Anti-Semitism in Estonia: The Current Situation
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, CANADA|
|Publication Date||1 November 1994|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Anti-Semitism in Estonia: The Current Situation, 1 November 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8648.html [accessed 5 December 2013]|
|Comments||-THIS BACKGROUND PAPER WAS PREPARED BY THE RESEARCH CENTRE FOR CANADA AND THE SOVIET SUCCESSOR STATES (CCSS) OF CARLETON UNIVERSITY AND PUBLISHED BY THE RESEARCH DIRECTORATE, DOCUMENTATION, INFORMATION AND RESEARCH BRANCH (DIRB) OF THE IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE BOARD ON THE BASIS OF PUBLICLY AVAILABLE INFORMATION, ANALYSIS AND COMMENT. THIS PAPER IS NOT AND DOES NOT PURPORT TO BE EITHER EXHAUSTIVE WITH REGARD TO CONDITIONS IN THE COUNTRY SURVEYED, OR CONCLUSIVE AS TO THE MERITS OF ANY PARTICULAR CLAIM TO REFUGEE STATUS OR ASYLUM. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS, PLEASE CONTACT THE DOCUMENTATION, INFORMATION AND RESEARCH BRANCH.|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
There are divergent opinions on the current extent of anti-Semitism in the Baltic states. Some sources, including local Jewish community leaders in those countries, claim that the situation is very good for Jews and that anti-Semitism is not a major problem (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994; Melchior 20 June 1994; Spectre 15 June 1994; Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994). B'nai B'rith's Associate Director for International, Governmental and Israel Affairs, George Spectre, does not think that anti-Semitism is a serious problem in the Baltics (Spectre 15 June 1994), however, a report from B'nai B'rith Canada claims that there are "various disturbing trends" in the Baltic countries including the emergence of ultra-nationalist groups blaming Jews for the Soviet occupation, the rehabilitation of persons who may have been Nazi war criminals, as well as the re-emergence of some Nazi-era organizations (B'nai B'rith Canada 19 Jan. 1994, 9). The same report states that "These are ominous developments which bear monitoring for their negative impact on minority group rights" (ibid.).
One sore spot in relations between Jews and the titular [ The expressions "titular nationalities" and "titular language" are used to describe those nationalities within the republics of the former Soviet Union whose nationality and language reflect the name of the state.] nationalities of the Baltics is in the attitude of these states towards the role of the Germans in World War II, particularly in the fight against the Soviet Union. B'nai B'rith notes that: "there is concern about the tendency to glorify the World War II period of 'independence,' and to whitewash or at least play down the extent of complicity in Nazi war crimes" (B'nai B'rith Nov. 1993, 5). According to one source, many Estonians "have tended to see any anti-Soviet resistance as heroic, even if it included aiding the Nazis" (The Washington Post 2 Sept. 1994). Nate Geller, Director of Community Services and Cultural Affairs of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), stated that related issues of concern to Jews are a perceived lack of sensitivity towards the Holocaust on the part of the titular nationalities, and for the titular nationalities, "a tendency to exaggerate and collectivize the responsibility of the Jews for communism in the Baltics while at the same time discounting the responsiblity of some Baltic nationals in [bringing communism to the region], as well as a failure [of Baltic nationals] to recognize a shared suffering-i.e., all nationalities were sent into exile in Siberia Jews, Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians" (Geller 13 Sept. 1994; ibid. 16 June 1994). Most of the Jews currently living in the Baltics settled there after World War II (Jerusalem Report 9 Sept. 1993, 36).
Another issue which is very important to the situation in the Baltics for Jews is the relationship between the titular nationalities and Russians and/or Russian-speakers. Many Baltic Jews are Russian-speakers and have at times been caught in conflicts between Russian-speakers and the speakers of the titular languages (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 10, 12, 15). Rabbi Bent Melchior, the chief rabbi of Denmark, president of B'nai B'rith on the European continent and an active participant involved in revitalizing Jewish life in the Baltic states, believes that Jews may face discrimination for being Russian-speakers rather than because they are Jews (ibid.). George Spectre states that Jews sometimes are caught in the middle between extremist Russians and extremist indigenous groups in what is more political manoeuvring than anti-Semitism (Spectre 15 June 1994).
