Anti-Semitism in Belarus, 2009–2010
Even though the tendency towards liberalization in public life that began in Belarus in 2008 and 2009 continued in 2010, Belarus continues to be practically the only country in the region that has almost completely preserved all of the elements of the Soviet regime. In the national sphere, the most important part of this is a policy in which the authorities give very little support to the minority ethnicities to allow them to maintain their national identity and the development of their traditions and culture. This factor becomes extremely important in the conditions of a centralized social and economical life.
There is a fairly visible bias in the Belarusian public life towards Jews. Scholarly works, encyclopedias, reference materials and schoolbooks are often silent on the history of the Jews of Belarus and the tragedy of the Holocaust. A number of cities (Minsk, Mogilev, Brest, Borisov) have Jewish communities which pose the question of returning buildings built on Jewish money and belonging to Jews to the communities. At the moment Jewish public and religious organizations are forced to rent premises.
The local authorities are openly disrespectful towards the preservation of the Jewish national heritage. Former synagogues are being demolished, and the authorities do not believe it necessary to even notify the Jewish community. In 2009, the former Luban synagogue was demolished, where one of the major Talmudists of the twentieth century, Moshe Feinstein, had worked. This tendency also concerns Jewish cemeteries. Many sports complexes had been built on destroyed Jewish cemeteries (the Dynamo stadium in Minsk, the city stadiums of Brest, Grodno, Gomel, and the swimming pool in Pinsk, among others). But recently there has been a necessity to renovate these stadiums and to widen their territory. A significant number of human remains is being exhumed and moved to barren waste grounds. Despite the multitude of requests from Jewish organizations, the reburial of these remains is not done according to Jewish national tradition. The situation is the same when construction work is done on the territory of former cemeteries or mass shootings.
Criminal anti-Semitism in Belarus has been repressed from above. There are no beatings or killings of Jews, nor is there arson towards synagogues. The only criminal anti-Semitic events are acts of vandalism on Jewish cemeteries and memorials to victims of Hitler's genocide. The authorities refuse to qualify these incidents as anti-Semitic (under article 130 of the Criminal Code), but rather believe them to be “vandalism” or simple “hooliganism”. For instance, in 2009, a swastika and threats were written on the building of the Slutsk Jewish community. The investigation was instigated on the “hooliganism” article. Anti-Semitic graffiti and acts of vandalism towards memorials of Holocaust victims have also been recorded in Vitebsk and Minsk. Anti-Semites also wrote “Kill Mikhoels” and drew a swastika and a crossed-out Magen David on the former dacha of Lavrentiy Tsanava, in the Stepyanki forest range. The character of the writing suggests that its authors know the hypothesis that it had been there that Solomon Mikhoels had been murdered on January 13, 1948.
To do justice to the situation, it must be nonetheless noted that the policy of the authorities during the last 3 years, supported by the leaders of the Orthodox eparchy and the security services (KGB, prosecutor's office, courts of law) led to a whole group of politicians, Parliament deputies, mass media workers, personas of public importance, businessmen, and others who were many times shown to be propagating anti-Semitism, spreading anti-Jewish myths and instigating ethnic strife. Among the chauvinists (of the “Great Imperialistic Russia” variety) forced to leave the public arena were: editor-in-chief of the Neman magazine, Nina Chaika; editor of the bulletin for the President of the Republic of Belarus, writer Edward Skobelev; former parliamentarian Sergey Kostyan; journalist of the “Republic” newspaper Vyacheslav Rostikov, and other. Skobelev, however, continues to publish anti-Semitic materials in the Russian chauvinist newspaper “The Russian Herald” (“Russkiy Vestnik”).
Legal proceedings that took place in 2008-2009 led to the divestiture of the publishing and trade license for the ZAO “Christian Initiative,” and to the closing of the “Orthodox Initiative” retail chain, which published and sold anti-Semitic literature.
During the same time period, the republic also held trials over Neo-Nazi RNE groups and skinheads, on the charge of acts of criminal anti-Semitism (vandalism in Jewish cemeteries, threats to Jewish activists and so on).
For the last year and a half media monitoring did not record any cases of instigating hate towards Jews. Judaism is one of the four traditional religions in Belarus.