined and shook readers in 40 languages rather than in his decline as a writer and as a man. One memorable example of his eloquence was his speech accepting the Nobel Prize. He recalled the time when “in the midst of exhausting prison camp relocations, marching in a column of prisoners in the gloom of bitterly cold evenings, with strings of camp lights glimmering through the darkness, we would often feel rising in our breast what we would have wanted to shout out to the whole world--if only the whole world could have heard us.” He wrote that while an ordinary man is obliged “not to participate in lies,” artists have greater responsibilities, as “it is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!”
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Copyright (c) 2008. UCSJ. All rights reserved.
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