IN the face of quickly rising anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, it comes as welcome news that prosecutors in Moscow are beginning a criminal investigation of Pamyat, a Russian nationalist group that has been waging an anti-Jewish campaign in numerous Russian cities. Pamyat (or ``Memory'') is one of several Russian nationalist groups that have been growing as a result of economic and social strains in Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union.
Ironically, glasnost has allowed a more open anti-Semitism to appear. Conservative Russian patriot-purists have found a new voice. Jews have been directly and indirectly blamed in the press, in letters columns, and in flyers for problems ranging from alcoholism, to a subversion of the Russian tongue, to the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl.
Of course, glasnost cuts both ways. Until recently, there was no official acknowledgment in the Soviet Union that anti-Semitism even existed. It is to be hoped that the announcement of an investigation into Pamyat, published last week in the liberal Literaturnaya Gazeta as well as Tass, will dampen nationalist ardor somewhat. The investigation was prompted by a Pamyat statement to ``de-Zionize'' Russia that called for ``Jews and their ilk'' to be prohibited from university professorships, the party, and top-level government jobs.
An investigation is only a first step. It will be interesting to find out whether or not connections are established between Pamyat and factions in the Soviet security and military. It has long been suspected that groups like Pamyat do not operate without covert support from above. Last month, when Pamyat members shouted anti-Semitic slogans at a liberal Moscow writers meeting, the police took them into custody, then released them in the street - saying the writers provoked the attack.
Anti-Semitic fallout from ethnic passions in a destabilized Soviet Union - and Eastern Europe - need to be watched closely. Fears of a rise of fascist thinking are not unfounded. One would hope that Gorbachev, or perhaps a Boris Yeltsin, would speak openly against anti-Semitism. That's been politically dangerous. Regardless, the ugly historic pattern of seeking a ``Jewish scapegoat'' must end.