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Democracy, Jewish Community Growing in Russia

(Washington, DC--May 30, 2002) The President of the Russian Jewish Congress, Yevgeny Satanovsky, recently briefed an audience at RFE/RL's Washington office on the work of his organization and the state of the Jewish community in Russia.

The Russian Jewish Congress, Satanovsky said, works as a roundtable uniting the most important Jewish organizations in Russia to address both religious and secular concerns--"a Knesset of Russian Jewry." The RJC works to build its community, "as the Yeshuva leaders built their group in Palestine," to build bridges with Jewish federations in the U.S. and around the world, and to link Russia's Jews with Jews worldwide to improve the security of the Jewish homeland, Israel. The RJC is also a successful philanthropy, Satanovsky said, having raised $60 million in Russia over the last six years.

Satanovsky said that the community he represents could be considered the world's first "post-assimilation Jewish community." Many Jews who turned away from their backgrounds and entered into mixed marriages under the pressure of Soviet-era anti-Semitism are now returning to their faith. Satanovsky estimated the community might today number more than two million citing the phenomenon that "the more Jews emigrate from Russia, the more appear in the community."

Anti-Semitism in Russia, while not eradicated, is no longer perceived by Satanovsky and his group as the threat it once was. "It is worse to be dark-skinned in Moscow than to be Jewish," Satanovsky said, noting that open anti-Semitism now seems to reside primarily among Russia's older generation, which also continues to be the most nostalgic for the Soviet regime.

Satanovsky said that Russian politics today is more similar to Latin American democracy than to the form of democracy practiced in Anglo-Saxon countries like the U.S. and Great Britain. In his view, Russian democracy combines within it Byzantine traditions, Russia's Soviet Communist legacy, and the open democratic values that have been absorbed in the past decade since the fall of the Soviet Union.