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Travels in Russia

KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Santa Claus in Moscow
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
Weddings in Winter
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
The Blind Leading the Blind
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Post-Crisis, Life Goes On
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Russian Caviar Mafia
Magical Mushrooms
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, December 1, 1998

The Jews Are Here!

They still eat sala when they move to Israel!

Moscow Times December 1, 1998

Toothless Old Hatreds

By Nina L. Khrushcheva

First it was the Jews. Then the Romanovs, the nobility and the kulaks. After 1991, it was Lenin and the communists. Now, it seems, it's the Jews again. Like history in the Karl Marx aphorism, Russian hatreds repeat themselves. Luckily, the rest of that saying also applies, for Moscow's most recent bout of anti-Semitism is a case of history repeating itself not as tragedy, but as farce.

The October Revolution of 1917, with its attractive slogans of internationalism, multiculturalism and ethnic equality, was a liberating time for Russian Jews. It didn't last long. With Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin embarked on another round of chest thumping for "Russia's Greatness." This chauvinistic period, however, lasted for more than six decades and was marked by quotas for all those with not-quite-Russian-sounding names. Jews in particular were restricted in their numbers at universities, research institutes, the foreign service and in government.

The August Revolution of 1991 appeared to undo much of the anti-Semitic nastiness. Other nationalities, including people of Jewish origin, began to appear in the political spotlight: Anatoly Chubais, Alexander Livshits, Boris Nemtsov, Grigory Yavlinsky and Sergei Kiriyenko among the reformers; Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky among the new plutocrats; and Vladimir Zhirinovsky among the ranting would-be fascists.

Russia, freed from its ethnic and mental straitjacket, was letting its most resourceful, entrepreneurial, vibrant and, yes, cynical citizens climb to the top. With so many "different" names bestriding society, it is no surprise that some Russians, reared on the endemic paranoia of communism, smelled a conspiracy. The hysterical Zhirinovsky, denying his own roots, said, "Jews are the most powerful, the most talented and the richest" and so were able to take over in 1917 and again after 1991. Communists, too, insisted that the Jews were conspiring once again to ruin Russia.

So General Albert Makashov's recent remark that "the Russian government should impose quotas on hiring non-ethnic Russians" was surprising only for the time it took communists to trot out this old line and because the echo was so feeble. The two leading "nationalist" candidates for president in 2000 - Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov - were conspicuous in not picking up this old battle cry.

That Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov didn't immediately rebuke Makashov and that the State Duma took a while to pass a resolution against stirring up ethnic conflicts (not mentioning Makashov by name) probably reflects mental inertia rather than outright support. For many members of the lower house of parliament, there yet remains the notion that only they represent the country.

Here the old Leninist idea is in play: The party isn't just part of society, it is society. As for Zyuganov, he couldn't publicly disagree with a party member, again on hoary Leninist grounds: Division within the party will bring an end to the party.

What is surprising is the reaction at home and abroad to Makashov's tantrums. Over a span of more than a month, television shows and newspapers in Russia and much of the West have been discussing, condemning and thus reinforcing the incident. This sharp focus on Makashov's remarks has, however, smoked out what may be the real target of communist rage: the media.

Another Communist Duma deputy, Alexander Kuvayev, the first secretary of the city of Moscow's Communist organization, called for the formation of a special organization to deal with journalists who had "sold themselves to the regime and have become the enemies of the people." This time Zyuganov reacted quickly, listening to the voice of reason among his party peers, and issued a resolution that "prosecution is not the tool Communists should exercise, and the Communist Party is a party of the future, not a party of revenge."

The saddest part of this rhetoric of hate is not that a pogrom is imminent but that mindsets have changed so little for so many in Russia. People continue to think in ways typical to authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, where blaming others is the standard escape for your own inadequacies and where anyone who is even the slightest bit different may be an enemy.

So the search for scapegoats proceeds, not in earnest and with energy, but as a reflex, the death throes of the old ways of doing things. The cries of the anti-Semites belie the fact that the man the Communists now support as prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, who has not published his ethnicity but is widely believed to be of Jewish origin.

