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A Survey of Jewish Life in Moscow
October 20-29, 1998
(continued)


25. Julie Brooks is an American employed by U.S. AID (United States Agency for International Development). Prior to employment by the U.S. government, she worked for an international aid organization and as the Moscow representative of the U.S. National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Ms. Brooks said that most U.S. aid programs are now administered on a regional basis because regions are much easier to comprehend, organize, and supervise than an entire country. She has worked on various aid projects in the Novgorod Veliky area (southwest of St. Petersburg), Samara region (mid-Volga area), and the Russian Far East. Some 30 different programs are available, including U.S. Peace Corps teachers as instructors in English, leadership development programs for local non-government organizations, agricultural assistance, and industrial development.

26. Mari Dieterich is Human Rights Officer in the Political Section of the Embassy of the United States in Moscow. She apologized for her lack of information on some subjects, explaining that she had been in her position for only a short period. In general, she said, the U.S. government believes that Russia is continuing to make "steady progress" in human rights. The United States acknowledges an increase in neo-Nazi activity, but this growth is not yet substantial. The deteriorating economy is leading to increased bigotry as some people seek a scapegoat for their difficulties. However, she noted, not a single Russian newspaper has reported details about Yevgeny Primakov's background, i.e., that he is Jewish. [45]

After checking with immigration officials, Ms. Dieterich said that the economic crisis had generated increased interest in immigration to the United States, but this new interest was not yet substantial (October 27).

27. Paul J. Martin is a diplomat at the Embassy of the United States in Moscow. His major responsibilities include observing the socio-political roles of (1) religion, and (2) the media in Russia. His previous position was Human Rights Officer, i.e., the same position that Mari Dieterich now holds.

Mr. Martin said that more political will than money exists in Russia to improve the general human rights situation. The political intent is not necessarily based on principle, he said, but on international obligations inherent in several international conventions that Russia has signed. Many non-governmental organizations have no access to international grants that they have been awarded because the banking crisis has frozen their bank accounts. Non-profit organizations have little or no clout with which to influence banks to release their funds. Another financial problem is that courts lack operating funds to hear cases and perform other functions.

According to Mr. Martin, the most serious human rights problems in Russia are: (1) the Russian criminal justice and prison systems, which offer no protection to the accused or incarcerated, and (2) the legal system in general, which is underdeveloped. Mr. Martin also observed that the economic crisis is generating a 'need' for scapegoats, which is leading to increased antisemitism.

Mr. Martin said that the U.S. Information Service is planning to conduct a public opinion poll in Russia in autumn 1999. The poll will include a number of questions designed to measure antisemitism.

The U.S. Embassy, said Mr. Martin, is watching Nikolai Kondratenko, the Governor of Krasnodar Krai (region) "carefully". His expressions of antisemitism are "outrageous", continued Mr. Martin, and the United States is worried about his influence. "He is potentially very dangerous." Kondratenko's public statements, said Mr. Martin, are full of references to Jews who are prominent in Russian government or commerce and to the supposed "international Zionist conspiracy". [46]  The U.S. Embassy has expressed its concern about Mr. Kondratenko to the government of the Russian Federation, but the Russian government claims that a region designated as a krai enjoys a certain level of autonomy from the Federation and, therefore, that Russian influence over the krai is limited.

Mr. Martin said that the U.S. Embassy has observed a modest increase in the number of inquiries about emigration since the economic crisis erupted in August. He commented that, in his view, young professionals in Russia should consider departure because "it will take years for conditions to improve here".

Observations

28. The failure of Masorti (Conservative) Judaism to place a community rabbi in Moscow and the limited support to date by Progressive Judaism of Rabbi Chaim Ben Yaakov remains disquieting. The response of Jewish students to Hillel Rosh Hashanah services, which borrow heavily from the Conservative format, and the success of Progressive Rabbi Chaim Ben Yaakov, who operates on an itinerant basis without designated program space, suggests that each of these movements would generate significant appeal among Moscow's many Jews.

29. At the same time, the inability of one segment within Orthodox Judaism to accept the philosophy and practice of non-Orthodox Judaism as legitimate creates additional problems for all who endeavor to advance the cause of Judaism and Jewish renewal in a Jewishly-barren land. The divisiveness engendered by intolerance does much to vitiate the substantial good accomplished in the post-Soviet successor states by the same group.



45. See the comments of Tancred Golenpolsky about the absence of commentary on Mr. Primakov's ethnic background, p. 29.
46. Mr. Kondratenko is former First Secretary of the Communist Party of Krasnodar Krai. He frequently refers to Jews as "cosmopolitans", an appellation dating from the Stalinist era. Krasnodar Krai is an agricultural area in southern Russia with a small Jewish population. It is the home base of Kuban Cossacks, one of the more active groups of contemporary Cossacks.


 
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