Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Micah Naftalin
Executive Director - Union of Councils for Jews


Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission:

On behalf of Yossi Abramowitz, president of UCSJ, and our entire board -
and indeed our entire international movement - I thank you for this
important opportunity to talk about antisemitism and xenophobia in the
Russian regions and, more important, I believe, to talk about the direct
relevance this subject has to the broader dimensions of policies that
address no less than war and peace as a result of 9/11.

I am joined by Dr. Leonid Stonov, a former Moscow Refusenik leader and
member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, who now works out of our affiliate,
Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, and directs and
coordinates UCSJ's human rights bureaus across the former Soviet Union
(FSU); and Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ's research and advocacy director,
who is the general editor of the report we are issuing today -
Antisemitism, Xenophobia and Religious Persecution in Russia's Regions -

I am honored to share this opportunity with Ludmilla Alexeeva, the
chairman of Russia's oldest and most prestigious human rights
organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group and president of the
International Helsinki Federation. UCSJ and MHG have been partners
since the 1970s - sometimes informally and, more recently, through our
joint efforts in human rights monitoring across the Russian Federation
under the auspices of a vitally influential pilot grant of NED and a
major four-year grant from USAID, to which UCSJ was the sub-grantee.
That effort has resulted in the establishment of a truly integrated
human rights movement for the first time in Russian history.

Mr. Chairman, I recognize the difficulty of gaining the attention of the
public or of policymakers to this subject at a time when questions of
international terrorism, of weapons inspection, indeed of war and peace
and America's obligations to protect and defend democracy are the
riveting issues of the day. But isn't this precisely one of the crucial
byproducts of 9/11 - that we are now able to tune into the signals that
were always out there? It is my hope to assert a new paradigm of human
rights and national security: xenophobia, of which antisemitism is a
central component, represents the opposite side of the same coin as
extremism and terrorism and, as such, needs to be ranked as a major
category of human rights violations. Moreover, monitoring strategies to
combat it are available, as our report demonstrates, and, in light of
9/11, they must now rank with weapons inspections in our national
security arsenal. The collective failure of the NGO and intelligence
communities to adequately address these connections was one element of
the colossal failure of imagination that has permitted the success of
extremism and terrorism in the Middle East, in Russia, and at the World
Trade Center and Pentagon. Raging racism demonstrates a dangerous
breakdown of rule of law that threatens Russia's economic and political
stability and vulnerability to extremism and terrorism. It calls out
for American vigilance and assistance.

The intelligence, diplomatic, foreign aid and human rights communities
must all take this insight as a mandate for action. And because the
Helsinki Process is the natural father of this paradigm, what better
venue to explore its implications than this Helsinki Commission?
Throughout the Cold War and up to today, your commission, Mr. Chairman,
has been the principal venue to keep front and center the crucial nexus
between human rights and national security.

Our report is based on the year-long monitoring throughout 2001 by
UCSJ's Moscow "Bureau on Human Rights," whose director is Alexandr Brod.
The heart of the work is the presentation of 250 pages of detailed
reports of incidents in 63 of Russia's 89 regions While most of the
report comprises the reports of UCSJ's network of monitors and media
articles, a new feature can be found in many regional chapters that
contain mini-reports on local conditions from our monitors in their own
words. No summary can adequately convey the abject and cumulative
horror one finds by reading the hundreds of incidents of hate crimes and
hate speech described in this report, page by page, region by region.
But beyond the human tragedy, this is a document of a failed criminal
justice system that it is in both Russia's and America's interest to

The report also documents certain improvements, including President
Putin's unprecedented support of the Jewish community and his calls to
combat antisemitism. But it also documents the increase in xenophobia
aimed primarily at citizens, mostly Muslim, from the Caucasus. Without
question, "antisemitism and xenophobia have increased in the past year,
and they have a strong correlation with anti-democratic and anti-market
sentiments, as well as a level of ethnic Russian nationalism that may
imperil the still fragile, multi-ethnic structure of the Russian

This report, and the very capability to produce it, carries policy
implications for President Bush and President Putin as they strive to
combat international and domestic terrorism. First and foremost, in
addition to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we must
never again forget that "words and behavior also matter." The very
length of our report is but a palpable reminder that racists do not
pursue their murderous goals by stealth. They pursue conquest through
intimidation. They announce their intentions in advance. They thus can
be interdicted through effective monitoring and the holding of their
host governments accountable for their actions.