What is important is not the rants of men like Makashov and Kuvayev, but the ditherings of Zyuganov and the general silence of the Duma - a sign that, at the millennium, even the Communists recognize that the vulgar old tricks are not enough.

Khrushcheva is deputy editor of the East European Constitutional Review at the New York University School of Law and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute of the New School for Social Research.

February 1999, Peaceworks (publication of the American Friends Service Committee, New England)

Letter from Russia

By J. Kates

"Everything is new. But it's the same old life." With these words, Mikhail Aizenberg answered my remarking on the new dishwasher, washing machine, and kitchen light in his Moscow apartment. And there's a truth to that.

I have been visiting Russia since 1986. What is most striking to me on each visit is the continuity of ordinary life from Soviet times until now, in spite of multiple revolutionary upheavals. Ordinary people keep leading ordinary lives.

The people I hang out with are mostly the intelligentsia, which has a real class-meaning in Russian society that it doesn't have in the West. Right now, ironically, the intelligentsia, small as it is, and centered in the major cities, takes the place of what elsewhere would be a broader middle class. That is, economically, these are people who have access to Western currency and goods in moderation, and tend to be wary of the vulgar excesses of the wealthy "New Russian" businessmen. The intelligentsia is proportionally more Jewish than the-you can't say "working class" in the same way we do in the West-generality of the working population.

Children go off to school in the morning just as they always have, and come home laughing through the parks, climbing trees to knock off chestnuts while their mothers stand underneath, shouting in vain for them to come down. Very little has actually broken apart.

Nevertheless, there are always visible signs of change, as in the Aizenbergs' apartment. Some of the changes are evidence of a new prosperity, and side-by-side are evidences of a new kind of poverty.

On one visit or another from 1986 until now, there have been varying amounts of goods available in the shops and kiosks. The books on sale at makeshift tables in the Metro have changed over the years from dictionaries and textbooks to rampant pornography, to how-to-succeed-in-business manuals, to detective fiction and romance novels. There are fewer ordinary shops open now than there were just a couple of years ago, but many fancy European and American boutiques in the new underground malls of central Moscow. (The most ambitious of these, under the Manege, is reportedly more of a Potemkin village than a real concourse.) There are a great many more beggars on the streets, while cafes and restaurants have sprung up everywhere.

Many people in Russia are as hungry for work as for food; and now, with the increasing privatization of housing, more homeless are evident as well. Ever since the lid of Soviet street-control has been lifted, beggars have been as apparent on the streets of Russian cities as they are in New York or Boston. Even at the "cleanest" times, there always were beggars of one particular kind-older men and mostly women who help the religious Russian Orthodox fulfill their charitable obligations.

Moscow has been transformed by paint and elbow grease as if a curtain had been suddenly raised. It is clean and gleaming, with old monuments rebuilt and posters proclaiming the resurrection. There is a purpose to this. Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, is trying a New-Deal style gamble. If he can create public works, he will create employment. Where there is no money for public works, he trades with foreign companies to get it: He offers them prestigious buildings for their headquarters, but they must undertake the repair and beautification of these buildings at their own expense. If he can instill in Muscovites a pride in their city, they will be less inclined to ship their own interests and money elsewhere. The gamble is starting to work, but it's a race against time and against the chaotic economic policies of the country as a whole.

In St. Petersburg, the repair and sprucing up go on as well. In only two days this September, the entire main street of the city was torn up and completely repaved and repainted. Imagine all of New York's Fifth Avenue remade overnight. The "Baltika" brand of beer, brewed in St. Petersburg, has won European prizes for its quality. Both cities remain an easy pleasure for the casual visitor, whose only experience of underlying instability will be the weakness of the Russian ruble, and the bargains the foreigner with dollars can snap up.

Everywhere, you can hear of people who have not been paid for months, who must rely on credit or barter. Of course, barter has always been a factor in Soviet life. People received various perks and access to goods at their jobs, often in a random fashion-cases of wine at one level, herring or hats at another-that they spread back and forth among themselves with their neighbors.

