Eduard Alexeyev flipped through the latest batch of anonymous
hate mail that turned up at his apartment.
"Get your stinking family out of Russia," one letter read.
"Streets will be washed with Jewish blood," read another.
"Every Friday there will be a pogrom."
Such messages are routine these days for Alexeyev, 29, leader
of the tiny Jewish community of Borovichi, a provincial
factory town of 80,000, 240 miles north of Moscow. The town
has become a center of the new wave of antisemitism sweeping
In the kitchen, a burly man in his 40s assessed the distance
to his own apartment balcony, 150 yards across the courtyard.
This was Alexei Finkelshtein, Alexeyev's friend and
unofficial "security chief" and an avid collector of
"If anyone tries a pogrom, give me a call and I'll fire a few
rounds above their heads," Finkelshtein said, only half
joking. "That'll calm them down."
Tensions in this town have risen sharply in recent weeks,
since the neo-fascist group, Russian National Unity, known as
RNE in Russia, became active here. RNE's swastika-wearing
followers preach a message of hatred, blaming Jews and other
"foreign people" for Russia's recent economic problems and
calling for the establishment of "Russian order." Posters and
stickers with antisemitic slogans and pictures have gone up
at bus stops and on sign posts and store windows. Jewish
graves were vandalized at the local cemetery. Someone painted
a red Star of David on a Jewish family's door and set fire to
Every Sunday, RNE men in their trademark black shirts and red
swastika arm bands gather in Borovichi's center to
distribute antisemitic material and enlist young recruits.
Officially, Russia is nothing like the openly antisemitic
regimes of the Soviet Union or the Czarist empire. Russia has
a law against inciting ethnic hatred. But in Borovichi, where
there are about 500 Jews, and other rural areas, Jews worry
that authorities are doing too little to implement it.
Alexeyev has appealed to local authorities for help. But
Borovichi's prosecutor last week refused to bring charges
against RNE, claiming that the party itself is not illegal
and that the swastikas that its members wear do not incite
ethnic hatred. The local legislature has tried to ban RNE
from displaying fascist logos. Meanwhile, the posters and
stickers keep appearing
Alexeyev, who is married with two small children, says he is
not afraid. But he is cautious about criticizing Borovichi.
He does not want to harm his relationship with its mayor,
Two years ago, when another neo-fascist group ran television
ads telling Christians to take up arms and "kill a Jew a
week," Ogontsov had the ads stopped.
During Chanukkah, Borovichi officials helped put on four
sellout concerts of Jewish music. Officials also have offered
Alexeyev a building, for the price of $2,000, for a new
synagogue to replace the one destroyed by the Soviet
authorities in 1937.
Alexeyev knows it could be worse. In Vladimir, a gritty
provincial center 120 miles east of Moscow, the governor
still flies the red Soviet flag and the regional legislature
apparently thinks antisemitism and Russian patriotism are the
"We are tolerated here as long as we keep quiet," said
Natalya Itelson, 33, of Vladimir's 700-member Jewish
community. She spoke from the Tractory Factory club there,
one of the two buildings in town where "Jews feel safe about
"We will not live to see the day when Jews in Vladimir are
seen as ordinary Russian citizens," Itelson said.
She became convinced of this after the past fall's barrage of
bluntly antisemitic outbursts in Moscow by leaders of the
Communist Party, which dominates the federal parliament.
Prominent Communist lawmaker Viktor Ilyukhin in November
accused Jews of waging "genocide" on Russians, and argued
that the country's population was falling because President
Boris N. Yeltsin's government was made up "exclusively of one
group, the Jews." (Yeltsin's governments have included some
Jews and other minorities.)
Another lawmaker proposed quotas for Jews in government, and
Vladimir's local legislature voted 34-2 to support the
Then in December, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said he
had nothing against Jews but that what he called Zionists
were plotting to rule the world. Russian Jews, he said, had
to choose which group they belonged to.
The outbursts were shocking but familiar.
"Why have they brought this up now? Elections are coming"
this December, "and the Communists need an enemy," said
Alexander Osovtsov, executive vice president of the Moscow-
based Russian Jewish Congress. "Whenever that happens in
Russia, the first candidate is the Jews."
Is antisemitism an effective electoral strategy in Russia?
The voters are certainly out there. In a recent survey of
3,000 listeners by Ekho Moskvy radio, 34 percent said "yes"
to the question: "Would Russia be a better place if all the
Sociologist Lev Gudkov, who studies antisemitism in Russia,
says both the Communists and ultranationalist groups such as
RNE are vying for similar voters: the estimated 20 to 25
percent of Russians who harbor antisemitic attitudes.
Jews generally report less tension in Moscow and St.
Petersburg, home to most of Russia's Jewish population. Few
Jewish organizational leaders in Moscow think a return to
state-sponsored antisemitism is imminent. But there is a
different view in the regions where Communists and their
nationalist allies constitute the main political force and
Moscow's laws carry little weight.
In Krasnodar Territory in southern Russia, RNE last month put
up posters calling on citizens to burn down Jews' houses.
Krasnodar's governor, Nikolai Kondratenko, frequently demands
the ouster of so-called Zionists from his region. Recently,
Kondratenko has introduced a textbook for Krasnodar schools
that blames Russia's problems in the 20th century on a Jewish
In nearby Stavropol, a large RNE poster welcomes visitors
with an appeal for help in defending "Russian order." When
RNE wanted to hold a congress here, they were given the main
exhibition hall. Black-shirted gangs harass Jews and warn of
"Sometimes it's frightening to go out on the street," said
Fima Fainer, head of Stavropol's small Jewish community.
"People are starting to worry."
Although that worry has translated into only a slight
increase in Jewish emigration from Russia, Osovtsov of the
Russian Jewish Congress said, the number of Jews who want to
know what they need to do to leave has doubled.
"When Jews leave, it is not a Jewish problem, it is a threat
to the idea of a democratic Russian state," Osovtsov said.