Thursday, December 19, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Anti-Semitism in Post-Soviet States Seldom Contributes to Electoral Success, Likhachev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 19 – Anti-Semitic attitudes do not prevent post-Soviet politicians from making careers given that such attitudes there can be said to be part of the cultural “code,” but they seldom help those who have them to win elections and are unlikely to do so except at times of extreme crisis, according to an expert at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

            In a discussion of the electoral practice of national-radicals in the former Soviet space, Vyacheslav Likhachev addresses three questions: how successful have been those parties which have tried to use anti-Semitism to win elections, how have they used it or not in order to win votes, and to what extent have parties that are not openly anti-Semitic in their programs tried to exploit prejudices (
            Likhachev begins by observing that “post-Soviet society is quite closed and still sufficiently Soviet” that xenophobic attitudes remain widespread.  But polls show that “anti-Semitism is not the most important form of xenophobia.” Hatreds of immigrants and other minorities are far more rampant.

            But nevertheless, he continues, anti-Semitism is to a certain degree more important than newer, more obvious, and more widespread forms of xenophobia because it is very deeply rooted in the culture in various social niches such as the milieu around the church or, with regard the Russian situation, in certain Muslim communities.”

            In short, Likhachev continues, anti-Semitism is “art of the common cultural code.” Consequently, it is not surprising that ethnic or religious fundamentalist political forces “frequently include [it] as a component of their ideology and this is reflected in their propaganda including during elections.”

            What is striking, the expert says, is that “never and nowhere on the post-Soviet space (with rare exceptions each of which is better explained by a combination of other factors) has anti-Semitism been successful as an electoral strategy.”  And those “more or less successful right radicals have not exploited anti-Semitism as a major component of their campaigns.”

            Even parties whose leaders are openly anti-Semitic themselves generally have sought to “carefully distance themselves from anti-Semitism” during election campaigns rather than rely on it to win them.

            A clear example of this, Ligachev says, is Oleg Tyagnibok, the leader of the Svoboda Party in Ukraine.  Earlier he was excluded from Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine fraction because of his anti-Semitic remarks. As a result, Tyagnibok drew the following conclusion: “anti-Semitism does not block a political career but one cannot build a political career on it.”

            In the Russian Federation and Ukraine, he adds, “those political leaders and groups who tried to build their electoral strategy on anti-Semitic slogans suffered disasters.” One party in Ukraine, for example, used money from the Arab world to promote an anti-Semitic program but then won less than one percent of the vote in parliamentary elections.

            In contrast, parties which had electoral success “either have laid stress on anti-Semitism or have even attempted to downplay their anti-Semitism during the elections,” even if it is manifested on other occasions. And, Ligachev says, “this serves as one of the factors which has guaranteed them success.”

            But there can be exceptions and these are inevitably very troubling, he continues.  In Kyrgyzstan, which provides an example of the phenomenon of “’anti-Semitism without Jews,’” the revolution which overthrew Bakiyev in 2010 featured anti-Semitic slogans, apparently because Bakiyev’s son had actively cooperated with Israeli businesses.

            In the elections that followed the revolution, Ligachev notes, “many political forces, including those which positioned themselves on the whole as liberal (for example, the fraction of Rosa Otunbayeva, who attempted to form a pro-European image of Kyrgyzstan and her own political force) used anti-Semitism” as a mobilizing force.

            Because of the specific history in that Central Asian republic -- a revolution followed quickly by elections – anti-Semitism “did not become an obstacle for the successful conduct of electoral campaigns,” a warning that however marginal anti-Semitism has been in elections in the post-Soviet states up to now, it could become far more dangerous in the future.

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