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Jews protest trampled Star of David statue
By David Dahan
The statue sculpted by Vyacheslav Klykov
Representatives of Russia’s Jewish community have protested against a statue depicting a mediaeval prince trampling on a Star of David. Nevertheless Jewish leaders in the country believe that anti-Semitism is not a major problem in Russia.
The Federation of Russian Jewish communities (FEOR) protested Monday against a new monument in the southern Russian city of Belgorod showing a mediaeval prince trampling on a Star of David.
The monument, which depicts the Russian prince on horseback crushing the shield of a Khazar warrior emblazoned with the symbol of Judaism, is "a provocation that deforms history", FEOR said in a statement.
Many Khazars converted to Judaism, which became the official religion, but they also adopted Islam and Christianity in different periods of the empire’s history.
"The Federation believes the installation of the monument is a provocation which does not only distort history, but also makes an extremely negative impact on the present," reads the Federation’s statement.
The sculptor behind the monument, Vyacheslav Klykov, was "known for his anti-Semitic views" and "rewrites history as he pleases", FEOR said.
Klykov is among the signatories of the notorious letter of 500, which among other anti-Semitic statements, read: " It can be said that today the whole democratic world is under financial and political control of the international Jewry, which is a point of pride for prominent bankers."
The sculptor is also a member of the Russian ultra-nationalist organisation, Pamyat, which identifies “with the People’s national patriotic orthodox Christian movement."
Not major problem
Olga Goldman, the administrative director of the Federation of Jewish communities of Russia, told EJP that this incident was representative of the reality in Russia.
"Belgorod, is in the “red belt”, a region where pro-Communist and nationalist sentiments are very strong," she said.
You cannot say that anti-Semitism is a growing phenomenon in Russia
Olga Goldman, administrative director of FEOR
The local newspaper, “Zhitiyo Bityo”, underlined in an article on 2 November that in the past weeks, Belgorod had been witnessed several attacks against foreign university students from Ghana, Peru and Ecuador.
"You cannot say that anti-Semitism is a growing phenomenon in Russia," Goldman said.
Nathalia Rikova, public relations director of Russian parliament member Vladimir Slustker, echoed Goldman’s statement by pointing out that "a lot of initiatives are taken on the national and regional political level and by the Jewish communities to fight anti-Semitism."
As an example of the proactive attitude of the Jewish community, Goldman pointed to recent events in Kaliningrad.
Jews suffer from the lack of healthcare and the insufficient pensions, which are problems shared by all Russians
Nathalia Rikova, public relations director to Russian PM
The city’s rabbi drew the local government attention to the fact that extremist and anti-Semitic literature is readily available at bookstands throughout the city. There was an immediate political response, with inspections carried out at local bookstands and legal proceedings carried out against any shopkeepers caught with such literature.
Rikova and Goldmanm stressed that anti-Semitism is quasi inexistent in the political spheres whereas it is quite persistent in the day-to-day life. "We can say that 80 per cent of the anti-Semitic attacks come from the countryside," Rikova pointed out, saying that the more educated people in the city are less inclined to xenophobic and racist sentiments than in the rural regions.
According to both Jews in Russia nowadays share the same concerns as Russian society. Goldman said that, "Jews suffer from the lack of healthcare and the insufficient pensions, which are problems shared by all Russians."
"No anti-Semitism among politicians"
However, the letter of 500 was signed by many politicians and parliament members. None of the persons contacted by EJP wanted to comment on the problem of anti-Semitism among Russian political leaders.
It is of significant importance that Rogozin publicly states that his party is not anti-Semitic
Goldman pointed out that Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, met with the leader of the Rodina (Homeland) party Dmitry Rogozin on Monday and urged him to end talk of "anti-Semitism" inside his party.
"Neither I nor my party entourage are anti-Semites. We think it’s high time to drop this topic," Lazar’s press service quoted Rogozin as saying on Monday.
A number of members of the Rodina faction did sign the notorious "letter of 500" demanding that some Jewish organisations in Russia be closed. Lazar, for his part, stressed that the leader of any political organisation should clearly spell out his position on crucial problems of life in modern Russia, including the ethnic issue.
Goldman said it was a very important meeting because it was the first time Rogozin met with Lazar and the first time Lazar is engaging in a dialogue with fringe parties.
"It is of significant importance that a party leader such as Rogozin publicly states that his party is not anti-Semitic," she said.
According to observers, Russian anti-Semitism in the political class is still a taboo among the country’s Jewish leadership.