The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: documents/protocols/press/Moscow_Times.020114

The Moscow Times
Andrei Zolotov Jr., Staff Writer

Monday, Jan. 14, 2002. Page 1

'Protocols of Zion' Puts Church in Hot Water

For Mikhail Oshtrakh, a Jewish activist in Yekaterinburg, it seemed like
a lost cause: Over three years he sent numerous -- and fruitless --
protests to prosecutors and other officials over what he saw as
anti-Semitism in official Orthodox Church publications.

But it took one meeting with a Kremlin official in Moscow for the
regional prosecutors to suddenly change their mind. Last month, they
opened a criminal investigation into the fact that the Yekaterinburg
diocese has distributed through church stores a book by early
20th-century author Sergei Nilus that contains a notorious anti-Semitic
forgery known as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and had a
bishop's blessing on its title page.

"When anti-Semitic literature is disseminated by marginal groups -- and
they have been doing it for a long time -- no one attaches much weight
to it," Oshtrakh, a biophysicist, said in a telephone interview last
week. "But when it is done by the authoritative church, when it is
presented with a bishop's blessing, it becomes dangerous."

The issue underscores widespread anti-Semitic convictions within the
Russian Orthodox Church and its leaders' unwillingness or inability to
deal with them. The secular authorities have also been reluctant in past
years to go after hate rhetoric, whether espoused by State Duma deputies
or neo Nazi groups. Article 282 of the Criminal Code, which makes
"igniting ethnic, racial or religious hatred" punishable by up to four
years in prison, has been applied rarely in the five years of its
existence. Only a few cases have made it to court, and no high-profile
convictions have been reported.

Oshtrakh's campaign began in 1999 when Pravoslavny Vestnik, a magazine
published by one of Yekaterinburg's Orthodox parishes, published
anti-Semitic poems. Oshtrakh, who leads the Sverdlovsk regional branch
of an organization called Jewish National Cultural Autonomy, sent
letters to the regional department of the Press Ministry and to the
prosecutor's office. Both went unanswered, he said.

After several other similar cases -- in which his complaints also went
unanswered -- last July he saw in one of the church-run book stalls
Nilus' book "Bliz Yest, Pri Dverekh" (It Is Near, Right at the Door),
which contains as an appendix the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." The
book was published by Dioptra Orthodox Literature Center in St.
Petersburg and bore the blessing of Archbishop Afanasy of Perm and

By going after Nilus -- the best known popularizer of the protocols --
Oshtrakh has touched one of the foundation stones of Russian religious
nationalism with its strong anti-Semitic component.

Sergei Nilus (1862-1929) was an eschatologically inclined Orthodox
writer who first included the protocols in his 1905 book "Velikoye v
Malom." The apocalyptic vision of a Jewish-inspired conspiracy of
liberals and socialists against traditional European Christian monarchy
became the central theme of his 1911 book, "Bliz Yest, Pri Dverekh."

The protocols purport to be a report from a series of meetings in Basel,
Switzerland, in 1897 at the time of the first Zionist congress, at which
Jews and Freemasons were said to be plotting to undermine Christian
societies and establish a global government based on the power of money.

Exported to the West by Russian emigres (ACCENT AIGU ON BOTH Es), many
of whom saw the 1917 Revolution in apocalyptic terms, the protocols
became a classic of anti-Semitic literature and captured the imagination
of anti-Semites from Henry Ford to Adolf Hitler. Ford's newspaper,
Dearborn Independent, cited them as evidence of a Jewish threat, and in
Nazi Germany they became mandatory reading at schools.

Even though several investigations in the 1920s and 1930s proved the
protocols were forgeries by the Russian secret police -- who concocted
them out of a 19th-century French satire about Napoleon III and a German
fantastic novel -- the pamphlet continues to circulate among
archconservative and white supremacist groups worldwide.

Banned in Soviet Russia, Nilus' writings and the protocols emerged in
the past decade as one of the main pillars of the mythology of a Holy
Russia destined to become the last bastion of Christiandom struggling
against a host of liberal devils personified by Jews and Freemasons.
This mythology is so strong in the Russian Orthodox community that even
church leaders who refuse to underwrite it usually do not dare to oppose
anti-Semitism publicly. When Patriarch Alexy II addressed a group of New
York rabbis in 1992 with a carefully worded speech intended to mend
bridges between the two faiths, he returned home to face vociferous
accusations of heresy from influential groups of laymen.

