Anti-Semitism, Tolerance and Historical Memory in the Post-Soviet Space

The Institute of Euro-Asian Jewish Studies, operating under the auspices of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, has published a monographic issue. It includes articles by prominent scientists from Russia, Ukraine and Israel, which examine the problems of anti-Semitism, tolerance and historical memory in the post-Soviet space. This page presents the data partially. If you are interested in more specific data, please contact us.

Dynamics and perception of anti-Semitism by the Jewish population

With the collapse of the USSR and the end of anti-Jewish policies and discrimination practices, the post-Soviet space is generally considered a “continent of security” in terms of “accentuated” anti-Semitic manifestations, at least compared with some European and Middle Eastern countries. In general, similar trends are typical for Ukraine and most other countries of the former USSR, where Jews have become an “invisible object” for a number of reasons, such as a dramatic drop in numbers because of emigration. For these and other reasons, the mass consciousness of citizens of almost all post-Soviet countries no longer sees the Jews as their “main internal enemy”, in contrast to the era of stagnation. [1] However, according to observers, traces of both domestic and Soviet state anti-Semitism can be seen in the former USSR quite clearly, as well as the associated fluctuations of anti-Semitic xenophobia. [2] Respondents’ assessments of the general dynamics of anti-Semitic manifestations in the countries and cities of their residence, obtained in the study, serve as both a real index of the level of anti-Semitism and a demonstration of differences in the definition of anti-Semitic manifestations and the “threshold of tolerance” due to the local general culture. [3]

In your opinion Anti-Semitism in your city and country in general:

Average for the countries of the former USSR [4]

14%

Significantly increased

22%

Significantly decreased

38%

No significant changes

6%

Never existed and still does not exist

20%

Hard to say

Have you or your relatives been the target of anti-Semitic incidents in recent years:

Average for the countries of the former USSR [4]

9%

Yes, repeatedly

17%

1-2 times

27%

Personally not, but know victims of such attacks

20%

Heard about the phenomenon, but do not personally know victims of such incidents

24%

Neither seen nor heard of them

Attitude towards Jews

🇷🇺 В России

Jews are the only group that the absolute majority (90%) expresses a positive-neutral attitude towards. [5] Changes in attitudes to the Jewish people are going in two opposite directions, because followers of these views belong to different social communities. However, significant parts of the two streams overlap. First, there has been a slight increase in the envious and hostile attitude of the socially lower classes towards more successful and higher status-bearing ethnic groups. Second, there has been a noticeable increase in philosemitic attitudes, expressed in an increase of positive characteristics of the Jews and a decrease in negative stereotypes. All these changes are taking place due to the younger generation free from ideological clichés of Soviet state anti-Semitism. Routine prejudices reach young people only through the ethnic stereotypes of their parents rather than through government institutions of socialization and propa- ganda. Therefore, younger people feel less distant from the Jews than the elderly. For instance, respondents of 18-24 years of age note that Jews are hospitable, reliable, loyal, open, simple, peaceful, etc. more often than old- er people (25% and 14%, 14% and 6%, 12% and 5%, etc., respectively). [6]

How do you feel about the Jews?

🇷🇺 В России [7]

12%

With sympathy, interest

78%

Calmly, like about anyone else

4%

With irritation, dislike

5%

With mistrust, fear

Do you agree with the following statements

🇷🇺 In Russia [8]

Jews avoid manual labor
0%
For Jews, money is more important than human relations
0%
Jews exaggerate their troubles and suffering
0%
Jews always defend only their own interests rather than interests of the country they live in
0%
Jews occupy too much place in the cultural life of Russia
0%
Jews are guilty of crucifying Christ
0%
It would be better for Russia if there were no Jews in it at all
0%
Jews are honest, decent people
0%
It's necessary to punish for insulting the national dignity of Jews to the fullest extent of the law
0%
There are many talented and capable people among the Jews
0%
Most Jews are kind and peaceful people
0%
Jews are good workers
0%

Main characteristics of the Jews

🇷🇺 In Russia [9]

How would you feel about a Jew becoming the president of Russia?