Most chaotic of all for ordinary people is the currency. I mentioned to Aizenberg how, each time I came to Russia, I had to learn the monetary system all over again, as if I were traveling from one country to an entirely different one. I held out a ten-ruble note. "It takes me days to figure out whether this will buy me just a bus-ticket, or a good dinner."

"You're not the only one," he answered ruefully.

Anyone who can, works for American dollars. Those who can't, change their rubles into dollars as quickly as possible at the currency exchanges set up on nearly every block. Inna Poluyanova, a graduate of Keene State College in New Hampshire, has a fairly reliable job with an international corporation in Moscow. She earned the gratitude of her co-workers by negotiating a deal with a local currency exchange. They all change their money there, and, with the large sums generated for the exchange, they can get a far more favorable rate than the average person on the street. Then they take their dollars home. The banks have collapsed.

Poluyanova has a good friend who used to be a very well paid bank executive vice-president. Now this other woman is grateful to have a job at subsistence wages, and her new co-workers, who know of her past employment, regard her as the villain who stole all their money. For the older generation, it's just the same old life. But for the younger generation, Poluyanova explains, there is more bitter despair.

She tells of one young man who spent eight years building up an extensive chain of auto-supply stores all around Russia. He threw everything he had into this new operation. Then, overnight, all his careful work was destroyed by the larger economic crisis. "What is he supposed to do?" she asks. "What is he supposed to think?"

Those people for whom the old life is familiar, and would like to see it re-insitutionalized, gravitate toward nostalgic nationalists and the inheritors of the old Communist Party. Those for whom this new old life is all they've known, and don't like it, are tempted by a fascist movement-young men in black berets, armbands, and combat boots who stand on corners singly or in pairs, watching the passersby, looking all too much like the official security guards also on duty everywhere. And looking all too much like their counterparts in Germany in the 1920s. The Communists and the fascists unite in their distrust of the present government and their dislike for foreigners and Jews.

Should we worry about Russian anti-semitism? Who can tell. Zionists always sensationalize it. They have done so since the Kishinev pogroms of the late nineteenth-century for their own political interests. But anti-semitism in Russia is like racism in this country. How deep is our racism? Russian anti-semitism is not as woven into the very fabric of society as US racism is, but it's still part of the everyday background noise for a lot of people. Jewishness is not a religion in Russia, it's still a "nationality"-what we would call an officially recognized ethnic category. This complicates definitions and assessments. (What did Zhirinovsky mean when he was asked in an interview about his own parentage, and he answered that his father was Russian and his mother was a lawyer?) Jewish institutions flourish-Hebrew studies, theatre, universities, synagogues. But many of the ostentatious New Russians are Jewish; and this fact is noted as significant by some of their opposition, either overtly or covertly, in newspaper articles and letters. Anti-Moslem feeling has long run just as strong as anti-Jewish feeling, but there is now also a proud and visible Moslem presence in both St Petersburg and Moscow, alongside the fear and distrust of dark-skinned southerners from Moslem republics.

The Communists and the fascists are planning large, nationwide demonstrations for October 7. I happened to stumble across a "rehearsal" demonstration on Mariinsky Square in St. Petersburg on September 21. The Communists gathered under their red banners and portraits of Stalin. The fascists collected more menacingly a little distance off, threatening a local news photographer who tried to photograph them with their paraphernalia. A few black fascist banners mingled with the red Communist ones as the rally came together. Army Special Forces tried to keep a low profile on side streets around the square. A few tourists walked by, oblivious, as if moving through an alternative universe.

Many of the signs were inflammatory and political, but one middle-aged man off to the side held a poster that summed up the frustration: "All 1996 without wages. Time to change the system."

Periodically, massive demonstrations like the October 7 one are announced, and take place, but so far the worst free-floating fears of the general populace have not been fulfilled. (My companion on September 21 reminded me that the last time we had walked these streets together, a year and a half before, had been the day of a general strike.) There has not yet been another coup, or a riot. Not one of the mainstream St. Petersburg newspapers even reported the "rehearsal" demonstration in the next day's news. And, sure enough, October 7 passed without more than a ripple of unrest.

