Prosecutors Rule Paper's Use of Word 'Zhid' Is Legal
Published: May 31, 2005 (Issue # 1074)
The City Prosecutor's Office has again refused to open a criminal case for inciting ethnic or religious intolerance over anti-Semitic articles printed in two city newspapers, Za Russkoye Delo and Rus Pravoslavnaya.
In a written explanation of the refusal, deputy city prosecutor Alexander Korsunov declared that the derogatory term "zhid," or Yid, does not denote adherents of a specific religion.
"The term 'zhid' [mentioned in the article] and its grammatical modifications are not officially recognized as ... belonging to a certain religion," he wrote.
"The pretentious attitude of the author of the article and editors-in-chief to Judaic dogma, introduced in the article 'Jewish Happiness, Russian Tears," is based on an analysis of the officially published book 'Kitzur Shulchan Arukh,' which contains instructions of the rules of behavior for people of Jewish nationality towards non-Jews," Korsunov wrote.
The book is an ancient Jewish text.
"An appeal by the author [Korsunov] to the Prosecutor General with the request to check the data given in the book, and in case of its confirmation to forbid the activities of Jewish national religious unions as extremist ones, his desire to attract readers' attention to existing differences between dogmas ... in the absence of any calls for committing illegal actions against representatives of this or that nation, race or religion, provoking hatred or hostility ... does not constitute a crime as described in article 282 part 1 of the Criminal Code ... ," he said.
The request to open a criminal case came from Ruslan Linkov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Democratic Russia, and Yury Vdovin, co-chairman of human rights organization Citizens' Watch.
Linkov and Vdovin in January 2005 criticized Rus Pravoslavnaya for publishing a so-called "letter of 500," which was "saturated with extremism and hatred toward Jews."
The letter was signed by 20 State Duma deputies.
The City Prosecutor's Office first rejected opening a criminal case, deciding that a warning to the newspapers was sufficient. In May they decided to reconsider the rights activists' request.
The newspapers' editors have argued that the prosecutor's office has been too harsh toward them.
In repeated comments to The St. Petersburg Times, the editors of the newspapers have denied the charges, saying all they did was analyze historical materials.
Vdovin said he did not accept city prosecutors' explanation.
"It could be a consequence of the secretive sympathy of such bodies for xenophobic moods, including anti-Semitism," Vdovin said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
"Our administration supports such moods on purpose to divert the public's dissatisfaction with the social and economic situation. This way people tend to blame Jews for all their problems rather than the authorities," he said.
There is a danger that "in a while officials would not be able to control such moods," he added.
Linkov said he planned to write a letter to the General Prosecutor to explain his concerns, and to bring an lawsuit against the city prosecution office for its "illegal" and "absolutely unjustified" refusal to open a criminal case against "a blatant crime."
Linkov also said modern Russian dictionaries define "zhid" as an insulting name for Jewish people.
Rabbi Michael Farbman, of the Progressive Jewish Community Shaarei Shalom, said of nationalism in Russia that "Russian nationalism should find the positive in itself, not the negative in others."
"A strong nation is not afraid of anyone," Farbman said, adding that nationalists do not represent all Russians.