This report will not deal with problems which may face Jews as Russian-speakers, but will focus on the question of the extent of anti-Semitism in Estonia today [ For an understanding of the overall situation of Jews in Estonia, the reader should also consult the Information Package on the Former Soviet Republics: Selected Legislation and Information on Questions Pertaining to Citizenship and Minorities and the REFINFO database, both available in the Regional Documentation Centres as well as the US Helsinki Commission report entitled Human Rights and Democratization in Estonia (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993) and a report from the Danish Centre for Human Rights et al, entitled Citizenship and Language Laws in the Newly Independent States (1993). ]. This report updates information on Estonia provided in the DIRB Question and Answer Series papers CIS, Baltics and Georgia: Situation of the Jews (July 1992) and Estonia: Ethnic Minorities (Nov. 1992). In recognition of the importance of an historical context to understanding the current situation of Jews, an historical chronology, Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union from 1727-1 January 1992 (Nov. 1994), has been published by the DIRB and is available at Regional Documentation Centres.
2. DEMOGRAPHIC, CULTURAL AND LEGAL CONTEXT
A range of sources estimates the Jewish community in Estonia at between 2,000 and 5,000 persons (Monitor 13 May 1994b, 19; US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 4; NCSJ May 1994; The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 10). Most of them live in Tallinn (NCSJ May 1994; Antisemitism World Report 1994 1994, 139) and speak Russian as their first language (Monitor 25 June 1993, 15). Between forty and forty-five per cent of the country's Jews are said to hold Estonian citizenship (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 10; Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994). According to B'nai B'rith, many of the Russians in Estonia consider the Estonian citizenship law to be "exclusionary and punitive" while the majority of Russian-speaking Jews appear not to have serious objections to it (B'nai B'rith Nov. 1993, 4). [For information on citizenship issues, please consult the regional documentation centres.]
The heads of the Interior Ministry and the ministry's board of religious matters presented the Jewish community with a certificate of registration on 19 January 1994 (BBC 21 Jan. 1994). This certificate "means that the Jewish community will be entered into the Estonian church register, its constitution will be registered and it will gain legal recognition" (ibid.). Estonia passed a Law on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities in October 1993, which came into force on 28 November 1993 (Haruoja 4 July 1994). Article Two of this law provides for the right to cultural autonomy for Jewish, Russian and other minorities (Estonia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 16 Nov. 1993). Many cultural organizations operate in Tallinn (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 4) where the Estonian Jewish Cultural Organization runs a day school for approximately 350 Jewish students (ibid.; NCSJ May 1994). Genadi Gramberg, the head of the Estonian Jewish community, told the Canadian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden that the school is 100 per cent financed by the Estonian government (Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994). Smaller Jewish communities with their own cultural organizations exist in Tartu and in northeastern Estonia (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 4; NCSJ May 1994).
In December 1992 the government created an Institute for Human Rights (LCHR 1993, 117; NCSJ May 1994). This institute (EIHR), describes itself as "an independent non-governmental non-profit organization ... intended to monitor the situation of individual and collective human rights and to provide information and expert aid in matters of human rights in Estonia and elsewhere" (EIHR 27 June 1994). A Forum of Nationalities has been formed with the participation of several minority groups (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 4). The government has also established an ethnic roundtable under the auspices of President Meri's office, with representation from the Jewish community, to work on minority issues (ibid., 18; RFE/RL 24 Sept. 1993, 10). An Interfax report of 15 September 1993 stated that the head of the US Helsinki Commission delegation in Estonia, Timo Lahelma, had characterized the results of the initial meetings of the roundtable as "encouraging" (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 18). According to another source, Jewish community leaders are encouraged by the roundtable and consider it an effective forum for communicating with government officials (Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994).
In March 1994 it was reported that Meri, while on a visit to Israel, expressed his regret that some of the atrocities of the Holocaust had been perpetrated on Estonian soil and said that Estonia would "preserve forever the memory of those Jews [who were victims of the Holocaust]" (Jerusalem Post 26 Mar. 1994). On 1 September 1994, a Holocaust memorial was unveiled in Klooga (The Washington Post 2 Sept. 1994). The dedication of this memorial was attended by members of the Jewish community and of the Israeli and Estonian governments including Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar and the speaker of the Israeli Parliament (Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994).
The Director of the United Nations Center for Human Rights, Mr. Ibrahima Fall, led a fact-finding mission to Estonia in February 1993. Fall reported that "Members of the Association of Ethnic Groups in Estonia ... expressed satisfaction with their enjoyment of cultural freedom and the absence of discrimination against any of their members. The representative of the Jewish minority stated that there is no discrimination against Jews in Estonia." (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 5). Another report also says that the local Jewish community does not regard anti-Semitism as a problem and considers the situation of Jews to be relatively good (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 9 and 10). This opinion is shared by Saulius Girnius, a Senior Research Analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute who focuses on the Baltics (Girnius 14 June 1994).