What people fear is the future. They can keep living with what is, the old life, but they are terribly afraid of what a new life may look like. They can deal with everything as it comes, the worst part is not knowing what will be next. And so, with every lurch in the economy, even the most level-headed rush to buy up supplies of what they think will be needed-sugar, salt, or rice. Shortages encourage hoarding goods, and hoarding exacerbates the shortages.

Most are neither Communists nor fascists. They try to live with as little as possible reference to their government, as they have done now for decades. Evgeny Primakov may be the new prime minister, but people talking of him fumble to recall his name, or maybe they pretend to having forgotten it.

It's the same old life, but now illuminated by glitzy ads for German clothing, French perfume, and American cigarettes. When I met a Russian friend I had encountered first in New Hampshire, he took me out to lunch not for shashlik at one of the Russian cafes that are open on every block, but for a cheeseburger at an American-style fast-food cafeteria.

General attitudes towards our own country are complex. There are some people who expect America to bail them out with one flick of a checkbook, and others who think that we are deliberately trying to bring Russia down to ruin. Denis Maslov, a University of New Hampshire graduate from St. Petersburg who now studies political science as a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, wrote an article for the newspaper Smena explaining to his compatriots that Russia is really very low on the list of American foreign-policy interests these days.

Likewise, Russian foreign policy is not centered on American or western European political interests, but on Russian interests. Historically, Russian foreign policy interests have always been concerned with the southern border and expansion eastward from Central Europe. Nowadays, oil pipeline routes control a lot of how to think about the southern border. Historically also, Russia has always wanted to be taken seriously as a great power in Europe.

My friend Maslov himself was back in his home country to visit his family and renew his passport. For this, his mother had to get a pass from the military administration, because he is susceptible to the draft. The officer who spoke to his mother told her that she was very lucky that she had not brought her son with her, or that he had not come by himself. "You would not have seen him again," he said.

Denis would have been swept up immediately into the army, with the right to only one telephone call home to say where he was. Friends advised him to be careful in public places where soldiers gathered: they might snatch him up. Several other people confirmed stories like these, but I am still not sure how much reality they represent, and how much is just the climate of uneasy rumor.

As I write these words, and look over the photographs of the demonstration, I know that they are the stories and images that will fill a newspaper, and create or confirm a picture of Russia for its readers. It is much harder to convey the daily laughter and the busy streets, the food that is still generously available, if you have the money, and the lively culture of a complex nation. Did I see violence? Yes, a fistfight broke out at a poetry reading during an argument over what poetry really is. Did I flinch at signs of anti-semitism? Yes, but on the evening of the Jewish New Year my devout Russian Orthodox hostess stayed up late to welcome me home with traditionally Jewish apples and honey.

And ten rubles? When I left, at the end of September, they could buy me five bus rides, or a small book, or a little less than a half bottle of Baltika beer. The ruble was trading officially at sixteen to the dollar, and everybody knew it.

J. Kates is a poet and literary translator who lives in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

RE: Kates/Letter from Russia

By Kate, via email


Thank you for the frank pages on Racism and the treatment of Jewish people. These are two areas I found striking in Russia, because of the blunt openess with which the prejudices are expressed. Being a blue-eyed blonde, people left me alone. My husband (olive skinned, brown haired Italian heritage) was routinely harrassed by militsia as a "Chyornie."

