UCSJ Action Alert!



TO: Supporters of the Rule of Law
FROM: Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews
DATE: November 14, 1997

RE:

During the murder trial of Igor Semenov, the head of the local fascist Russian National Unity or Barkashovtsy Organization, Judge Alexander Kuznetsov made several disrespectful comments to Jewish witnesses and allowed antisemitic remarks without comment. Semenov is accused of arranging the murder of an elderly woman and a child by three men who were members of the Barkashovtsy in response to a request by a client, who wanted to obtain the murdered woman's apartment. The information about the trial in Orel, Russia, about 150 miles South of Moscow, was reported by Emannuil Mendelevich, a Jewish Orel resident and correspondent for Express-Chronicle.

Judge Kuznetsov's behavior calls into question his ability to be fair and impartial. A judge who seems to sympathize with the Barkashovtsy undermines the rule of law.

The trial is also notable for the extreme testimony of Vladimir Gusev, a local Russian Orthodox priest. Gusev said that "Judaism does not have any positive conception in the Christian sense" and he identified Hasidic and Ashkenazic Jews as members of totalitarian sects that "kill children, gather their blood, and use it to make matzah" - the infamous "blood libel" charge. He further warned, "The Jews should not celebrate Chanukah because it can insult the religious feelings of the Christians." These assertions should not have gone unchallenged.

Immediate Action Requested

UCSJ calls on its councils and all other defenders of the rule of law to write letters to Judge Kuznetsov and demand that he judge the Semenov trial based on its merits and conduct it without the appearance of partisanship. Please also write to Russian Orthodox Church officials and complain about these false accusations against the Jews. Please forward copies of all your letters to UCSJ. In addition, we ask that you send letters to Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and express your concern that one of his priests has revived the medieval "blood libel" accusation against the Jews.

Judge Alexandr Kuznetsov
Orel Regional Court
6 Krasnoarmeiskaya Street
302000 Orel
RUSSIA
 
His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II
C/o Department for External Church Relations of the
	Moscow Patriarchate
22 Danilovsky val
Danilov Monastery DECR
113191 Moscow
RUSSIA
Fax: 011 (7-095) 230-2619
E-mail: commserv@mospatr.msk.ru

Background

The case against the fascist leader Semenov began in Orel on September 24. The proceedings during the trial have reached absurdity at various moments. The case illustrates the way local fascist organizations are structured. Reactions to the trial reveal the local sympathy attitude toward the youth fascist organization as well as the support from top Russian leaders.

After Semenov's arrest, archives were found in his apartment detailing the activities of the Barkashovtsy, including documents with lists of Jewish names and addresses. According to the correspondent Mendelevich, "The documents testified to his preparation of terror and organized gangs."

During the testimony, Semenov continued his antisemitic statements and the judge did not try to interrupt him. Semenov made the following assertions: "The Jews brought nothing to world culture…Two Russian emperors were killed during Purim…The Jews are to blame for the conflict in October 1993." Semenov said that the Barkashovtsy will obtain power in 2003 with the help of an armed revolt.

Semenov also said in his defense, that he did not take the risk to become an accomplice in the murder because he considered the future victims to be Jews. He used as evidence the fact that the surname of the woman killed was not included in the lists of the Jews of Orel composed by the Barkashovtsy. Meanwhile, according to Mendelevich, Semenov had been told by the person who hired the hit men, the son-in-law of the killed woman, told Semenov that the woman was Jewish.

The testimony continued in this larger-than-life light. One of the three men charged with the actual murder testified that "Semenov told them to beat but not to kill the woman." During the questioning of the witnesses, Maya Halman, a Jewish Orel resident, spoke about previous incidents of antisemitism in her life, and about the fact that Barkashovtsy propaganda is antisemitic. In response to this, the Judge Kuznetsov said to her, "Why do you have such a keen interest in Judaism? Is it that bad for you in Russia? Have you learned Judaism secretly? Did you agree with the history that you were taught in school?" Halman included in her speech information about the history of the celebration Hanukkah, and she referred to an episode where the Syrians forced the Jews to sacrifice a pig.

The judge then remarked, "Nobody forced you to sacrifice a pig! You inclined yourself to interpret everything in such a way!" Procurator Valery Tokar protested the judge's remarks as insulting to the dignity of the witness. Judge Kuznetsov then reprimanded Tokar for "speaking loudly without permission."

The judge also prevented another witness, Professor Sergey Shvachko from providing facts that could disprove the antisemitic propaganda of the Barkashovtsy. The judge said to Professor Shvachko, "You are used to delivering lectures in the institute, but it is not necessary to teach us."

Mendelevich is concerned about the larger implications of the trial and the support of the Barkashovtsy by local government officials. A local committee in Orel was formed to defend Semenov, composed of other youth neo-fascists and local government officials.

The Russian National Unity Party, which was disbanded after Semenov's arrest, was reformed under a new name with the help of local government officials. The registration of the new organization, the League of Russian Orthodox Youth, was announced in June. Mendelevich noted that it was particularly ironic that the fascist and hate-mongering Barkashovtsy would rename themselves under the label of Christians. One of the active Barkashovtsy, Dmitri Lytukh, became the head of the League. The official newspaper of the regional authorities Orlovskaya Pravda (The Truth of Orel) immediately announced and implicitly applauded the creation of the League. One local government official Victor Livtsov immediately granted the Barkashovtsy a meeting place in the government managed "House of Youth."

Semenov's defenders also tried to gather public sympathy for him long before the trial. Mendelevich reported that Orlovskaya Pravda "raised public opinion in favor of the leader of Barkashovtsy by publishing many articles and letters in his defense." Three days before the trial, the newspaper published an article with the mocking title "Karaul, v Orle fashistu" ("Help! There are Fascists in the City"). Minimizing the threat of fascism, the article asserted that the enemies of Russia simply give the "fascist label" to every Russian patriot.

Mendelevich was particularly upset by the position of Orel governor Yegor Stroev, a national leader who also chairs the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament: "One time I asked Governor Stroev his opinion about the activity of the fascists in the city. The answer was incredible: 'I think that the Russian nation also has the right to its own culture.' Stroev made it clear that the thing that I call fascism, he calls the national culture. He was not even ashamed to say that Sergei Nilys, the author of the antisemitic libel Protokolu zionskih mydrecov (Protocols of the Elders of Zion) was one of his spiritual authorities. There cannot be a more open confession of fascist sympathies by a top Russian national leader."

SAMPLE LETTER

Judge Alexandr Kuznetsov
Orel Regional Court
6 Krasnoarmeiskaya Street
302000 Orel
RUSSIA

Dear Judge Kuznetsov

We write to protest the apparent use of your court in the murder trial of Russian National Unity leader Igor Semenov for purposes of libeling Judaism and encouraging antisemitism. While the assertion by the Russian Orthodox priest, Vladimir Gusev, that Jews kill Christian children and use their blood to make the Passover matzah, was the most extremely antisemitic testimony to go unchallenged. This behavior contributes to ethnic animosities that are altogether too prevalent among the public and authorities in Orel.

In the interests of justice, we ask that you treat all witnesses equally, and that you judge the Semenov case based on its merits, and not on libelous, medieval myths about Jewish rituals. This would restore confidence in the rule of law in Orel.

Thank you for attending to this very serious matter.

Sincerely,


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