Soviet Trial Bares Anti-Semitism
Leader of Russian nationalist group found guilty following trial interrupted by outbursts
BY 9:00 a.m., a small crowd had already gathered on the third floor outside the door of the Moscow City courtroom. Young members of the Russian nationalist group Pamyat dressed in black greeted each other with comradely arm clasps. In the corner, by the window, a retired Army colonel read an anti-Semitic tract in a rushed, wild voice to anyone who would listen.Skip to next paragraph
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Pamyat members surreptitiously slipped under their coats bouquets of flowers and rolled up banners passed out by their leaders. As the starting time for the court approached, the tension rose and the crowd pressed in on the door.
Two young men stood by the door, conversing casually.
``If a Jew attacks you, it doesn't make any difference if it is a man or a woman,'' the slight bearded one said to the nodded assent of his comrade. ``It's just an animal and you should shoot it.''
Since late July, the raw face of Russian fascism has been on public display in this bare courtroom, which is normally reserved for the transgressions of petty thieves and drunks. Konstantin Smirnov-Ostashvili has occupied the center of this small stage.
The Pamyat leader has gained the distinction of being the first person ever tried under Soviet law for the crime of inciting ``inter-ethnic hatred and enmity.''
On Friday, in a courtroom packed with raucous Pamyat supporters shouting slogans such as ``Jews, Get Out of Here,'' a judge sentenced Mr. Smirnov-Ostashvili to two years of hard labor.
On Jan. 18, Smirnov-Ostashvili and his black-shirted followers invaded a meeting at the Central Writers' House in Moscow. With megaphone in hand, according to court testimony, he assailed the ``Jews'' and the ``Freemasons.'' He commanded the ``Jews'' to go to a room where their names would be taken.
``Your power over us is over,'' he vowed, as his followers beat attendees.
The incident highlighted the growing public display of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, closely linked to the broader spread of Russian nationalism.
The Writers' House attack fueled widespread fears within the Soviet Jewish community of pogroms being readied by groups such as Pamyat. Such rumors, Jewish leaders say, have driven the massive wave of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union.
PAMYAT is the most prominent extremist movement, itself divided into a number of factions. Several have united in the so-called Orthodox Movement of Russia, including the group headed by Smirnov-Ostashvili.
In an interview in August with Interfax news agency, Alexander Kulakov, head of the National Patriotic Front of Russia, one of the Pamyat groups, described its goal as the ``revival of Russia's national identity.''
``Russia has no friends,'' he told Interfax. ``The world has already been subordinated by Jewish capital, the very same capital that funded the 1917 revolution and provoked and organized genocide against the Russian people. Internationalism and communism are philosophies of the Jews.''
``It's not only anti-Semitism that is growing - its the growth of Russian fascism,'' says Olla Gerber, a writer and member of the liberal intellectual group April who was in the hall in January when Pamyat arrived. She is critical of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for failing to take a more forthright stand against these forces.
Some liberals have criticized the trial for making a martyr out of what is a tiny group of extremists. In elections held last March, they point out, Pamyat and other Russian nationalist groups did very poorly.
Andrei Makarov, a liberal lawyer who acted as a spokesman for the public in the trial, argued in his closing remarks that although Smirnov-Ostashvili and his group are small, they ``have influential sponsors.'' He pointed a finger at conservative forces in the Communist Party and within the police.
Indeed, Pamyat members, while expressing anticommunist ideas, openly identify with the neo-Stalinist outlook of the party conservatives. Mr. Kulakov supported the newly formed Communist Party of Russia and its head Ivan Polozkov, whom he described to Interfax as ``the lesser of existing evils.''
The trial, however, confined itself to the narrow facts of the January event, recited in low-key fashion by the judge on Friday morning in a courtroom lined with police and Spetsnaz special forces troops from the military.
THE judge's speech was punctuated by Smirnov-Ostashvili's shouted interruptions.
``Why are there only Jews in the list of witnesses,'' he screamed, thrusting his clenched fist into the air. ``They threw out all the Russian names.'' A bouquet of flowers flew from his admirers. ``Long live Russia,'' he responded.
The judge finally ended his statement, pronouncing his sentence and rushing from the room.
``Court, you serve the laws of Zionism,'' an unfurled banner proclaimed as Pamyat members jeered.
Eli Livshits, a leader of Irgun Tsioni, a Soviet Zionist group, told the Soviet news agency Postfactum that the trial would not stop ``the wave of anti-Semitism which seems to be ripening in the country.'' He accused the Soviet government of using the case as a superficial show of its opposition to anti-Semitism.
``I feel like I won,'' Ms. Gerber said in the hallway after the trial concluded. ``Ninety percent of my friends who are writers and intellectuals did not believe there would be a trial. And they didn't believe he would be convicted.''