I do have a problem with the contribution provided by J. Kates. Although I am not Jewish, (and perhaps BECAUSE I am not), I heard a lot of anti-semitic rhetoric while working in Russia--I worked both with intelligentsia and with Directors of collective farms, so perhaps I have a broader sample of "Russians" than Mr. Kates, and I am not inclined to dismiss their attitudes as "just part of the background noise." Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my 2 cents:

J. Kates wrote: Should we worry about Russian anti-semitism? Who can tell. Zionists always sensationalize it.[this is a worrisome comment, which leads me to believe that the author's sympathies lie not with the Jews, but with the anti-semites] They have done so since the Kishinev pogroms of the late nineteenth-century for their own political interests. [Hello? How about the fact that people were robbed, raped, murdered? Just because they were Jewish?] But anti-semitism in Russia is like racism in this country. How deep is our racism? Russian anti-semitism is not as woven into the very fabric of society [BALONEY! I had a 7 year old tell me as part of her final exam in Conversational English, that Russia was a great country, but was being ruined by the Jews, who stole from good Russians, gave booze to children, corrupted the youth...on and on and on. The child had the face of an angel, but the invective of the worst Klansman you could hope not to meet.] as US racism is, but it's still part of the everyday background noise for a lot of people.

Jewishness is not a religion in Russia, it's still a "nationality"-what we would call an officially recognized ethnic category. This complicates definitions and assessments. (What did Zhirinovsky mean when he was asked in an interview about his own parentage, and he answered that his father was Russian and his mother was a lawyer?) [Got that backwards. His comment was: My mother was Russian, and my father was a lawyer. His patronymic is Wulfovitch--very Jewish.] Jewish institutions flourish-Hebrew studies, theatre, universities, synagogues [I think we inhabited different realms of Russia. I worked with a church, so we worked closely with other religions, and I gotta say, this does not ring true.]. But many of the ostentatious New Russians are Jewish [wrong again! Stereotype from Russian friends, no doubt. Most of the Krutiye we saw hanging around "Dolls" and other nightclubs/casinos were very Russian thugs]; and this fact is noted as significant by some of their opposition, either overtly or covertly, in newspaper articles and letters.

The only chestnut he hasn't thrown out into this little diatribe is that Lenin, Trotsky, etc. were Jewish, and therefore the Jews are responsible (yet again) for ruining Russia. Pretty creepy.

The Guardian (UK) May 3, 1999

Little Russia A million immigrants from the USSR don't think of themselves as Israelis,but they hold the balance of power in this month's election

By David Sharrock

'In Russia I was a Jew and now I'm in Israel they call me a Russian,' says Masha Shapira, pulling out the birth certificate of her four-month-old son Yochanan. Beneath the menorah, symbol of the state, the bureaucrats have inserted a dashes in lieu of specifying religion and nationality. Officially, Yochanan, born in Jerusalem, is neither Jewish nor Israeli. Nor even Russian, as his mother is described in her ID. But Yochanan may be very significant to the Jewish state - he is possibly the millionth Russian citizen of Israel, newest member of what many here call 'the mini-state of Russia'.

Take a stroll in Ashkelon, a rapidly expanding Mediterranean city half an hour south of Tel Aviv on a Friday morning, as the weekend begins. There's a busker playing Russian melodies on his violin. At the pavement cafe tables, men are playing chess or reading Russian papers. The talk is Russian. The waitress is called Natasha and although she can speak Hebrew, she doesn't need to.

The shops have Russian signs (Hebrew too, but smaller type); gift shops sell Russian kitsch; shelves of food stores groan with nostalgia - Russian tea, caviar, black bread, little plastic cups of vodka containing an individual hit for 20p. And pork. The city nearly went to war over pork last year; 32 stores were threatened with closure by the district magistrate unless they ceased selling it.

Most of the stores have opened since Ashkelon was settled by more than 30,000 Russians, following the huge waves of aliyah - return - from the former Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s. They have clung to the coast, with 45,000 in Haifa, 37,000 in Ashdod and 35,000 in Tel Aviv. Mikhail Gorbachev's decision to allow Jews to leave the Soviet Union has had an enormous impact on Israel, reshaping its cultural, social and economic landscape.

In their high professional and educational talent, the Russians are unlike any previous wave of immigrants. The unemployment rate among them is lower than that of other Israelis, around seven per cent. Most have already bought their own homes; half have at least one car.