This truth applies equally to Hitlerian dictators, totalitarian
hegemons, and draconian terrorists. Recall that Mein Kampf promised
World War II and the Holocaust; the Doctor's Plot and the anti-Zionist
committee foreshadowed Stalin's purges; bin Laden's earlier fatwa
against Jews and America predicted 9/11; the antisemitic and anti-Israel
propaganda, official newspaper editorials and cartoons and school
curricula of the Palestinian Authority and many Arab countries gave the
lie to their intentions for the Oslo peace process; and the anti-Jewish
pogromist threats from the floor of the Russian Duma in the late 1990s
signaled the build-up of antisemitic and xenophobic invective and
violence leading to today's rampaging gangs of neo-Nazi skinheads.

But their audacity and impunity are also their weakness if we but learn
to take them seriously because, unlike the difficulties of inspections
and seeking well concealed weapons, extremists are more often easily
identified and monitored and they depend on the acquiescence, if not
collaboration, of their host governments.

I am optimistic in making these observations because I believe our
government has never been as well positioned to make human rights an
integral element of national security policy as it is today. The superb
efforts of those in the Department of State who produce annual country
reports on human rights and religious persecution, worldwide, have never
been stronger. And their success owes much to their demonstrated
ability to receive and utilize monitoring reports like ours from the
entire human rights community. And make no mistake, the international
community reads and is influenced by these reports.

What's new and quite remarkable, however, is the "National Security
Strategy" document issued by the President in September. I believe this
document is unprecedented in the extent and priority it places on human
rights and American values. In the national debate today, one would
gather that this document is all but a declaration of war. But the very
first paragraph states, "In the twenty-first century, only nations that
share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing
political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of
their people and assure their future prosperity." And in Part II,
before the sections about combating terrorism, the strategy asserts:
"America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human
dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state;
free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women;
religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property."

With respect, may I only quibble with one of the President's words.
With respect to the Russian Federation, other states of the former
Soviet Union, and non-democratic nations elsewhere, while we may hope
that these values are "nonnegotiable," it is incumbent on America and
the human rights community, indeed to negotiate for and demand these
rights. And, in the case of Russia, the President could not have
appointed an ambassador better equipped for such a challenge than
Alexander Vershbow. And, in this vein, may I also note that President
Putin is also well served in such pursuits by the exemplary efforts of
Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman, Professor Oleg Mironov, who last Friday
joined with our Moscow Bureau director, Alexander Brod, in publicly
signing a formal agreement of cooperation in furtherance of human rights
and combating antisemitism and xenophobia generally.

Mr. Mironov stated at the press conference that: "One of the sharpest
problems of Russian society is the increase in political extremism, and
social, racial, ethnic and religious hostility. The spread of fascist
ideas and terrorism present a threat to the constitutional system, human
rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies very often
qualify antisemitic and nationalistic incidents as hooliganism or
ordinary quarrels."

Russia's internal security is important to us for many reasons, some
that tend to be overlooked in today's debates. Russia remains a vast
and important nuclear power with widespread influence, whose leader
shows some limited inclinations to moving toward democracy and who has
unquestionably cast his lot with America in the war on terrorism. But
because of the rise in domestic terrorism, and the weaknesses in its
institutions for securing rule of law, Russia's vast and tenuously
guarded stockpile of the materials and components of nuclear weaponry
make it a major target for countries and terrorists alike who would hope
to purchase or steal nuclear capabilities for mass destruction. Our
report documents one dimension of Russia's, and therefore America's

We cannot say with scientific accuracy that the 30% increase in the size
of our report compared to last year's version proves a 30% increase in
the absolute number of incidents. The strengthening and broadening of
our monitoring network across Russia in the past year may be a partial
explanation. Unquestionably, however, the problem is becoming more
dangerous, one factor being the qualitative and quantitative increase in
the strength and viciousness of the neo-Nazi skinheads; another, the
pro-bin Laden and heightened anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and anti-America
rhetoric of some Russian Muslim leaders since the terrorist attack of

