Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Poisoned Roots

Window on Eurasia: The Anti-Semitic Roots of Anti-Chechen Propaganda

Paul Goble

Tartu, March 15 - Russian writers are using images and motifs found in Nazi anti-Semitic writings to demonize and dehumanize the Chechens today, according to an American professor who has examined their production.

In an article published in the current issue of Moscow's "Novoye literaturnoye obozreniye," Anna Brodsky, who teaches at Washington and Lee University in the United States, argues that anti-Semitic imagery is an important source for Russians who are engaged in anti-Chechen propaganda (http://magazines.russ.ru/nlo/2005/70/br22-pr.html).

According to Brodsky, "the characteristics which the Nazis ascribed to the Jews" are now finding their way into the writings of an increasing number of Russians about the Chechens who are presented as being the incarnation of absolute evil --just as the Nazis treated the Jews more than a half century ago.

"Possibly the chief anti-Semitic stereotype used by the authors of such books [about the Chechens] is the myth of the economic domination of an immeasurably rich national minority," she writes. This paranoid vision of the Jews, which was outlined in the notorious forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," is now being used to denounce the Chechens.

In a 1997 novel, for example, Lev Puchkov wrote that the Chechens are now attacking Russians because before the war they were used to stealing from them as the North Caucasians built up their illegal wealth. And in a 2001 novel, Dmitriy Cherkasov made a similar point, saying that the Chechens have always had economic power over the Russians.

Brodsky notes that Russian writers - novelists, memoirists and journalists - do not limit themselves to the application of this anti-Semitic slander from the past to the Chechens of today. They also portray the Chechens as cruel, pitiless, and obsessively interested in non-Chechen women, charges that anti-Semites historically have employed as well.

Russian writers like Puchkov, Viktor Dotsenko and Andrei Voronin, Brodsky notes, fill their books and articles with stories about the extreme sexuality of the Chechens and their dissolute behaviour not only among themselves but with others - again themes that often animated Nazi anti-Semitic writings as well.

And Russian writers also portray the Chechens as traitorous to the core, as people who are superficially hospitable but who inevitably betray anyone who is foolish enough to accept it. Indeed, at least one Russian writer on this theme explicitly calls the Chechens who do so Judases, yet another frequent anti-Semitic theme.

But perhaps the most disturbing parallel between anti-Semitic writings of the past and anti-Chechen writings of the present is the reappearance of the idea of the "blood libel," the notion that Jews and now Chechens practice ritual murder of outsiders as part of their national traditions.

This absurd medieval myth tragically had a more recent manifestation, Brodsky points out. Just before World War I, the Russian government infamously indicted Mendel Beilis on charges of ritual murder. Beilis was acquited, but anti-Semites continue to question his innocence - among them the Russian writer Igor Shafarevich as recently as 2002.

Now, at least one Russian writer has suggested that the Chechens are guilty of the same thing. In a pair of novels, "Walking into the Night" and "The Chechen Blues" (both published in 2002), Aleksandr Prokhanov suggested that the Chechens ritually murder captured Russian soldiers who refuse to convert to Islam in order to get their blood.

Like other scholars (see http://www.polit.ru/country/2002/12/07/479426.html) Brodsky acknowledges that Russian anti-Chechen propaganda has other sources as well - including not unimportantly Stalinist actions like the "dekulakization" of the peasantry and the forced exile of entire peoples including of course the Chechens themselves.

In memoirs about the Chechen war, some Russian soldiers, Brodsky points out, talk about "dekulakizing" the rich Chechens, and others who come in contact with the Chechens openly express regret that Stalin did not kill enough of them when he sent them into Central Asian exile at the end of World War II.

But as Brodsky makes clear, it is the anti-Semitic sources of the anti-Chechen writings that are the most disturbing for two important reasons.

On the one hand, this sourcing calls attention to just how far some Russians and others have already gone to demonize and dehumanize the Chechens, two steps typically taken by those who want to justify the destruction of an entire community or to excuse those who want to take that step.

And on the other, this sourcing highlights the ease with which hatred for one group can be displaced onto another and perhaps back again. The imagery that promoted attacks on Jews yesterday is now being used to justify attacks on Chechens. In the future, as Brodsky suggests, it could all too easily be exploited to power attacks on Jews and other groups as well.

(via MAK)

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