Nationalist Anti-Jewish Group Sparks Controversy With Rallies
MOSCOW (AP) _ A Russian nationalist group has been holding weekly outdoor rallies in Leningrad to condemn Jews and members of ″alien races,″ and authorities are doing little to stop them, residents say.
The group, Pamyat, has been meeting every Thursday at the Rumyantsevsky Garden in downtown Leningrad, according to a letter published in the latest edition of the weekly Moscow News, whose English edition went on sale Friday, and a resident who telephoned The Associated Press.
At a July 7 demonstration, one speaker called for the immediate deportation of Jews and other ″alien races″ to ″their historical motherland,″ said Valery Voskoboinikov of Leningrad, who wrote to the newspaper. Another speaker suggested declaring war on people who ″concealed their ethnic origin under a Russian name.″
Voskoboinikov said he could cite other examples but that ″my hand simply won’t reproduce other obscenities.″
The activities of Pamyat, which is the Russian word for memory, have been the focus of a debate about how far Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or open discussion, should go. Even foreigners are getting involved.
″Today people in your country are starting to say what they think, and this is fine. But real democracy implies mutual respect among peoples,″ wrote a history teacher from Italy who said she observed the July 7 Pamyat meeting. Her letter was published next to Voskoboinikov’s under the headline ″Still Horrified.″
The teacher, Daniela Steila, said she ″was struck by the fact that this meeting took place in a country which had defeated fascism.″
″The speakers openly spoke about their hatred of Jews, claiming that they were the cause of the Russian people’s perdition,″ she wrote. ″I felt as if I’d attended a real fascist meeting of the 1930s.″
The group has met every Thursday since the end of June without interference of police, who stand by idly, said Jewish activist Abraham Demin. Police have ripped anti-Pamyat posters from some activists attending the rallies, he said in a telephone interview from Leningrad.
Demin said he saw the first indication Thursday that authorities are trying to discourage the protests. A sign was posted at the entrance to the meeting venue saying the ″Garden is closed for repairs.″ About 300 people gathered at another nearby garden, where speakers voiced Russian nationalist and anti- Semitic slogans for three hours, Demin said.
Pamyat has chapters in Moscow and several other cities, and surfaced last year. The central press has generally condemned the group, but some articles have been sympathetic.
Voskoboinikov compared Pamyat to the Black Hundreds, reactionary populist groups of the early 1900s that supported Russia’s royal family and Russian nationalism while encouraging hatred of Jews. The Black Hundreds organized pogroms against the Jews.
The writer blasted Leningrad residents and the city’s official press for not speaking out against Pamyat.
″I am looking for explanations and cannot find any,″ Voskoboinikov wrote. ″Is it possible that a city with great cultural traditions and a high level of education can so easily cede the public rostrum to a group of extremists for the propagation of their shady views?″