3.1 In the Press
According to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry there are reports of anti Semitism in newspapers (NCSJ May 1994) and of the distribution of some anti-Semitic pamphlets circulated at the end of 1993 (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 9). Salius Girnius stated that while he does not read the Estonian press, he has not heard of any anti-Semitic statements having being made in the press recently (Girnius 14 June 1994). Gramberg stated that there is no anti-Semitism in the press, but that "some papers very occasionally will publish articles that are hostile in tone," citing an article criticizing the government's handling of the prosecution of the publishers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (see below) (Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994).
Copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion [The Protocols of the Elders of Zion proposes a "Jewish conspiracy to take over the world" (Baron 1964, 66-67).] appeared on bookstore shelves in 1993 in the Estonian language (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 4; Antisemitism World Report 1994, 139). The identity of the publisher of this version was reportedly not given (Antisemitism World Report 1994, 139). Following protests from the local Jewish community, bookstore owners agreed to remove the books from the shelves (US Helsinki Commission Sept. 1993, 4). Genadi Gramberg, lodged a complaint with the police and they opened an investigation (Haruoja 22 July 1994; Antisemitism World Report 1994, 139). They are slated to be tried in Tartu after the court's summer recess (Haruoja 22 July 1994). Merle Haruoja, the Legal Counsellor for the EIHR states that the charge, inciting ethnic hatred, falls under an article in Estonia's transitional criminal code (ibid.).
3.2 Incidents and Responses
In its September 1993 report on Estonia, the US Helsinki Commission stated that: "... anti-Semitic incidents per se are rare..." (US Helsinki Commission sept. 1993, 5). Rabbi Melchior also believes that incidents are rare (Melchior 20 June 1994) and another source stated that when incidents have occurred, they have been condemned by the authorities (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 9). The government in 1993 publicly denounced anti-Semitic attacks and vandalism and "after some initial scepticism on the part of the Jewish community -- has made an effort to reach out to the Jewish community and listen to their concerns" (B'nai B'rith Nov. 1993, 4). Oral sources contacted during the research of this paper could not recall or had not heard of any recent incidents of anti-Semitism in Estonia.
Reportedly, anti-Semitic sentiment exists to some extent in the Association of Russians in Estonia and occasionally anti-Semitic remarks are made by members of the Russian-speaking community (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 9). Gramberg stated that occassionally slogans and graffiti are found, usually written in Russian (Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994). Gramberg also noted that during the Russian elections, supporters of Vladimir Zhirinovsky appeared to have a hostile tone but he claims that this tone was directed at most other ethnic groups as well as Jews and that it was minor in effect (ibid.). Monitor reported that the assistant chairman of the Jewish Culture Club in Kokhtla-Yarve (in northeastern Estonia) received a letter claiming to be from the Kokhtla-Yarve department of Pamyat's Moscow branch (Monitor 13 May 1994a, 19). This is thought to be the first mention of a Pamyat organization in Estonia (ibid.). However, another report in February 1994 claims that Pamyat does not exist in Estonia (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 9) and Rabbi Melchior said he was unaware of Pamyat operating in Estonia, but thinks it would have very little chance of being successful should someone try to organize it (Melchior 20 June 1994). More recently, Gramberg said that the Jewish Association has been monitoring the situation in case Pamyat does try to open a branch in Estonia, but so far it does not appear to be any evidence that Pamyat has organized in the country (Canadian Embassy 28 Sept. 1994).
According to Rabbi Melchior, the police try to protect Jews effectively against specific excesses (Melchior 20 June 1994). In his opinion, if incidents against Jews or their property occur, the victims would be comfortable in going to the authorities to file complaints. He further states that all the Baltic governments are very adamant about protecting Jews as they see this as an important factor in their relationship with the West (ibid.).
According to Merle Haruoja, if a person is unsatisfied with the response by police to their complaint, they can seek the assistance of the Prosecutor's Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, or the EIHR, although she adds that the EIHR has not yet received any requests for such assistance (Haruoja 4 July 1994). Haruoja notes that there is no ombudsperson in Estonia and that there is no legal aid, although the EIHR is in the process of creating a legal aid service to assist and represent individuals and organizations (ibid.). The DIRB has been unable to obtain further information specific to police procedures and responses in Estonia.
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