🇷🇺 In Russia [10]

2020 

28%

Have nothing against it

64%

Consider it undesirable

8%

Hard to answer

Perception of anti-Semitism by non-Jews

🇷🇺 In Russia

In describing the parameters of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, one should take into account protective psychological mechanisms of collec- tive identity, supplanting feelings of collective responsibility and guilt. In this context, the data of mass polls indicating a decrease in anti-Semitism in Russia should be accepted with adjustment for the tendency to push out unpleasant facts or transfer responsibility to the object of persecution, etc.

As seen from the obtained data, the absolute majority (66-85%) does not intend to recognize offensive statements against the Jews as explicitly or implicitly anti-Semitic (avoiding a direct moral assessment by avoiding an answer).

A survey conducted in July-August 2020 allowed to compare what the Russian population and Jewish respondents believe anti-Semitism is and what they believe it is not. The methodological procedure was based on a set of test statements borrowed from a European study on anti-Semitism. Jews and non-Jews were asked to express their attitude to several statements containing a set of common stereotypes and to determine whether they are anti-Semitic or not.

The explanation for the significant differences in the answers is that non-Jewish Russians are less sensitive to this topic than their fellow Jews. They do not pay attention to such statements, but not because they do not find them offensive, although some of these reactions can be attributed to a lack of empathy or the ability to empathize.

Either way, most Russians are not inclined to assess these stereotypes negatively. The perception of anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist statements is very blurred in Russia today; it is the “power” of the Jews in various spheres that is most often identified as manifestation of anti-Semitism. Denial of the Holocaust and of a sovereign Jewish state are the most painful topics for the Jewish people but it is not considered anti-Semitic by most Russians (56% and 67% of respondents). [11]

In your assessment, is there more or less anti- Semitism in Russia today than in the Soviet era?

🇷🇺 In Russia [12]

19%

More + far more

22%

The same

36%

Less + far less

23%

Hard to answer

Do you consider statements made by non-Jews to be anti-Semitic?

🇷🇺 In Russia [13]

Statements
Definitely yes + Probably yes
Probably not + definitely not
* Survey of the non-Jewish population
Jews in Russia have too much power (in economics, politics, and media)
40%
42%
Jews exploit the Holocaust theme for personal gain
29%
49%
Holocaust is a myth, and its scale is exaggerated
25%
56%
The world would be a better place with no Israel in it
15%
67%
Israelis treat Palestinians like Nazis
29%
33%

In the past 12 months, have you met people of non-Jewish origin expressing the following statements?

🇷🇺 В России

Statements
Constantly/often + sometimes (survey of the non-Jewish population)
Constantly/often + sometimes (survey of the Jewish population)
Jews in Russia have too much power (in economics, politics, and media)
35%
77%
Jews exploit the Holocaust theme for personal gain
24%
50%
Holocaust is a myth, and its scale is exaggerated
18%
49%
The world would be a better place with no Israel in it
13%
25%
Israelis treat Palestinians like Nazis
25%
50%

Do you agree that insults to the national dignity of the Jews, oppression and threats against them should be punished to the fullest extent of the law?

🇷🇺 В России [14]

2020 

52%

Agree

34%

Disagree

14%

Hard to answer

Knowledge about the Holocaust

🇷🇺 In Russia

The overwhelming majority of respondents (87%) know about the mass extermination of the Jews. 12% have never heard of the Jewish genocide or firstly found out about it from our questionnaire. The prevalence of knowledge about the Holocaust over the past decades has been slowly declining due to the indifference of the young people. More educated categories of the population are more aware of this tragedy, primarily in Moscow (97%), half of whom have college/university degrees, respondents in the most active age of 25-39 years old (81%), and especially people over 40 years old (92-93%). But a quarter of young people (18-24 years old) first heard about the genocide of the Jews in our survey. Knowledge of this kind decreases with the transi- tion from urbanized social communities to the countryside, although even in the countryside 82% of respondents are aware of this. 1% have heard about the mass extermination of the Jews during the Second World War but do not believe it (among young people this figure is 3%). The question of the scale of the tragedy of the Jews caused our respon- dents the greatest difficulty. More than half of respondents (58%) found it difficult or refused to answer it. The attitude to this topic is far from unambiguous: more than half (55%) of respondents believe it important to include stories of the Shoah, as well as of the oppression of the Jews in the Russian Empire and in Soviet times into school lessons. But about a third of respondents (31%) object to any lessons on the Holocaust, considering it unnecessary for the education of the younger generation or formation of national pride and patriotism. There are more young people and students (64%) among those who believe that history lessons should teach not only about the Holocaust, but also about anti-Semitism and oppression of the Jews. [15]

Do you know what the Holocaust is?

