Why Russian Jews Are Divided Over the Anti-Putin Movement
(JTA) – Lucy Shteyn is only 24 years old, but she already has firsthand knowledge of what awaits the harsh criticism of President Vladimir Putin in her native Russia.
In 2018, a year after Shteyn, a Jewish gay rights activist and prominent opposition activist, was elected to Moscow city council, hackers broke into her cell phone and computer. They have posted several of his personal photos and correspondence online.
One of the photos was of a well-known, married movie critic sleeping in her bed. Moskovskaya Gazeta, a tabloid which carried the images, called Shteyn a “hunter of married men” living a life full of “drugs and techno”. On ultra-nationalist forums, anonymous users called her a “Jewish whore” and posted pictures of Auschwitz with his name in hashtag.
The hack against Shteyn, a former Radio Liberty reporter, was not the first of its kind, nor the most dangerous. In 2019, gay rights activist Yelena Grigoriyeva was murdered in St. Petersburg shortly after his personal data was escape and she appeared on the results list of a homophobic group.
But it didn’t do much to overpower Shteyn. She infuriated supporters of Putin’s anti-gay policy by posting pictures of herself kissing another woman. In tribute to the punk protest group Pussy riot, Shteyn also made plaster casts of her breasts and affixed them to historic buildings.
On January 23, Shteyn was arrested in Moscow during a rally in support of Alexey Navalny, the former businessman-turned-politician who presented the most serious challenge so far in Putin’s 20 years in power. . After Navalny was poisoned in Russia with nerve gas last year, he received treatment in Germany before returning to Russia last month to face a trial he said was rigged. It was arrested on his return and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison on bribery charges which he said are false.
In response, thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest Putin’s government since late January as part of the largest such movement since 2019. Authorities have arrested hundreds of protesters, and the relatively high profile of Shteyn may have marked her for further legal action.
On January 27, the police broke into her home and confiscated her computer, the 24SMI news site reported. Based on information gathered from him, the Moscow Basmanny District Court on Monday placed Shteyn under house arrest until March 23, pending trial for incitement to violate health rules and epidemiological. She could spend years in jail if convicted.
Shteyn is far from the only Jew around Navalny.
Leonid Volkov and Maksim Kats, two tech-savvy individuals from Jewish homes, played a key role in Navalny’s unsuccessful candidacy in 2013 to be elected mayor of Moscow.
“Russians today live in an Orwellian society, where a huge propaganda machine teaches people that two plus two is five, and you have to be very brave to contradict that,” said Volkov, who left Russia in 2014. , Told Mishpacha magazine last month.
But Russia’s two main Jewish community organizations – the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Russian Jewish Communities, or FJCR, and the non-Chabad Russian Jewish Congress – have remained silent on the unrest.
They see Putin as a friendly force for Russian Jews, a leader who enabled their communities to thrive. They claim it facilitated their growth through government donated land for synagogues and the consistent enforcement of Russia’s anti-discrimination laws against perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crimes.
“The Jews of Russia must realize the dangers inherent in the possible collapse of the Putin government, understand the rules of the game and be aware of the limits,” he told a conference of the Jewish learning group Limmud FSU .
“In Russia, freedom of religion is practically unlimited and the Jewish community must ensure that this situation continues,” Boroda added. “Support for religious institutions is greater than in the United States and the defense of Jews against manifestations of anti-Semitism is greater than in other European countries. We do not have the privilege of losing what we have accomplished and government support to the community.
The Putin government’s treatment of LGBTQ and Muslim communities has been decidedly different.
In 2013, Russia banned “gay propaganda among minors” amid a wave of homophobic rhetoric on state television that coincided with an increase in violent incidents, including some fatal. Most of these crimes remain unsolved, according to human rights watchdog SOVA.
The Russian government also advanced his long-standing crackdown on what he calls radical Islam, imprison clerics suspected of inciting extremism, denying them any legal recourse and allegedly torturing some of them.
When it comes to minority tolerance, Navalny’s own record is not without flaws. In 2007, he was kicked out of the liberal Yabloko party, founded by the Jewish economist Grigory Yavlinski, for attending an extreme right-wing event called the “Russian March”. It was one of the many expressions of xenophobia sparked by the immigration to Moscow of millions of Muslims from parts of Russian central Asia.
In a YouTube video From that year intended to bolster Navalny’s political career, Navalny portrays a pest control specialist providing advice on how to exterminate immigrants from Central Asia, whom he calls flies and cockroaches. The skit ends with it shooting a man dressed in a traditional Muslim costume, including a black robe and a keffiyeh.
While seeking to broaden his base, Navalny gradually moved away from such chauvinism, but his flirtation with him did not help him gain the trust of ethnic minority leaders in Russia, home to around 200,000 Jews.
As Putin tightens his grip on Russian media, the courts and the lack of free speech online, tens of thousands of Russian Jews are leaving. In addition to Putin’s assault on democracy, a recession is ravaging the Russian economy. Following the fall in oil prices, the Russian ruble is now worth half of its 2014 value against the dollar.
Since 2015, around 60,000 Russian citizens have immigrant to Israel alone under its law of return for the Jews and their relatives. In the entire decade leading up to 2015, only 36,784 Russian Jews had come.
“90% of Russians really love Putin. They admire him, they think he’s doing the right thing, focusing on hating minorities and gays, ”one of the newcomers, a marketer named Dima Eygenson, Told JTA in 2019. “The remaining 10%, to which I belong, do not feel free to say what we think about it.