Most Russians have suffered terribly during the Yeltsin years. According to Harvard University scholar Graham Allison, who is also a former US assistant Secretary of Defense, ordinary Russians have experienced, on average, a 75 percent plunge in living standards since 1991 — almost twice the decline in Americans' income during the Great Depression of the 1930s. But in the midst of this widespread economic misery, a small minority has grown fabulously wealthy since the end of the Soviet era.
Although Jews make up no more than three or four percent of Russia's population, they wield enormous economic and political power in that vast and troubled country. “At least half of the powerful 'oligarchs' who control a significant percentage of the economy are Jewish,” the Los Angeles Times has cautiously noted. (See also: D. Michaels, “Capitalism in the New Russia,” May-June 1997 Journal, pp. 21-27.)
Almost certainly the most important of the “oligarchs” is Boris A. Berezovsky, a former mathematics professor who heads the Logovaz financial-industrial group, which includes automobile imports and sales, aviation, oil and media. In 1997 Forbes magazine ranked him as one of the 100 richest people in the world, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. His extensive media holdings include ORT television, the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta ("Independent Journal"), and the weekly magazine Ogonek.
The second most powerful business figure is probably Vladimir Gusinsky. In addition to heading the “Most” banking group, he is also called “the Russian Rupert Murdoch” because of his large media empire, which includes the daily newspaper Sevodnya, the weekly news magazine Itogi, and the NTV television network. Gusinsky is also chairman of the Russian Jewish Congress.
Russia's current prime minister is Yevgeny Primakov, who was promoted from his post as foreign minister in September 1998. During the final phase of the Soviet era, he headed the KGB intelligence and security service, and served as a Politburo member. Early in his career, he dropped the obviously Jewish-sounding name he was born with, Yevgeny Finkelstein.
Many other Jews have played major roles in Russia's governmental and political life in recent years, among them Alexander Livshitz and Grigory Yavlinsky, presidential chief of staff Anatoly Chubais, deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, and prime minister Sergei Kiriyenko.
Recently there has been considerable discussion among Russian intellectuals of a pointed appeal and frank warning to the Jews who now hold decisive power in that sprawling country. It was written by Eduard Topol, a gifted Jewish writer born in the former Soviet Union who now lives in the United States, where he has become a successful author. Among his English-language novels are The Jewish Lover (St. Martin's Press, 1998), Dermo! (Plume, 1997), Red Square (Quartet Books, 1983), Deadly Games (Quartet Books, 1983), and, Submarine U-137 (Quartet Books, 1983).
In his appeal, Topol urges Boris Berezovsky and the other Jewish magnates to forsake their lust for wealth and power, and start to show some concern for the Russian people who have suffered so much at the hands of these pitiless masters.
Here is the complete text of Topol's extraordinary “Open Letter to Berezovksy, Gusinsky, Smolensky, Khodorkovsky and other Oligarchs,” translated for the Journal by Daniel Michaels from the text published in the respected Moscow paper Argumenty i Fakty ("Arguments and Facts"), No. 38, September 1998:
It all started with a fax I sent to Boris Abramovich Berezovsky on June 26. It read:
"Dear Boris Abramovich! My publishers are of the opinion that the success of my books has been the direct result of the avid interest of Western readers in the actual personalities who have shaped contemporary Russian history: Brezhnev, Andropov, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and the people around them.
"I am now working on a book completing the Russian panorama at the end of the 20th century, and it is quite obvious that a writer can find no better a story than your phenomenal biography, and no better a main character in the flow of today's cataclysmic events in Russia than Boris Berezovsky. I hope that you will understand how important our meeting would be in helping me to describe the individual most affecting the course of Russian history at the close of the 20th century …”
Just two days later Berezovsky received me in his “Reception House” at 40 Novokuznetskaya Street. In this private residence, restored in modern luxurious Russian style, the best trained secretaries served me tea while passing to Berezovsky telephone receivers and notes from various ministers and presidential administrators.
