Vienna, December 27 -- The Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia (FEOR) says that there was a decline in the number of cases of xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Russia in 2007 compared to the year before, but other human rights groups there dispute that, arguing that the number of such incidents in fact rose by a third over 2006.
Yesterday, Borukh Gorin, the head of FEOR’s external relations department, said that statistics gathered by his organization about manifestations of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in the Russian Federation over the last several years “show that happily such phenomena are in decline” (http://www.regions.ru/news/2117063).
The FEOR expert said that during there year, his organization had identified 16 anti-Semitic publications, 34 cases of threatening behavior against Jews and other minorities, five cases of the use of force, and 11 attacks on synagogues and other religious sites, a clear reduction in all categories except that of the number of publications.
Not only did these numbers reverse earlier trends, he continued, but they “completely contradicted predictions” made earlier that the election campaign would lead to an increase in the number of such incidents in 2007. He credited the actions of the Russian special services and law enforcement agencies for these positive developments.
Gorin added that he was pleased that during the course of the year, the government had published “for the first time” and now “regularly updates the list of nationalist extremist publications that are banned from distribution on the territory of Russia,” a process that he said was “the common practice in very many civilized countries.”
At the same time, however, Gorin cautioned against any relaxation of these efforts. The reduction in the number of incidents in 2007 was only “a first victory,” and he expressed the hope that the authorities will now seek to bring to justice many of the participants in these and earlier anti-Semitic and xenophobic attacks.
Human rights activists expressed surprise at FEOR’s conclusions. Alla Gerber, the president of the Holocaust Foundation, told Novyye izvestiya that she had “precise data that confirm that the level of xenophobia in the country has not fallen but on the contrary, is growing every day” (http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=print&div=7491).
She added that “the picture as before is very serious and even threatening,” although she acknowledged that Russian prosecutors “had begun to react to nationalist crimes” more often than they had in the past. “Not always,” she said, but at least they had made some steps in the right direction.
Aleksandr Vinnikov, who heads the “For Russia Without Racism” organization, also disagreed with the FEOR findings. He said that according to the information he had, “xenophobia is growing very quickly” in Russia both among the population at large and among the country’s political elite.
And Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, added that “with each year, the number of attacks on people” in Russia on an ethnic or religious basis “has been increasing 10-15 percent.” Last year was no exception, he said, adding that “only the blind cannot see this.”
According to a report by his organization featured in today’s Gazeta, “the number of attacks and conflicts rooted in xenophobia in Russia in 2007 compared with the previous year grew by a third,” with the number of deaths going up 20 percent and the number of wounded “almost doubling” (http://gzt.ru/society/2007/12/27/120331.html).
Most of the reason for the differences between the conclusions of FEOR and those of the other groups, of course, reflects the way in which these organizations define xenophobia and gather information about it. FEOR naturally directs its attention to incidents of anti-Semitism and relies heavily on information provided by others with a similar focus
The other groups not only tend to tend to consider xenophobia more broadly but in at least some cases draw on a wider variety of sources, thus picking up more cases. Brod’s Moscow Human Rights Group, for example, pointedly noted that this year ethnic Russians had suffered more deaths from xenophobic attacks than any other ethnic or religious group.
But these contrasting points of view regrettably are likely to fuel suspicions on the part of some that FEOR’s leaders may be trying to curry favor with the Kremlin and on the part of others -- including some in the government itself -- that the human rights groups are seeking to blacken the image of Russia in order to attract attention from the West.