🇷🇺 In Russia [16]

87%

Know

12%

Never heard

How often do you encounter Holocaust denial?​

🇷🇺 In Russia

3%

All the time

4%

Often

14%

Sometimes

79%

Never

Knowledge of Jewish culture and history; anti-Semitic theories and attitude towards Israel

🇷🇺 In Russia

There is a poor knowledge of Jewish history, culture and traditions. For instance, only 8% of respondents understand what the “Pale of Settlement” is. Very few respondents gave the correct date of the founding of the State of Israel (ranging from the Old Kingdom to the mid-1950s). The elderly and the well-educated respondents coped better with this, including those who could list the main Jewish holy books (12% named the Torah and 18% named the Talmud). Such knowledge is found mainly among the outgoing part of the intelligentsia concentrated in big cities; for example, in Moscow, these books were named by 24-32% but only by only 2-3% of young respondents. [17]

Do you know what the Pale of Settlement is?

🇷🇺 In Russia [18]

75%

Don’t know + hard to answer

8%

Know

17%

Misunderstand

Have you heard of the Zionist conspiracy?

🇷🇺 In Russia

74%

No, never heard before

26%

Heard

Do you think such conspiracy really exists?

🇷🇺 In Russia

16%

Yes, it does

55%

No, it does not

29%

Hard to answer

What is Zionism?

🇷🇺 In Russia

19%

A policy aimed at establishing Jewish dominance throughout the world

18%

The movement of the Jewish people to return to their historical homeland and strengthen the Jewish state

8%

An ideology that justifies Israeli aggression in the Middle East

8%

The religion of the Jewish people

11%

A movement for the revival of Jewish traditions and culture

36%

Hard to answer

References

[1] Prof. Vladimir (Ze’ev) Khanin, Dr. Nethanel (Nati) Kantorovich, Anti-Semitism in the Post-Soviet Space – the Big Picture
.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Prof. Vladimir (Ze’ev) Khanin, Dynamics of Anti-Semitism in Perception of Jews in FSU Countries (according to 2019-2020 survey)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Prof. Lev Gudkov, Sociological Aspects of Phenomena of Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia in Modern Russia

[6] Prof. Lev Gudkov, Anti-Semitism in Modern Russia (based on 2020 Levada Center research)

[7] Prof. Lev Gudkov, Sociological Aspects of Phenomena of Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia in Modern Russia

[8] Prof. Lev Gudkov, Anti-Semitism in Modern Russia (based on 2020 Levada Center research)

[9] Prof. Lev Gudkov, Sociological Aspects of Phenomena of Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia in Modern Russia

[10] Ibid.

[11] Dr. Alexey Levinson, Prof. Lev Gudkov, The Factor of Anti-Semitism in the Self-Awareness of Russian Jews 

[12] Prof. Lev Gudkov, Anti-Semitism in Modern Russia (based on 2020 Levada Center research)

[13] Dr. Alexey Levinson, Prof. Lev Gudkov, The Factor of Anti-Semitism in the Self-Awareness of Russian Jews 

[14] Prof. Lev Gudkov, Anti-Semitism in Modern Russia (based on 2020 Levada Center research)

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

Authors

Prof. Vladimir (Ze’ev) Khanin (Jerusalem) lectures Israel and Jewish Studies at Ariel University and Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University; Academic Chairman of the Institute for Euro-Asian Jewish Studies (IEAJS).

Dr. Nethanel (Nati) Kantorovich (Jerusalem) is Director of the Information and Research Department of the Nativ Organization for Liaison with Jews in Eastern Europe under the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel; an expert of the IEAJS.

Prof. Lev Gudkov is Doctor of Philosophy, Director of the Yuri Levada Analytical Center (Levada Center), editor-in-chief of the Public Opinion Bulletin, Professor at the Higher School of Economics (Moscow)

Dr. Alexei Levinson is head of the Sociocultural Research Department of the Yuri Levada Analytical Center, Moscow

Prof. Yaroslav Hrytsak is Doctor of History, Professor of the Ukrainian Catho- lic University (Lviv), Director of the Institute of Historical Research of the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, founding editor of the academic Ukraine Modern yearbook.