Since in his book Nilus attacks not only Jews and Freemasons but also
Muslims, Oshtrakh, who heads the Sverdlovsk division of KNOR, a
coalition of groups representing ethnic minorities, organized a new
series of petitions this time around -- also on behalf of
Yekaterinburg's Tatar and Kazakh groups. It sent complaints to many
government bodies -- from the mayor of Yekaterinburg to the presidential
administration in Moscow, as well as to the prosecutors. But as before,
first the city's and then the region's prosecutors saw no grounds for
opening a criminal case.

Apparently unwilling to enter into a dispute with the influential
Orthodox Church, some of the city's Jewish leaders also refused to
support Oshtrakh. "We don't take the contents of Nilus's book kindly,
but we don't consider it a pretext for creating a religious and
political scandal," the spokeswoman for the city's synagogue said in
July, news agencies reported. "We have long standing and friendly
relations with the Yekaterinburg Diocese."

In an attempt to quell the conflict, Archbishop Vikenty of Yekaterinburg
and Verkhoturye, the head of the Orthodox Church in the region, met in
August with the region's chief rabbi, Zelik Ashkenazi, who is part of
the Lubavitcher dominated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, a
major Jewish group backed by the Kremlin in its rise to prominence. But
the archbishop said it was Oshtrakh who was responsible for inciting

"There has never been any enmity between us, and attempts to sow it are
dangerous," a diocese press release quoted the archbishop as saying
during the meeting with the rabbi. Vikenty acknowledged that Nilus' book
might be sold in some church bookstores. "But it is at the very least
strange to consider it 'anti-Semitism,'" he said. "While fueling
emotions by some individuals around what was written 100 years ago does
indeed help ignite inter-ethnic enmity."

Feeling a little bit like a lonely warrior, Oshtrakh persisted. Help
came from the Civic Forum -- a congress of nongovernmental groups
organized by the Kremlin in November to foster a "dialogue between the
state and society."

As a part of the forum, Oshtrakh met with government officials including
Andrei Protopopov -- the top-level Kremlin official in charge of
relations with religious organizations. "I had everything with me,"
Oshtrakh said. "I passed the documents to Protopopov and he promised to
sort it out."

Just three weeks after he returned home, Oshtrakh received a letter from
the prosecutor's office of the Urals Federal District, which supposedly
of its own volition reconsidered the case and ordered the Sverdlovsk
regional prosecutors on Dec. 13 to launch an investigation. By
mid-February, Oshtrakh said, prosecutors promised to present preliminary

"We would be satisfied if these materials are officially recognized as
igniting ethnic and religious hatred," Oshtrakh said in a telephone
interview. "As a result, their dissemination without commentary should
not be permitted by law."

He holds out little hope of anyone being punished, but he would like to
receive a public apology from the diocese or, even better, from the
Moscow Patriarchate. "If the church recognizes that Nilus'
substantiation of a Jewish conspiracy is not normal, it would do a great
deal to shake the foundations of religious anti-Semitism," Oshtrakh

That is unlikely to happen. Yekaterinburg Diocese spokesman Boris
Kosinsky said the diocese will stop buying Nilus' books for its
warehouse, but would make no apology.

"If I make such a statement, there will always be people who will say
that powerful forces made me do it, and we will turn this fact of
literature and history into a greater conflict," Kosinsky said in a
telephone interview from Yekaterinburg.

Banning Nilus' books is not the answer and would only increase public
interest, he said. "We lived long enough in a totalitarian society where
certain things were forbidden to be published to serve one or another
ideology," he said. "One book can only be challenged by another book and
not by a court."

Archpriest Vladimir Silovyev, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's
Publishing Council, cautiously described the protocols as an "early 20th
century document that requires research and analysis."

"There is no anti-Semitism in the fact that they [the protocols] were
published as part of Nilus' heritage," Silovyev said in a telephone
interview. They should not have been published, however, with the
blessing of a bishop, he said. The Patriarchate has investigated the
case and established that Archbishop Afanasy did not give the blessing
that was printed in the book, Silovyev said.

In a letter to Oshtrakh, Archbishop Afanasy said he was sorry for the
"misunderstanding about the blessing" and expressed his respect for the
Jewish people.
Copyright The Moscow Times"

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.