An apt summary of our report's findings is cited in a quotation that
introduces our Executive Summary by no less an authority than Izvestiya
"Hatred exists everywhere, but there are few places where the assortment
of hatred is as broad as it is in our country. There are few places
where society is so indifferent to it. In Germany each skinhead attack
on Turks, Kurds or Jews becomes a matter of great alarm for the police
and thousands-strong public demonstrations against extremism and
xenophobia. In our country such things do not provoke a very notable
reaction, but what is noticeable are the consequences."

Among many responses to such extremism, Russian President Vladimir Putin
declared, on July 25 of this year, "if we allow the development of this
bacillus of chauvinism, or nationalist or religious intolerance, we will
destroy the country." Despite the excellent rhetoric, governmental
response has been minimal, many regional authorities openly collaborate
with neo-Nazis; perpetrators of hate crimes, therefore, essentially
behave with impunity.

As our report finds:

"From Kaliningrad in the far west to the Pacific port city of
Vladivostok, from the Arctic city of Murmansk to the southern resort
area of Krasnodar, regional authorities as a general rule ignore the
activities of dangerous hate groups who aim violent rhetoric and actions
against minority groups, refusing to prosecute hate crimes or, at best,
classifying them under the euphemistic term "hooliganism." These hate
groups range from largely unorganized skinhead gangs to more structured
neo-Nazi groups like the People's National Party or the successors of
Russian National Unity to officially approved paramilitary Cossack
formations..While there have been improvements in the reactions of the
authorities to antisemitic incidents as compared to previous years,
official reaction is still disturbingly weak. Worst of all, after a
welcome decline in antisemitic incidents in 2000, the summer and early
fall of 2001 witnessed a rash of beatings of Jews (Moscow, Orenburg,
Kostroma and Omsk) and arson attacks on Jewish property (Ryazan,
Kostroma, Kazan), none of which have been solved. Nor have the vast
majority of past antisemitic attacks-the synagogue bombings in Moscow in
1999, the attack on a Jewish school in Ryazan in 2000, and numerous
other incidents-resulted in any convictions."

President Putin continues to make positive gestures towards Russia's
Jewish community, attending major Jewish events, praising the positive
role of Jews in Russia's history and contemporary life, and strongly
condemning antisemitism. This has helped create a more confident climate
for Jews in Russia, spurring a continued renaissance of Jewish life in
Russia, as witnessed by the growing number of synagogues being returned
to the community after decades of government ownership, the increasing
coverage in the media of Jewish communal activities and statements by
Jewish leaders about domestic and international events, and a rising
willingness of Jewish leaders in some parts of the country to stand up
publicly for their rights.

However, under the veneer of stability and justifiable celebration of
the amazing achievements of the past decade, there remains a sense of
unease. Jewish leaders' constant assertions that "there is no state
antisemitism in Russia" are only partially correct. While it is
certainly true that the active promotion of antisemitism is no longer
state policy, as it was throughout much of the Soviet period, passive
state antisemitism persists. While there has been some slight
improvement in the enforcement by federal prosecutors of laws against
the incitement of ethnic hatred, as a rule they fail to properly apply
these laws, or ensure that regional prosecutors do, sending a message to
antisemites that their actions will likely go unpunished. Far too much
latitude has been granted to regional officials in how they react to the
activities of hate groups or extremist politicians, leaving many to
choose to take no action at all to protect local minorities. In a
November 2001 meeting with regional police officials, Deputy Minister of
Internal Affairs Aleksandr Chekalin admitted as much when he stated: "We
have gone too far in our inaction against extremist youth."