It sounds like the Israeli dream of the Jewish melting-pot come true. But it's not that simple, as the war of the sausages revealed. 'In Russia, they shut our mouths and didn't let us speak but here, in a democracy, they watch what we put in our mouths,' said Tamara, a customer at CMAK, a popular Russian delicatessen in Ashkelon.

It is run by Marina and Tatiana, who arrived four years ago from the Ukraine. Tatiana holds a masters degree in mining engineering, Marina is a qualified electrical engineer, but they both prefer selling sausages. Their cyrillic list boasts of products in the style of Moscow and Odessa - all made in Israel, which does not permit their import. 'Very popular is pig's cheek,' says Tatiana in laboured Hebrew- she says she can speak good English, but only if we talk about rock density. 'Ukrainians like greasy sausage.'

They had some problems with the Orthodox when they first set up shop: 'They used to come in and abuse us, but it doesn't happen any more. Maybe they got used to us.' The pork dispute petered out as a basis for the city's older, mainly Sephardic population in their cultural battle with the Russians, after a far graver incident last year. Jan Shefshovitz, a 21-year-old immigrant from Moldavia, wearing army uniform, was stabbed to death by a Moroccan at a city cafe. 'My son was murdered because he spoke Russian,' wept Jan's mother, Maya.

At the headquarters of Yisrael ba-Aliya, the Russian immigrants' party led by trade minister Nathan Sharansky, the killing still angers. Vladimir Indikt, the local party leader, rails against state prejudice: 'The killers were arrested but have been freed on bail pending trial and are supposed to be under home arrest. These murd-erers are walking around Ashkelon every day. It's outrageous, but what can we do?

There are different standards of justice for Russians.' He hopes Israel's general election, on May 17, will change all that. The Russian sector has grown so large in a decade that no political leader can ignore its voice. Already the horse-trading has begun with both of Israel's largest parties, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud and Ehud Barak's Labour, dangling the interior ministry before Sharansky as reward for the Russian vote.

The interior ministry, which supervises new immigrants, has been controlled by the ultra-Orthodox and Sephardic Shas party for almost 15 years. Shas is anathema to the Russians, most of whom couldn't have told you what a bar-mitzvah was before they arrived in Israel; they are secular, and tend to be right-wing on the peace process. Foreign minister Ariel Sharon revealed the reason behind his government's cynical - that's the US state department view - and sudden courtship of Moscow when he told the Washington Post: 'The Russian vote will decide the outcome of the elections.'

For years, Netanyahu and Sharon had been urging the US to impose sanctions on Russia for assisting Iran's nuclear programme. Suddenly they wanted the the IMF to extend loans to Russia. Israel's Russians, who get their news from their own-language newspapers and cable television, have backed this. Over Kosovo, Sharon and Netanyahu have been notably reluctant to support their strongest ally, the US, because most of Israel's Russians are pro-Serb.

In conversations with Russians, the same themes surface. Most say they will vote for Netanyahu, who has kept the lid on terrorism. Russians like a strong leader, they like the way Netanyahu spat in Washington's face and convinced President Clinton it was only raining.

As for the Palestinians and land for peace, one Ashkelon chess-player said: 'Where I used to live, we had a huge country. And I came to Israel and if you look at it on the map, it's tiny. And they want to start giving bits of it away? Are they crazy?' Most Russians (like most Israelis) have never been to the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. They have no yearning for the Greater Land of Israel which so inspires the Right. Yet they are contemptuous of Arabs, as they are disdainful of Israelis, whom they regard as vulgar and without culture.

'There is a double culture-shock at work,' explains journalist Sergei Makarov. 'Before we came here, most Russians had only preconceptions that Israel was like the west, and shared our values. We knew nothing at all about the Middle East. We found that Israel is not really like the west at all, so we were disappointed and we still don't understand the Middle East, which is alien.' Israel once dreamed of a population of a nation united and confident. What happened? There is a rich and varied culture, but far more disunited than its founders imagined.