Responding to my thanks for granting me the audience at such a hectic time, Boris Abramovich commented with a faint smile: “You would be writing the book in any case …”
I understood that my visit was somewhat imposed on him so I got right to the point:
"Boris Abramovich, the real reason for writing this book is this. As you probably know there is a television show called 'The Puppets.' Puppets of Yeltsin, Yastrzhembsky, Chernomyrdin, Kulikov, and others perform. But the main puppeteer is behind the scenes — his name is Shenderovich. And in real life there are Yeltsin, Kiriyenko, Fedorov, Stepashin and the others. But the main puppeteer has a long Jewish name: Berezovsky-Gusinsky- Smolensky-Khodorkovsky, and so on.
"This is to say that for the first time in a thousand years, since the first Jews settled in Russia, we hold the real power in this country. I want to ask you straight out: How do you intend to use it? What do you intend to do in this country? Cast it into the chaos of poverty or raise it from the mud? Do you understand that a chance like this comes only once in a thousand years? Do you understand your responsibility to our [Jewish] people for your actions?”
Boris Abramovich responded with some difficulty: “Of course, as you see, financial power is in Jewish hands, but we have never looked at this from the point of view of historical responsibility.”
"You have never discussed this matter among your closest associates?”
"No. We have taken note of the disproportionality and have tried to put a strong financial oligarch of Russian ancestry in power. But nothing has ever come of it.”
"Why not? And, by the way, how did it happen that almost all the money in this country has ended up in Jewish hands? Are there really no competent Russian financiers? In old [Tsarist] Russia there were some exceptional Russian commercial figures — Morozov, Tretyakov …”
"You know,” Boris Abramovich said, “of course there are some very competent bankers among the Russians. But this profession requires a second very important factor — the will power to do the job. Because of our history Jews know how to lose and then get back up on their feet again. This is probably a result of our historical experience. But even the most talented Russians don't have this ability. They can't take the blow, and they're completely out of the game after their first loss. It's regrettable.”
"Let's say that is true [I replied]. But now, it's so happened that we the Jews have all the financial power, while the government is run by half-Jews like Kiriyenko and Chubais. Don't you realize the full measure of danger to which we subject our [Jewish] people in the event of Russia's total collapse? Anti-Semitic pogroms could turn into a new Holocaust.”
"That's out of the question,” Boris Abramovich said. “Do you know the percentage of anti-Semitism in Russia today? It is just eight percent! And that has been scientifically verified!”
Boris Abramovich, I am not going to publish at this time the entire content of our two meetings. There's no purpose in that. But in the two months that have elapsed since we first met, Russia has fallen into the financial abyss and is now but one step from the nightmare of social madness. And neither you (I mean you personally) nor any of the other Jewish oligarchs recognize this as a Jewish tragedy. It so happened that with the collapse of the USSR and the breakdown of the Soviet regime, you were able to come closer to the threshold than anyone else. Talent, Jewish acumen, and will power have enabled you to secure this success and to multiply it. But if you think that this is your personal due, you are tragically mistaken. And if you simply assume that you were chosen by God to become a super-financier and a super-oligarch, you are committing a grave sin.
Yes, we are God's chosen people — we really are the people chosen by Him. But we were not chosen for personal enrichment, but only for the purpose of leading the peoples of the world out of barbarism and paganism into the world of the Ten Commandments of civilization: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife … And this process has not been completed by a long shot. Oh no! For that reason we have been given our talents, our acumen, quickness of mind, and that will power of which you are so proud. When each of us is up there, He the Almighty will not ask whether we have done well or poorly on Earth. He will only ask one question. He will say: “I gave you this talent. How did you use it?” Did you use it for the purpose I sent you, namely, to bring them into humanity, to civilize the people, to enlighten them? Or did you use My gift to fill your safe with a billion dollars and sleep with a million beautiful women?”
And we shall respond in accordance with the measure of the gift received, and our abilities to use it.
