Events

Russian Anti-Semitism and the Scape-goating of Jews: The Dog that Didn't Bark?

February 17, 2004 // 2:30pm4:30pm

At a recent Kennan Institute seminar, James Gibson, Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government, Department of Political Science, Washington University, St. Louis, and Marc Morje Howard, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University, discussed the results of their research on anti-Semitism in post-Soviet Russia. They argued that Russia's history of anti-Semitism, combined with the social and economic turmoil of the post-Soviet period, led many people to believe that Jews would be widely blamed for Russia's problems. However, based on data collected from surveys taken between 1996 and 2000, Gibson and Howard concluded that most Russians do not seem to be blaming Jews for the problems of the post-Soviet era.

Howard explained that their study was based on scapegoat theory, which posits that people will respond to perceived declines in their standard of living or their country's prestige by blaming a weak or marginalized group. He argued that post-Soviet Russia, according to scapegoat theory, had many of the necessary preconditions for scape-goating: There was widespread public perception that things were going badly in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has a long history of violent anti-Semitism, and there are political entrepreneurs who have openly proclaimed that Jews are to blame for all the ills of the post-Soviet era. According to Howard, the fact that scape-goating of Jews has not been widespread in Russia demonstrates that scapegoat theory is flawed.

Gibson presented survey data to support the conclusion that most Russians do not see Jews as the cause of all their problems. He and Howard conducted surveys of a nationally representative sample of respondents in 1996, 1998, and 2000. They asked respondents to state their level of like or dislike toward a number of different ethnic and social groups and to state their agreement or disagreement with several negative statements about Jews. Gibson reported that the majority of respondents in all three years felt neutral toward Jews, and that there was no correlation between negative attitude toward Jews and a negative view of Russia's political and economic situation. The survey also found that few respondents said they believed statements such as: "All Jews should leave Russia" and "Jews are the cause of all our national problems." According to Gibson, 60-65 percent of respondents did not agree with these statements, while 25-30 percent were unsure and 10 percent agreed with the statements.

Gibson and Howard believe that these survey results indicate a lower level of anti-Semitism in Russia than scapegoat theory would predict. They concluded by discussing possible explanations for the limited resonance of anti-Semitism in Russia. Howard rejected the idea that Russians are scape-goating Chechens or other ethnic groups instead of Jews, saying that despite very negative popular opinion of Chechens, there are no political entrepreneurs attempting to blame them for all the problems of post-Soviet Russia. Gibson argued that President Vladimir Putin and other political leaders deserve credit for promoting tolerance and condemning ethnic conflict. He maintained that most Russians are not predisposed toward anti-Semitism because they see that the problems that face their country are complex and cannot be blamed on one group.

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