Larissa Gerstein is deputy mayor of the Jerusalem municipality and her husband edits Vesty, Israel's largest Russian newspaper. The more deeply involved she became in Israeli society the more she felt rejected. 'Russians don't care what the Israelis think of them, say about them and especially write about them. We now have cultural autonomy. Little Russia.' And they will vote for Netanyahu because he, too, is an outsider to the establishment and 'because they like seeing a Jew screwing the gentiles for a change'.

As Russia grows more unstable, so anti-semitism there rises and the immigrants keep coming; 916,200 Jews still live in the former Soviet Union. Shas wants to make qualification for immigration more strict, so that Russians whose claim to Jewishness is only through a grandfather would no longer qualify.

It is thought that around a third of the Russian Israelis are not Jewish. A few are actively Christian. Ivan, who attends a Roman Catholic church in Jerusalem four times a week, recalls that when he attended the Israeli absorption centre in Russia, 'they told me to put down that I had no religious faith, but they knew and didn't care. They just wanted more citizens. Perhaps they believed that over time we will all be integrated into the Jewish character of Israel.

That may be true, but they forgot that we will determine just what that character will be. Most of my countrymen and women don't care about religion at all. They don't care about being Jewish. That may create big problems some day.' What about baby Yochanan Shapira? 'I think another big wave of Russians is coming soon,' says his mother. 'Ehud Barak says another million arriving here would be good for Israel, but I'm not sure he's right. I think the Israelis already have more Russians than they can cope with.'

Boston Globe 1 August 1999

SPOTLIGHT REPORT: Russian refugees skirt regulations to flood US

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff

WASHINGTON - Since 1989, the United States has granted coveted refugee status to numerous emigres from the former Soviet Union on the basis of fraudulent documents or unverified assertions that they were Jewish or evangelical Christians, according to US officials who have administered the program.

Nearly 275,000 Jewish immigrants and 100,000 evangelical Christians have arrived in the United States despite the State Department's urging in 1996 that the program be scrubbed because it was vulnerable to fraud and had outlived its usefulness. Even so, the Clinton administration, expressing fears of a new wave of anti-Semitism in Russia, is now poised to ask Congress to extend it for another year.

Meanwhile, amid evidence that many non-Jews, some allegedly with Russian mafia connections, have manipulated the program to enter the United States illegally, about 6,000 other Jews from the former Soviet Union await refugee designation.

Regardless of its future, the program's past is troubled: It has cleared for emigration an unknown, but apparently substantial, number of applicants on the basis of faked documents and little or no evidence that they faced persecution, according to several officials who worked in the program. "There clearly was a mindset among our superiors that unless there was a clear case of fraud or forgery, we were to approve what was in front of us," said Rebecca Fong, a former review officer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the US Embassy in Moscow.

A 1993 INS internal document, obtained by the Globe, provided no precise estimate of the number of people who had entered the United States under false pretenses, but it characterized fraud in the program as "astronomical." Still, INS officials, in recent interviews, played down the number of applicants who have arrived in the United States illicitly. While they acknowledged that many applicants submitted faked documents, they said most of those were weeded out during Washington processing before the interview stage at the Moscow Embassy.

Critics of the 1989 rules relaxation, sponsored by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, have focused on the lower standard for refugee status that was created for Jews and evangelical Christians from the former Soviet Union. While officials privately focus their criticism on the level of fraud by Jewish applicants over the last decade, in the last year or so they say they have found an increasing level of fraud among evangelical Christians. In 1998 for the first time, more evangelicals were admitted as refugees than Jews.

In other troubled parts of the world, would-be refugees must show they are being persecuted or have a "well-founded fear" of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social class, or political affiliation. But applicants from the former Soviet Union need only show a "credible basis" for concern that they might face persecution. Such vague standards left INS employees uncertain what assertions were acceptable to win refugee status. But they said they soon learned from their superiors that a claim of a minor act of discrimination, such as being denied a promotion or raise, was acceptable, without any need for verification.

The vast majority of the 275,000 who emigrated here through the program were men, women, and children of Jewish heritage who had close family members living in the United States and were able to show they had experienced some discrimination, if not persecution, in the former Soviet Union, the officials said.