Of course, both you and I are atheists, Boris Abramovich, as are your fellow oligarchs. Therefore we do not fear punishment after death; we are above these childish and vulgar fears. As the people are wont to say “Don't teach me how to live, help me materially.” All right, I will tell you quite materially. Let us forget for a moment the tens of thousands of Jews whom the new Russian Black Hundreds [Tsarist-era nationalists] will cut down in the first wave of pogroms, let us forget about their children and mothers. But even if, after having put them out of your mind, and you are able to fly out of Russia on your private aircraft, you will be finished. You will lose access to the levers of power and to the economy of this country; you will simply become refugees in a land with a foreign language. Believe me, for you this will be like death — even if you have accounts in Swiss banks.
And because you still do not use your money, nor the gift God gave you for the good of this country and its people, the path you are following is suicidal.
And now let us remember, Boris Abramovich, all the other Jews and half-Jews living in this country. You know very well what happened in Germany when all German money fell into the hands of Jewish bankers, who were concerned only with power and multiplying their profits. Hitler appeared and it culminated in the Holocaust.
Today new Russian black shirts [nationalists] and fascists are rising up around you on the fertile soil of Russian misery. And if you want to know how this will end, watch the films of Auschwitz and look into the eyes of the children standing there behind the barbed wire. And the Germans were a highly civilized, great European people. Not one of their poets said: “A German uprising is frightful, senseless, and merciless.”
So, do you seriously believe that in Russia today only eight percent of the people is anti-Semitic? Or do you really believe that pogroms are merely historical phantoms, anachronisms or, as you put it, “It's out of the question.”
Crap, Boris Abramovich (pardon my Russian).
In 1953 I survived a pogrom in Poltava [Ukraine]. It was during the time of the “doctors' plot,” and real pogroms had already started in the Poltava Podole. After barricading themselves in their apartments, several Jewish families in the center of the city were unable to go out onto the streets for three days. And when they finally dared, they could read on their front steps: “Jews, we're going to paint the roofs with your blood!” Therefore I know and remember how easily it starts. Just give the destitute and the aggrieved a guarantee of immunity from penalty, and they will commit arson, rape, and steal anywhere — in Poltava, Moscow, and even Los Angeles.
I was born and grew up in Baku [Azerbaijan], Boris Abramovich. I have a friend who was fantastically rich even during the Soviet period, at a time when you were living on 120 rubles as a [Ph.D.] candidate of science, and using your friend's one-room flat for your carnal pleasures. However, one day in the middle of the night his family woke him up and said: “Some people have come and want to talk to you.” He got up, dressed and went outside. Two sobbing Azerbaijani women were standing in the entrance way. They said: “Leonid, help us. Our father has died and is in the hospital morgue, and the doctors are about to open him up [autopsy] before burial. But our Muslim law forbids it. We beg you, we beseech you — stop them. Help us get our father's body back undisturbed!”
My friend went to the hospital and found the physician on duty, who also happened to be Azerbaijani. My friend said to him: “How can you, an Azerbaijani yourself, violate the laws of your own people. How can you bear it that I, a Jew, has come here to ask you to respect your own Muslim traditions?” He gave the doctor a bribe and ransomed, as it were, the body of the girls' father. It couldn't have been otherwise.
Those women knew who to turn to for help. My friend had a reputation in all of Baku for his acts of charity. Do you know how this favor was returned? Years later, when pogroms against Armenians began in Baku, my friend's fiancee, who happened to be Armenian, fled her home and hid in her grandmother's flat. He came for her to get her out of Baku. But on the way to the airport she said that she wanted to see her home again for the last time. “It's all smashed up, destroyed, I was there.” “I don't care. Please take me there. I want a final farewell look at my home.” He took her to her home.
The fence was broken, the garden torn up, the house had been torched and was destroyed. She walked about in the ruins and retrieved some family photographs and crockery that was still intact. At that very instant, an infuriated mob of pogromists entered the courtyard. One of her neighbors had informed them that the Armenian woman had returned. “Have you ever seen the face of an enraged mob?” Leonid asked me.
