It’s Politics, Not a Pogrom

MOSCOW: First it was Yids (Jews). Then the Romanovs, the nobility, and the kulaks. After 1991, it was Lenin and the communists. Now, it seems, its is the turn of the Jews again. Like history in the old saying, Russian hatreds repeat themselves. Luckily, the other half of that saying also appears to be true, for Moscow’s most recent bout of anti-Semitism is a case of history repeating itself, not as tragedy, but as farce.

The October Revolution of 1917, with its attractive slogans of internationalism, multi-culturalism and ethnic equality was a liberating time for Russian Jews. It didn’t last long. With Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin embarked on another round of chest thumping for "Russia's Greatness".

This chauvinist period, however, lasted for over six decades, and was marked by quotas for all those with not-quite-Russian-sounding names. Jews in particular were restricted in their numbers at universities, research institutes, the foreign service, and in government. One notation in the Soviet passport was a sad reality for those who could not list themselves as Russian under "nationality," but were, instead, labeled "Georgian" or "Armenian" or, God forbid a policeman was examining it, "Jewish." No talking your way out of trouble with that in your documents.

The August revolution of 1991 appeared to undo much of the anti-Semitic nastiness imposed since 1917. Other nationalities, including people of Jewish origin, began to appear in the political spotlight. Chubais, Livshitz, Nemtsov, Yavlinksy, and Kiriyenko among the reformers. Berezovsky and Guzinsky among the new plutocrats. Vladimir Zhirinovsky among the ranting would-be fascists. Russia, freed from its ethnic and mental straitjacket, was letting its most resourceful, entrepreneurial, vibrant, and yes, cynical, citizens climb to the top.