The New Russian Anti-Semitism
Sometimes you're sorry that the Nazis didn't turn the ancestors of today's liberals into lampshades."
That shocking phrase wasn't printed in an obscure neo-Nazi newsletter but was the subheading of an article in the web version of one of the country's most widely read newspapers, Komsomolskaya Pravda. The author, Ulyana Skoibeda, is also widely read and notorious. She first came into the public eye when she proposed euthanizing newborn infants with disabilities and then took the spotlight with her fight for "racial purity" in the Russian state. She criticized the practice of inviting African soccer players into Russian teams and said "foreign citizens" like journalist Vladimir Pozner and writer Mikhail Veller, should be banned from television. Not long ago, Skoibeda got another 15 minutes of fame when she demanded that a text by the Russian writer Dina Rubina should not be used in a nationwide contest because "a citizen of Israel has no right to teach us" about Russia. Skoibeda, with the help of the popular newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, has helped take the centuries-old phenomenon of anti-Semitism mainstream.
This time Skoibeda's ire was ignited by a post on LiveJournal by the liberal politician
"SMERSH operatives didn't have snazzy uniforms, but that's about the only thing that differentiates them from the [Nazi] SS," Gozman wrote. "I don't know how many innocent people they shot, but it was a lot. The acronym SMERSH, like SS and NKVD, should make people shudder in horror and not be used as the name of a group of patriotic soldiers."
Historians are more certain of their figures. At a minimum, SMERSH arrested almost 500,000 people and executed 30,000 or 40,000 of them. Most of them were Soviet citizens who usually didn't even know what crime they had committed, which was typical for the Stalinist period. We do know why one of those thousands was arrested — an Army captain by the name of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He was sentenced to eight years in the camps for calling Stalin "mustaches" in private correspondence.
SMERSH also was active on Soviet-occupied territories. In July 1945, two months after the end of World War II, a SMERSH unit near Bialystok in northeastern Poland executed almost 600 Poles without trial because they were suspected of having served in the Armia Krajowa, the Polish resistance under German occupation.
But the issue here is clearly not history. Since President Vladimir Putin first came to power, Russia has become a field where the threatening weeds of xenophobia and nationalism grow rampant. In Moscow, thousands have marched in nationalist demonstrations and taken part in riots. Crimes motivated by nationalism are so common that they are barely worth mentioning on the local crime news. Following the dark logic of European nationalism, whomever Russian nationalists start with as their enemy — migrant workers or African soccer players — sooner or later they get to the Jews.
Anti-Semitism always flares up in Russia whenever the political situation heats up. Today's patriots, like the monarchists a century ago, can't help but notice that there are several Jews among the opposition leaders. They also can't resist the chance to portray the entire opposition as secret agents of "Jewish capital."
Prominent opposition leader and satirist Viktor Shenderovich jokes that his day is ruined if it doesn't begin with an anonymous phone call asking when he will finally emigrate to Israel. Strangely enough, the more he changes his cellular number, the more anti-Semitic calls he gets.
Incidentally, lawmakers didn't miss the publication in Komsomolskaya Pravda. The
Vladimir Sungorkin, editor-in-chief of
After that, Skoibeda's dream of making lampshades out of the skin of liberals and their forefathers sounds almost quaint. When can we expect the headline calling for everyone to launch a pogrom?