"They went directly at us. My fiancee stood behind me and I felt sure that we would be murdered. There were about two hundred in the mob. Their hands clutched hammers, pipe sections, clubs. I was carrying a pistol, but I knew that I would not even be able to get my hand in my pocket in time.
"Suddenly, at the last moment, when someone was already waving his club or pipe at us, an old man jumped out in front and shouted in Azerbaijani: 'Stop it. I know this man. He has always been good to us. I swear on my ancestors, all Baku knows this. He must leave here unharmed.' And, just imagine, the pogrom mob began to step aside and make a free path through which Ada and I could pass through to my automobile. We got in and left for the airport.”
You are an intelligent man, Boris Abramovich. I'm sure you already understand why I've told the story about my friend. Every Jew should act in the same way. The money that God has granted us, whether during feudalism, socialism, or capitalism, was not in fact given to us, but rather it is to be funnelled through us to the peoples among whom we live. Only then will our riches truly multiply according to His will. And only then are we truly Jews.
Today, the people among whom we reside live in a calamitous state. Poverty, chaos, desperation, hunger, unemployment, and looting by officials and bandits alike prevail. Our beloved Russian women walk the streets. For God's sake, chip in a billion or two.
Don't act like a Jew. Help this nation along in its bloody transition from Communism to civilization. And don't just give money, contribute your brains, talents, skills, your God-given and natural acumen. Use all your strength, will power, position, and wealth to save Russia from total collapse and rid Russia of its Soviet-camp morality and ethics. The people you save will protect you from pogroms, and your mothers, your Jewish mothers, will wish you a quiet mazel tov.
Otherwise, another Klimov [a familiar anti-Jewish writer] will one day write a book called “Jewish Power” about how the Jews exterminated the Russian people. Do you really want that, all you Boris Oligarchovichs?
For reasons both historical and contemporary, relations between Russians and Jews are now so tense and emotion-laden that many Jews, both in Russia and the United States, fear that Topol's appeal will promote anti-Jewish sentiment among Russians, and could even provoke new pogroms.
The nationally-circulated New York Jewish weekly Forward (October 9, 1998, p. 5) reports that the chief editor of the paper's Russian edition, Vladimir Yedidovich, suspects that Topol's appeal is part of an anti-Jewish conspiracy. Unnamed parties may have commissioned Topol to write the article, the Forward editor believes, to direct Russian wrath against Jews. “Doesn't it seem to you,” says Yedidovich, “that the idea behind the article is a provocation of such a large scale that it simply could not have been born in a 'writer's lab' of even such a scandalous writer like Topol?”
Indeed, some Russians have already responded to the “open letter” with bitter but perhaps understandable anti-Jewish hostility. Writing in Zavtra ("Tomorrow"), the main opposition newspaper (No. 40/ 253, Sept. 6, 1998), Vladimir Bondarenko comments:
This [open letter] is not a Russian-Jewish dialogue. This is an argument between Jews on how best to protect Jewish interests. Personally I have nothing against Eduard Topol in this matter. Every true patriot is naturally concerned foremost about his own people. But, why on Earth does a Russian mass-circulation newspaper, rather than, say, Tankred Golenpolsky's Yevreyskaya gazeta ["Jewish Journal"], publish this Jewish-Jewish argument?…
I can see only one good thing in this, and that is that it is time to do away with censorship concerning the Jewish question. Because Argumenty i Fakty has seen fit to raise the question of Jewish domination of our government and of Jewish financial power in our country, it is long since time to have a normal, open Russian-Jewish dialogue on these most sensitive topics in all of Russia's major newspapers. If today the Jew Topol can discuss these problems, the Russian Klimov should have the same opportunity …
Arrogance, Jewish racial arrogance permeates Topol's article … He is convinced that the Jews should rule the world …
Topol is patently wrong when he says that this is the first time in a thousand years that the Jews have had real power in Russia. Lev Trotsky's power in 1918 far exceeded that of Berezovsky today. Jewish commissars and Cheka agents at that time determined almost everything in this country for an entire epoch. That was in fact the first attempt at totally remaking the Russian Orthodox mentality …