The consequences of this permissive attitude towards hate groups are
especially clear in Moscow, where for years police have ignored skinhead
attacks against foreign students, dark-skinned market traders, and even
diplomats from African and Asian countries. Only now, when the problem
has become so acute that skinhead violence is an almost daily event in
Moscow, have the city authorities begun to take the skinhead problem
seriously. Unfortunately, it may be too late to contain the growth of
skinhead groups, who have increased their membership and geographical
scope to a stunning degree.. Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the "Panorama"
think tank-a leading authority on extremist groups in Russia-put the
problem succinctly: "Extremist pro-Nazi paramilitary organizations
propagandizing the ideas of racial hatred operate openly in Russia, and
the state does nothing to prevent this."

This trend of passive state antisemitism and racism is even more
apparent in the judicial branch, where there are numerous examples of
judges refusing to punish antisemites and other extremists, even when
they have clearly violated the law. While the justice system tends to
come down hard on even minor offenses, antisemitic and racist violence
is often treated with kid gloves.

The State Duma remains a hotbed of antisemitism and racism, especially
among deputies from the KPRF and the LDPR. State Duma deputies from
Bryansk and Krasnodar Kray regularly violate laws against public hate
speech, as does Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
In 2001, hate literature was openly sold in the State Duma, including
David Duke's "The Jewish Question Through the Eyes of an American" and
several antisemitic newspapers.

On the regional level, President Putin has made some impressive progress
in his efforts to reverse years of radical decentralization under the
Yeltsin administration. Many regional laws have been brought into
accordance with federal legislation, secessionist movements that
threatened the integrity of the Russian Federation have been
successfully undercut (with the obvious exception of Chechnya),
significant sources of revenue have been redirected from the regions to
the center, and the central government has achieved the right to remove
governors who go too far in abusing the law. However, despite the
appearance of strength, the central government remains weak, and this
weakness, when combined with the indifference of many central government
officials to the problems of antisemitism, racism, religious persecution
and other human rights violations, has helped create a system of
government in which regional leaders make some basic concessions to the
Kremlin in return for the right to treat their citizens almost any way
they choose. As a result, minority groups are treated differently from
region to region, largely at the whim of the local bosses.

The Jewish community is a case in point: In a few extreme cases they are
demonized by regional leaders (Kursk, Krasnodar) or by media controlled
by the regional administration (Vladimir, Oryol, Bryansk), in a few more
their concerns are taken very seriously (the Moscow city administration
being the most obvious and important example), while in the bulk of
Russia's regions, the authorities neither attack nor adequately defend
Jews against grassroots antisemitic violence. In a prime example of
collaboration between hate groups and regional authorities, in at least
three regions (Ryazan, Voronezh, Tver), a successor organization to the
RNU (Russian Rebirth) was officially registered in 2001-two years after
the RNU was banned in Moscow. In addition, the manner in which
President Putin is tackling the problem of the central government's
weakness shows an alarming tendency on his part to focus more on the
levers of power than on the rule of law. Jews and all other citizens of
Russia will never be truly safe until a democratic, law-based system
develops, yet Russia under Putin seems to be sliding more and more
towards authoritarianism

In recent weeks, and so not covered in our report, two related
allegations of impropriety by the Kremlin raise a certain cognitive
dissonance when compared to President Putin's public exhortations
against extremism and antisemitism. These improprieties lend credence
to our concern that the president's rhetoric is far from matched by
action. First, the Ministry of Justice has approved quite expeditiously
the registration of a new political party - the National Power Party
(NDPR) - whose leaders are recognized neo-Nazis and whose web site is
explicitly antisemitic. In the second case, according to the September
23 report in Novaya Gazeta, while it is well known that Putin's
political party, "Unity" has created a youth organization called
"Walking Together," the paper asserts that these youth leaders are also
skinhead leaders. The article is based on an interview with, inter
alia, Alexy Mitriushin, head of the north-east division of Walking
Together and also a leader of "Mad Stallion," a skinhead group known for
the June soccer riot on Manezh Square in Moscow. One common interest of
the two groups is to disrupt anti-globalist demonstrations. Controlling
Nazi parties and youth organizations so as to create public enemies of
the state is a time-tested tactic of the Soviet KGB. It is not
unreasonable to ask, will the real Vladimir Putin step forward? On the
other hand, our Moscow Bureau's growing relationship with the Ministry
of Justice, and especially with Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman, are
genuine causes for optimism.

