Anti-Semitism in the Former USSR: a General Overview
Anti-Semitism in post-Soviet territory has a number of significant differences both from the Western and the Eastern situation. If we attempt to characterize the situation as a whole, somewhat simplifying the matter, we can say that anti-Semitism in different countries of the region has a traditional, somewhat archaic and rudimentary character, and has been preserved mostly on the grassroots level as negative stereotypes within the consciousness of the masses. Sometimes these stereotypes are of religious origin, and sometimes they are inherited from Soviet propaganda. There does not seem to be a flexible, easily adaptable ideology with a massive mobilization potential. Unfortunately, as it is well-known, during the last ten years a falsely-understood solidarity with Palestinian Muslims has been becoming, through the efforts of Islamists, the ideological basis for radical anti-Semitic propaganda or even criminal activity for a portion of the population of certain Islamic countries, as well as for many diaspora representatives of Muslim peoples. However, anti-Israeli rhetoric does not mobilize post-Soviet Muslims as effectively as their peers in other countries. This is for a number of reasons, the most important among which is the mentality differences between post-Soviet Muslims and their Near Eastern and Western counterparts. Also important is the absence of any numerous groups hailing from the Near East in the post-Soviet Umma. The Left and liberal-Left anti-Zionism (often inseparable with the so-called new anti-Semitism), which has become widespread among the intellectual elite of the West, has not gained any considerable influence among post-Soviet youth and intellectuals.
So the minimum context for this report is the fact that, in general, post-Soviet anti-Semitism has preserved its unique nature, and has not become a part of either the European new anti-Semitism (when speaking of the European republics of the former USSR) or the zone of anti-Semitic rhetoric typical of Islamic fundamentalist countries neighboring the new states with a predominantly Muslim population.
This factor has strengthened the countries of the former Soviet Union to waves of new anti-Semitism, which have swamped the world starting with the Second Intifada of 2000 and up to the reaction to the events of the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” in May, 2010 (see special report).
Unlike in many other countries, the populace of post-Soviet territories, both elites and the majority of the population tend to sympathize with Israel and support it in the conflict with Islamic radicals. First of all, anti-Israeli stereotypes are often perceived as a hallmark of Communistic views, which are seen by the majority of the population as outdated and discredited. Anti-Zionism is rejected as a remnant of Soviet foreign policy and propaganda. Youths mostly do not support the political left, and many phenomena noticeable in the West, such as widespread intellectual anti-Semitism on campuses, anti-Israeli slogans in youth anti-globalist events, and so on, are absent. Second, over a million repatriates to Israel from the Soviet Union, the majority of which had been intellectuals and highly-qualified workers, keep contact with their friends and colleagues in “countries of the Exodus,” which influences the sympathies in the media when covering the Arab-Israel conflict. This factor has been gaining in importance because of the widespread use of the Internet and new technologies for transferring information.
Finally, as has been said already, groups of natives from Arabic countries (Palestinians, first and foremost) are not nearly as numerous and influential as they are in the West. The Muslim population of the post-Soviet territory are not Arabs, but Turks, representatives of ethnicities from the Northern Caucasus, and Tajiks, and so the mechanisms of pan-Arabic solidarity do not work in post-Soviet space. Pan-Islamic solidarity works, however, and religious forms of solidarity in the modern secularized world have a far stronger mobilization effect than linguistic and ethnic solidarity.
We should note that the situation might change in the future. In some post-Soviet countries, their international relations context stimulates the development of anti-Israeli tendencies. The search of models for the external realization of interests has been leading some post-Soviet countries to alliances with open opponents of Israel, first and foremost with Iran, and with certain others, from Venezuela to the pseudo-state HAMAS regime in Gaza. This tendency can be seen in certain European countries of the former USSR, as well as in countries with a predominantly Muslim population. Together with internal processes – the “Soviet-light” restoration tendencies in Russia and the gradual integration of the Islamic countries into the worldwide Muslim informational and cultural space – this trend seems to be quite serious.
We should also note that in many post-Soviet countries, the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies in their internal policy leads to the suppression of any oppositional activity, including that of the radical right (ultra-nationalist and religious fundamental), which consequentially leads to a reduction of the volume of anti-Semitic propaganda and of recorded anti-Semitic acts. However, should the stiuation destabilize, anti-Semitic activity tends to increase again. These tendencies can be seen, at least in part, in last-year's events in Moldova and, especially, in Kyrgyzstan. There is reason to suspect that should the authoritarian regime weaken in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, which both have been rather harshly suppressing the Islamist opposition, anti-Semitic incidents might happen there, as well.