Topol does not conceal the fact that both he and Berezovsky are atheists. For this same atheist writer to refer to himself as chosen by God shows he knows nothing about his own history or religion … The Jews still argue among themselves as to whether Jewry is a nationality or a religion … And just what is the relationship of adherents to Judaism to modern civilization and, more specifically, to Christian civilization?… Christ came to the Jews, but they rejected him. Jews do not accept Christ, and are still waiting for their Messiah. But because they have rejected Him, they are no longer the chosen people … What does Eduard Topol mean by the expression “chosen by God,” and into what civilization does he want to force the Orthodox Russian people? We don't need your services to civilization. We understand your fears perfectly. For the financial suffocation of Russia, for the cold and the hunger attributable to Berezovsky and his ilk, [you fear that] the dispossessed, tormented people might take their revenge on your innocent fellow Jews. However, you will not be saved merely by the Jews assuming a more humane attitude to the Russian barbarians, as you propose, but only when your fellow Jews, especially those in power, have adopted a sincere respect for Russian civilization, Russian culture, and Russian traditions. Long ago it was said that “he who comes to us with the sword, shall perish by the sword.” [All the same,] the experience and knowledge of Russian Jews who really do consider themselves a part of Russian society is always beneficial for the rebirth of our great nation.
Also writing in the weekly Zavtra, Vladimir Galushin notes that if a piece like Topol's open letter had appeared in the patriotic Russian media, one could expect it to be widely condemned as anti-Semitic. But given that Jews themselves acknowledge that they do indeed control Russia today, this fact cannot be refuted or discounted. Galushin sees elements of a “Jewish fascism” in such writings. This fascism is manifest in the small group of oligarchs who want to rule Russia. Fascist philosophy, he contends, means the racial superiority of one group over another, the ideology of power over other countries, even over the world. When the Yeltsin government and the Western media express fears of fascism in Russia, Galushin argues, it is not Russian fascism they should address, but Jewish fascism.
Jewish power in Russia, Galushin continues, has resulted in millions of homeless children, widespread tuberculosis and cholera, a shortage of medicines, cheating retirees of their pensions, suicide in the armed forces, and the death of science. What do the Gusinskys, the Berezovskys, the Chubais, the Nemtsovs, the Kiriyenkos, the Smolenskys, the Livshits, and the Gaidars say about this? Millions of Russians have perished under their rule. Are the Russian people ready to judge these scoundrels for their crimes, Galushin asks.
And Viktor Trostnikov, likewise responding to Topol in an article entitled “The World Will Not Belong to You,” states bluntly and unambiguously: “The world is still not yours, and it will never be yours, because Russia will never be yours.”
It would be a mistake to suppose that such sentiments are highly unusual, or represent only extreme right-wing views.
The newspaper Zavtra is the voice of the nationalists who hold the great majority of seats in Russia's Duma (parliament). These include the deputies of the reconstituted Russian Communist Party, headed by Gennady Zyuganov, which has abandoned internationalism and orthodox Marxism-Leninism, and might be more accurately be called the “National Communist” party. In the Duma, “reformers” and those who support Yeltsin's government are in a decided minority.
And in addition to such periodicals as Zavtra, today in Russia there are scores of truly “extremist” publications that may aptly be described as fascistic or neo-Nazi.
Thus, Berezovsky's remark that anti-Semites make up only eight percent of Russia's population is off the mark. While this figure may accurately reflect the percentage of Russians who are openly hostile to Jews, the percentage of those who are covertly anti-Jewish, or who hate the (mostly Jewish) oligarchs, is certainly much higher.
In sharp contrast to the intense feelings expressed by such Russian writers over the catastrophic situation in their country today is the seeming indifference of American and German taxpayers who have unwittingly channeled billions of dollars and marks to the oligarchs — who in turn have transferred this largesse to secret Swiss accounts. Who monitors the distribution of these billions through the World Bank, the IMF, the financial houses, and various banks? Who is responsible for this terrible injustice?