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September 15, 1989 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I BEHIND THE HEADLINES I

Is Glasnost Paving
The Way For Pogroms?

JAMES D. BESSER

Washington Correspondent

A



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re Soviet Jews facing

.

a dramatic upsurge
in anti-Semitic
activity?
In recent weeks, Soviet
Jewry groups have issued
ominous warnings of increas-
ed activity by groups like
Pamyat, the semi-sanctioned
Russian nationalist group
with a strong anti-Semitic
bent.
But some observers suggest
that these warnings reflect
expectations more than ac-
tual events. More than
anything else, they say, these
reports are clear reflections of
the unprecedented ferment at
every level of Soviet society —
an environment replete with
opportunities for Soviet Jews,
but also with very real
dangers.
On one level, the uncon-
trolled explosion of change
has given new life to forces
that have traditionally
nourished Soviet anti-
Semitism. In some cases,
these social and political
upheavals have put Jews in a
squeeze between other groups
seeking liberation from the
Soviet system and the
authorities in Moscow.
And the sense of instabili-
ty, of a society turned upside
down, may be contributing to
a feeling of impermanence
that makes Soviet Jews and
their American supporters
think long and hard about
the Soviet Union's old habit of
reacting to rapid - social
change by scapegoating the
nation's Jews.
Visitors to the Soviet Union
bring back dramatically con-
tradictory pictures.
"We traveled all over the
Soviet Union, and the Soviet
Jews we met told us that their
lives were freer of anti-
Semitism and official repres-
sion than ever before," said
one Jewish activist who
recently returned from a trip
to the Soviet Union. "These
people spoke freely to us
about their lives; we had no
sense of intimidation. And we
talked to many Soviet citizens
about Pamyat, both Jews and
non-Jews; what they told us
generally was that they view-
ed it as a Loony Tunes kind of
extremist group. In other
words, nobody seems to take
it very seriously."
Another seasoned Soviet
Jewry activist viewed things
through a different lens dur-
ing a recent trip to the Soviet
Union.

"Both in Leningrad and
Moscow we heard that
Pamyat's activities are in-
creasing, that anti-Semitic
literature is being sold by
Pamyat activists in Moscow,"
said Dan Mariaschin, director
of public affairs for B'nai
B'rith International.
Mariaschin recently par-
ticipated in the opening of
B'nai B'rith's fourth Soviet
unit. "They've even set up
tables in Pushkin Square?'
Mariaschin told of a letter
from 16 members of the
Jewish community in the
Soviet Union, complaining
about "numerous acts of van-

Visitors to the
Soviet Union bring
back dramatically
contradictory
pictures.

dalism and desecration in
Jewish cemeteries," and talk-
ing about incidents in which
Jews have been beaten up in
Moscow and Leningrad.
Signers of the letter have re-
quested a special commission
of the Supreme Soviet to in-
vestigate the rise in
anti-Semitism.
The
substance
of
Mariaschin's account is
substantiated by mainline
Soviet Jewry groups like the
National Conference on
Soviet Jewry, which recently
blasted the resurgence of the
Anti-Zionist Committee,
which Soviet authorities had
promised to dismantle.
But putting these widely
varying accounts into
perspective is difficult. Some
of the current wave of concern
appears tied to real incidents
of anti-Semitism, but even
more seems related to an in-
crease in rhetoric among
groups vying for the
allegiance of the Soviet
people.
And much of the current
anxiety is simply a product of
the wild centrifugal forces
generated by a society that
seems on the verge of spinn-
ing out of control.
"People are worried it could
turn into a civil war," said
Warren Eisenberg, chief of
B'nai B'rith's International
Council. Eisenberg also
returned recently from
travels in the Soviet Union.
"Pamyat has been very noisy
lately; they're claiming more
than six million members.
But the question of anti-

Continued on Page 18

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