Zionism: a Model for the Russians?

By , Vladimir Shlapentokh is a professor in the Community Health Science Department at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.

FOR decades, the official Russian mass media have portrayed Jews as traitors, swindlers, and loafers. Atheistic propaganda singled out Judaism as the most hateful religion in the world. Zionism was presented as a version of Nazism, and Israel was likened to Hitler's Germany.

Poll results consistently showed that most Russians accepted the official anti-Semitic propaganda, which tapped into Russia's deeply rooted xenophobic traditions. Even now, despite the radical changes in Russia in recent years, fully one-third of Russians harbor some animosity toward Jews and Israel.

Given this history, recent developments in Moscow are remarkable: Writers are presenting Zionism and Israel as models for the Russian people.

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Consider a recent article in Komsomol'skaia Pravda entitled, "About the New Russian Idea." The "Russian idea" has been associated with Russian world superiority, rabid anti-Semitism, and vitriolic xenophobia. Yet Alexander Vasiliev, the article's author, adopts the opposite position. He calls on his compatriots to revise the Russian idea in ways that reflect the Jewish experience.

What would push a Russian journalist to act as troubadour for Zionism and Israel? Why did he insist that true Russian patriots should study the history of the Jewish people? The answer is simple: the collapse of the Soviet empire and the subsequent creation of a new Russian diaspora. Twenty-five million Russians find themselves in states where they are a minority, and are discriminated against as such.

Mr. Vasiliev compares the gradually increasing persecution of Russians outside Russia with that of Jews in Nazi Germany. Alluding to the well-educated Baltic people who now discriminate against ethnic Russians, Vasiliev suggests that no one, no matter what their cultural or educational background, is free from hostility to aliens who speak another language and try to preserve their own culture. Vasiliev also reminds his readers that the history of Jews and other peoples teaches us that no international b ody, including the United Nations, can help a minority in its darkest hour. Brazenly expropriating the language of contemporary Russian chauvinists, Vasiliev declares that only "we" can save "us."

Meanwhile, Russia has shown little interest in her countrymen who are suffering throughout the new independent states. According to Boris Grushin's prestigious polling firm in Moscow, only 6 percent of those living in the Russian federation welcome the arrival of Russian refugees into their cities and villages.

The hostility of the indigenous Russians helps explain why such a large country cannot absorb just 43,000 Russian refugees, far less than 1 percent of its population. Forsaken by the state, lacking special legal status, and surrounded by a hostile population, the refugees are outcasts in their motherland.

VASILIEV calls on his compatriots to heed the Zionist ideology of gathering one's own people into "the chosen land," and to follow Israel's example of ignoring tremendous problems to accept all Jewish immigrants. Vasiliev notes that, until "the final solution," many Jews did not believe that their lives were in jeopardy, and he warns that the current situation demands rapid action to save Russians in other countries.

Vasiliev even praises Ariel Sharon - one of the most vilified Israeli characters in the Soviet media - for his efforts to bring to Israel Jews from Russia and other countries and ends his article with a question that surely stunned many readers: "Russia, do you have such leaders?"

Vasiliev represents a liberal trend in Russian nationalism that, while rejecting xenophobia, demands that Russians think first about themselves as a separate ethnic group. This liberal Russian nationalism differs radically from the aggressive Russian chauvinism of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Alexander Prokhanov, who demand the restoration of the Russian empire and call for military intervention in the new independent states. Vasiliev demands that Russians living in the former Soviet republics be transferred

to Russia, thereby removing the major source of conflict between Russia and its former provinces.

Vasiliev understands that such a transfer will not occur immediately, but he declares that this plan should form the basis of a new "Russian idea" in coming decades - an idea predicated on consolidating Russians and rejuvenating the Russian nation.

Clearly, this liberal, Zionist strain of Russian nationalism, which calls for reducing the numbers of Russian minorities in the former republics and thereby easing ethnic tension, should be welcomed by the world community.

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