The Boston area, after New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, has become a major resettlement destination for the emigres. About 50,000 of the refugees from the former Soviet Union have settled in Massachusetts since 1983, according to the state Office of Refugee Resettlement. "Our focus is not on fraud but on how this program has taken people out of a country that has had a history of anti-Semitic persecution," said Leonard Glickman, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which has helped most of the refugees resettle in the United States. Glickman sidestepped questions about the extent of fraud.

Yet an investigation by the State Department's Inspector General's office reported in 1996 that fraudulent documentation had become an increasing problem for the program. "Since fraudulent documents can be obtained and category membership only has to be stated, not proved, it is difficult for INS to verify family claims," stated the Inspector General's report. "The increased fraud and the low standards imposed resulted in people not eligible for resettlement gaining access to the US."

While the program initially facilitated the emigration of many Jews who had been persecuted under the Soviet system, INS officials in Moscow came to believe that the program should have ended by 1993 because of the potential for fraud, according to the report.

Now, with White House plans to extend the program through next year's election, one of the highest INS priorities is how to prevent fraud, the same issue that arose in 1993 and 1996 when State Department-led efforts to end the program were beaten back by Jewish lobbying groups.

Any attempt to end the program now could prove costly to Democratic candidates, especially to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has taken steps to court Jewish voters in New York state. INS officials confirmed there has long been disagreement between INS agents who process applicants at the Moscow Embassy and their superiors in Washington about the proof needed to qualify. One superior, who asked not to be identified, acknowledged: "I'll admit the program is more generous than elsewhere, but that's what Congress mandated."

Several reviewers complained that their entreaties that the Embassy take a tougher stand against fraud and baseless claims of persecution were ignored. For much of the last decade, their requests that criminal background checks be done and equipment be bought that could detect forged documents were rebuffed. They said superiors also repeatedly questioned reviewers' judgment when they rejected applications.

Even applicants considered extremely suspect by INS reviewers were ultimately approved, officials said. In many cases, they said, applicants would claim to have lost their internal Soviet passports that would identify them as Jewish. Instead, they were allowed to present other papers, even those that appeared to have been produced by the thriving fake document industry in the former Soviet Union, to attest that they had Jewish heritage.

"This program has been documented to be so loosely administered that it has served as a conduit for the settlement of a strong refugee mafia to take root in the United States," Dan Stein executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which wants the program eliminated, told a House subcommittee last year. Added one INS interviewer, who asked for anonymity: "The prevailing attitude was that Congress had passed the ... amendment" loosening the restrictions for Jews to enter as refugees "and we weren't to stand in the way of putting up the numbers."

And impressive numbers were reached. At the end of the first year of the program's operation in 1990, nearly 40,000 applicants of Jewish heritage were accepted as refugees. The Scripps Howard News Service reported in 1995 on the criticism inside the INS on the program's level of fraud, but Congress approved an extension of the Lautenberg Amendment the following year.

While no one would estimate how many residents of the former Soviet Union took advantage of the program to enter the United States illegally, US statistics show that few of the applicants interviewed were rejected. Between 1989 and 1998, more than 97 percent of the Russian Jews interviewed became emigres. About 90 percent of the evangelical Christians seeking admission were approved. In contrast, only about 75 percent of refugee applicants from elsewhere who reach the interview stage win approval, mostly because they face the higher theshhold of proving that they face persecution at home.

Refugee status is an immigrant's dream: Refugees are entitled to several benefits, including welfare for eight months, health insurance, employment services, and instruction in English as a second language for 18 months, that are not available to foreign visitors on work visas. And it allows them to petition for US citizenship after five years.

But a decade after the rules were relaxed, no one can say for sure how extensive the fraud is. One INS executive, who asked not to be identified but is familiar with the refugee program, said the agency's top tier of officials are aware that loose standards and lax controls allowed some who did not deserve it to gain refugee status. Asked how many came in without proper credentials, he said: "It's anybody's guess."

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