Tuesday, November 02, 1993

The Whistleblower of St. Petersburg

UP FRONT News October 31, 2005
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”

The Whistleblower of St. Petersburg

[(In the physical sense, the closer I ever came to a concentration camp was a visit to a place known as the ninth Port car Kovno) in Lithuania, evidently one of the Nazis’ less well- known death camps. While my parents made it to America a number of relatives, mostly on my father’s side, never got out. And my mother’s description of the time when looking out from behind a curtain, she saw Adolf Hitler being cheered wildly in Vienna, remains vivid. So I may be somewhat Holocaust-hypersensitive to begin with. But one of the things about holocausts is that they keep happening. And it seems evident that racial and ethnic hatred provide fuel for acts of genocide. So it is gratifying to be able to write about someone trying to do something about it.–T.W.]

SEMYON Uzin of St. Petersburg, Russia, is a whistleblower bucking heavy odds, considering his issue and the context; anti-Semitic violence in the new Russia (and other post-Soviet republics). If Mr. Uzin`s determination, persistence – and perhaps luck – remain as strong as his handshake, his quest for justice will show results.

Uzin, an engineer by profession, has, over the years, been devoting most of his other time to documenting, researching and reporting cases of violence against Jews – mostly in St. Petersburg. One of the cases – unsolved – is that of Boris Saksonov, a 27-year-old graduate student who had become a target for verbal and graphic ethnic abuse and threats and died in a mysterious 2 A.M. fire in his apartment in March, 1990. This case, and the work of Semyon Uzin, were first brought to my attention by Boris Saksonov`s parents, who shared the apartment with their son and his wife, and who are now two of the many thousands of Jewish refugees from the ex-Soviet Union living in New York. (I reported their story of trial by fire and official indifference in word [Slovo], a Russian-English magazine published in New York, in May, 1992.)

Uzin, with whom I spent several hours with a translator in his and his wife’s section of the “communal” apartment they share with other families, during a recent visit to St. Petersburg, sees this as perhaps one of the grimmer cases (since it involved a loss of life) of several that he outlined in a report of which he gave me a copy. Although the cases involve seven individual victims, all shared the experience of being physically attacked. Surviving victims allege that the attacks included verbal abuse.

There is the case of Ella Moiseevna
Modlina, a 44-year old woman who had complained of “voiceless phone calls,” found hanged in her apartment, from which visible valuables were not taken; sever days after she filed documents to emigrate. Yevgeniya Chasanova, a music producer who lives in St. Petersburg, claims to have been attacked on public transportation on two separate occasions, apparently having been selected for violence because she was reading identifiably Jewish papers. (Ms Chasanova reported that on the second occasion, before what she described as a carload of indifferent bus passengers, she succeeded in pushing her intoxicated attacker away, and he fell from the vehicle, shouting ethnic insults every step of the way.)
Emmanuel V., a 52-year-old engineer, told me he was attacked in front of his home by two men, claiming membership in Pamyat, ***error a Russian version of the Klan – a comparison referring specifically to the fact that these two organizations are racist and habitually use violence in their political activities. He wound up hospitalized for three moths. Several witnesses who confirmed seeing the attack made themselves scarce when it came to testify.

Semyon Uzin, aside from publicizing these and other cases, essentially lobbies government authorities in the hope that those responsible for the physical attacks on Jews will be brought to justice. (That involves, among other tasks, convincing police and other authorities that the fire in Boris Saksanov`s apartment was set by at least one human being, perhaps one more of those who had been leaving a steady stream of threatening phone calls and derogatory drawings.)

Perhaps to deflate any skepticism I might have harbored about the nature of the threat, Mr. Uzin placed before me a several-inch-high pile of newspapers and suggested I take them to America. I have had some of their contents translated. The viewpoint that pervades – expressed sometimes in disguise, sometimes in the raw – is racist, reflecting a fierce attachment to a belief in Aryan superiority. People’s Cause (Narodnoye Delo), the four-page house organ of an organization that goes by the deceptive name of the People’s Socialist Party, immediately throws its disguise to the winds. A recent issue, containing caricatures of Jews and people of African descent, featured articles about how to identify Jews, and on the “tragedy” of the life of the “Roman Genius,” Benito Mussolini. The paper put out by the Russian Liberation Movement (Ruskoye Osvoboditelnoye Dvizheniye, whose initials in Russian spell “ROD,” which happens to mean “clan”) adds a symbol to its masthead, which resembles a swastika. There is the people`s truth, publicizing the doings of a politician named Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whom I should compare with an American demagogue like David Duke.

These papers are a sampling of an array of reading matter that, according to Mr. Uzin, carries anti-Jewish messages, in ways ranging from the blatant to the subliminal, and, he said, are not hard to buy around Nevsky Prospect (St. Petersburg’s “main drag,” where people cluster around scores of street vendors, many dealing in the written word). Considering how contagious and violent racial hatred can be, Jews in the new St. Petersburg (and presumably elsewhere) are, according to Uzin, understandably uneasy about things.

Although Uzin gets some assistance from the 2,000-member St. Petersburg Jewish Cultural Society, to which he belongs, his is largely a one-man, low tech operation. (He has been exchanging information and ideas with Anatoly German, the 80-year-old editor of Vozrogdenie, a Jewish newspaper in Kiev). No doubt mindful of the historical lesson that silence and ignorance are allies of atrocity, Uzin feels that Americans should be made aware violent hate crimes against Jews in Russia’s cultural showplace city, and elsewhere in the ex-USSR. It is possible that the whistleblower of St. Petersburg may have an easier time reaching Americans than in moving his own government.

TOM WEISS of New York, a new contributor, was in St. Petersburg for three weeks this past summer, and spent a few hours at the home of Semyon Uzin, with a translator. Mr. Weiss is a social worker on leave from the NY Association for New Americans (NYANA). He has appeared in several publications, including Word (Slovo), mentioned above, and also publishes a newsletter, UP FRONT News.

This article is a re-print from the February, 1993 issue of Jewish Currents magazine.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home