A new, disturbing trend that emerged in the wake of the September 11
terrorist attacks in the US is the radicalization of some of Russia's
Islamic community. A few Russian Muslim leaders, most but not all of
them self-proclaimed, publicly repeated the radical Islamist canard that
Israel secretly planned the September 11 attacks. Rallies in support of
the Taliban and the PLO have taken place in some predominantly Muslim
regions. So far, such opinions are shared by a small minority of
Russian Muslims and are mostly concentrated in Chechnya and Dagestan,
yet this is obviously a growing trend that requires continued

"Islamophobia" remains widespread, reflected in the opposition by some
regional authorities to the building of mosques and the tendency of much
of the Russian press to equate Islam with terrorism, without taking into
account the diversity of the Islamic faith. Here, local leaders of the
Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), who in several cases have
lobbied against the construction of mosques, are as complicit as when
they distribute antisemitic literature like "The Protocols of the Elders
of Zion" in church bookstores. The war in Chechnya drags on,
brutalizing and radicalizing Chechen civilians and creating a whole
generation of rabidly racist Russian soldiers and policemen. Like the
Jews, treatment of minority Christians and Muslims varies from region to
region, largely dependant on the whims of the local authorities.

With the whole world riveted on the terrorist attack, a very dark day
for the human rights community was overshadowed. I am referring to the
U.N. Conference on Racism at Durban, South Africa where most Western
human rights NGOs stood by and allowed Palestinian and Arab NGOs to
succeed in passing an antisemitic resolution condemning Israel as a
racist country. In that case, in my judgement, they were both unused to
dealing with antisemitism as a primary human rights violation and, due
to their traditional focus on governmental abuses of individuals, unused
to holding governments accountable for the behavior of non-governmental
terrorists and grassroots perpetrators of violence and hatred. A signal
exception was the behavior of the International League for Human Rights,
the Moscow Helsinki Group and other Russian and eastern european human
rights NGOs who defended Israel against the majority of NGOs in a losing
cause. It was in the context of these issues, heightened by the events
of 9/11, that prompted UCSJ to convene, in the Moscow offices of MHG on
July 8, a conference of Russian and Western human rights NGOs to explore
the implications of this new human rights paradigm. Other organizations
involved in the review included Memorial, the Sakharov Center, the
Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and,
by email, the International League for Human Rights. Mr Chairman, I
think the essence of our report and its implications can be summarized
in six points:

1. Antisemitism, and anti-"black" xenophobia, have risen again
dramatically in part as a consequence of 9/11. It reflects a coalition
of neo-Nazis, like the RNU and skinheads, religious nationalism, e.g.
Cossacks and elements of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow
Patriarchate), Islamic extremists, e.g. certain Mulahs and Chechens, and
old-line fascists and communists, especially in the Duma and certain
major regional mayors and governors.
2. Anti-black (Caucasus) discrimination is, in part, a byproduct of
the government's Chechnya-related propaganda plus on-going persecution
in Moscow city. The central government's responsibility for
antisemitism is of a different character. State-sponsored antisemitism
is a relic of the Soviet era. Indeed, President Putin has made
unprecedented and exemplary statements commiting his government to
combating antisemitism, nationalism and extremism. However, there is
governmental complicity in passivity and acquiescence, e.g., failure to
investigate and prosecute, failure to hold antisemitic political leaders
accountable. As the saying goes, Putin is talking the talk, but not
sufficiently walking the walk. Our report can help him to do better.
3. The Human Rights Ombudsman and his regional network is the most
consistent national actor in training official and public attention on
the important problem that antisemitism and xenophobia are flourishing
with impunity. Putin's direct and public support of his work would send
a powerful and constructive message.
4. Antisemitism and xenophobia are crucial national security issues
beyond the hate and intimidation aimed at specific targets. That they
are allowed to flourish with impunity is a critical bellwether or
indicator of the grave weakness of human rights, rule of law, and civil
society generally, especially the criminal justice system and the moral
mood of the country. The failure to adequately confront these evils
carries with it two kinds of dangerous consequences for Russia. First,
it emboldens terrorists and nourishes the social fabric that tolerates
them. This is both a domestic and international security threat because
it raises the chances for terrorists and extremists to gain access to
nuclear materials and devices - arguably a greater threat to world peace
than state-controlled weapons. Second, the breakdown of human rights and
civil society is both an undue burden on Russia's budget and economy and
a profound disincentive to foreign trade and investment.
5. All of this suggests an evolving new paradigm for viewing the
nexus between human rights and national security. The history of the
human rights movements, which importantly developed in Russia, along
with the Jewish national emigration movement (Refuseniks),began in the
1970s and was heavily influenced and promoted by the Helsinki Process.
The emphasis was placed on defending the individual against abuses of
rights by the governments; and in this emphasis, although the issues of
antisemitism and xenophobia were recognized evils, they were not seen as
major priorities for human rights campaigners. The events of the past
year have demonstrated the need for a new paradigm, one that brings two
issues up to parity with the traditional values for human rights: (i)
that antisemitism and xenophobia are central human rights abuses in
their own right and as bellwethers as well as predictors of escalating
danger; and (ii) that governments and human rights activists alike must
also focus beyond concern for governmental abuse of the individual to
include concern for the dangers to society at large of non-state
criminals and terrorists.
6. Accordingly, human rights monitoring of their behavior, as it is
performed by MHG and UCSJ, is the human rights/national security
analogue to arms inspections. The results should be taken seriously by
policymakers, and
factored into all intelligence analyses and data bases. It can no
longer be relegated to the "feel good" priorities of political

These lead me to some final observations and recommendations.

The Helsinki Process, involving the concerted advocacy of governments
and NGOs, pressed the Soviet bloc on matters of mutual security and
disarmament, expansion of market economies, and the reduction of human
rights abuses. It was a relentless, collegial process that contributed
importantly to the peaceful collapse of Communism across the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe. The lessons of the Helsinki Process are
applicable to the West's response to the Arab countries which likewise
encourage antisemitic and anti-American values and repress the human
rights of their citizens, not least their women and children. We should
be monitoring antisemitic actions and rhetoric in Russia, the Middle
East and Europe as we monitor and inspect access to weapons of mass
destruction, and we should be prepared to assist and encourage Arab
states as well as Russia and other former Soviet republics in moving
toward democracy and rule of law as we did throughout the Cold War.

Likewise, the NGO community must return to its campaigning mode to
combat xenophobia and antisemitism across Europe and the former Soviet
Union. President Bush has walked the walk in a distinguished manner.
His September 2002 "National Security Strategy of the United States of
America," is perhaps the foremost and most unprecedented examination of
human rights as being integral to national security policy. We call on
him to see that his military, diplomatic, foreign aid, trade and
intelligence agencies internalize these human rights values, which are
at the heart of American values, into all international and bilateral

UCSJ urges OSCE to hold a Supplemental Human Dimension Implementation
meeting on antisemitism during 2003 to review and identify best
practices for monitoring and reporting. In this, as in all other
relevant issues, we commend the Helsinki Commission's actions and moral

Finally, no Russian leader can compare to President Putin in analyzing
the problems of extremism, antisemitism and civil society failures that
must be overcome for Russia to flourish as a leading democratic country.
But a country that allows extremists to flourish with impunity, bans the
visits of religious leaders while inviting the likes of David Duke;
registers Nazi political parties while discouraging more liberal parties
and many human rights NGOs has a long way to travel. A leader who
treats environmentalists as spies, is suspicious of a free press, and
who supports antisemitic and anti-American leaders at home and abroad
has a lot of reforming to do notwithstanding his cooperation against the
most prominent terrorists. We believe his most important next steps
must be to strengthen his criminal justice system so as to secure his
country from the scourge of antisemitism and xenophobia and the risk of
theft of nuclear materials by domestic and foeign terrorists. This is a
cause that the American government needs to assist in, and the NGO human
rights community needs to insist on. Unlike the confrontations of the
Soviet era, we have much to collaborate upon.