Russia Hate on Rise — But Not Against Jews

Bigotry and Violence Aimed at Gay Men and Central Asians

New Targets: A gay rights activist is seen after clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St. Petersburg in 2013.
New Targets: A gay rights activist is seen after clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St. Petersburg in 2013.

By Paul Berger

Published February 10, 2014, issue of February 14, 2014.

(page 3 of 7)

Farber was accused of accepting a bribe worth 132,600 rubles (slightly less than $4,000) for repairs to a cultural center in a village called Moshenka, about 250 miles northwest of Moscow.

“The Farber case is mostly not about Jewishness but about the bad situation in the regions,” Verkhovsky said. “It’s about very poor institutionalized relationships in business, about informal business relationships that can always be interpreted as crime.” He compared the charges against Farber with those against the anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, who was accused in 2012 of embezzling money from a timber firm. “Every second businessman can be accused,” Verkhovsky said.

Farber’s case transfixed Russia not because of the alleged anti-Semitic undertones of his trial, but because it spoke to the inequalities of contemporary Russian life. Even Vladimir Putin, when asked to comment on the case last year, called the sentence “egregious.”

Each year, across Russia, people like Farber — people without power and influence — are given harsh custodial sentences for minor crimes, while more serious criminals, accused of stealing millions of dollars, or even of murder, evade justice. As if to underline the inequality, one week after Farber was released from jail, Gennady Zhigaryov, a former official in Irkutsk, appeared for sentencing for stabbing and killing a 74-year-old journalist. The journalist, Alexander Khodzinsky, had written stories accusing Zhigaryov of corruption. Zhigaryov was sentenced to 22 months probation because of what the court described as his “state of affectation” at the time of the killing.

If Jews have largely escaped persecution in Russia today, other groups — migrant workers from Central Asia and the north Caucasus, homosexuals, liberals and human rights activists — have become the country’s central objects of suspicion and fear. Hate is on the rise in Russia. But Jews are not the principal or even the secondary target.

“Today’s Russia is not about anti-Semitism as much as it’s full of generic multipurpose xenophobia,” said Anton Nossik, a prominent Internet entrepreneur. “Hate is a new ideology here, and Jews cannot satisfy the general need of the population in objects of hatred because there are so few Jews left.”

Nossik sat in a kosher cafe at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, which opened in Moscow in late 2012. As usual, he wore a yarmulke, which he never seeks to hide in public.

Nossik traces the rise of xenophobia in Russia to the December 2011 protests that greeted then-prime minister Putin’s decision to switch roles with the president at the time, Dmitry Medvedev.

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