State Duma Vice-Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy makes anti-Semitic statement, then accuses journalists of anti-Semitism.
Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov / TASS / Scanpix / LETA
Former presenter on Russia’s pro-Kremlin television channel Pervy Kannal and vice-speaker of the State Duma Pyotr Tolstoy said on January 23 that resisting the transfer of St. Petersburg’s St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church was useless. According to him, those who protest this decision are those whose ancestors “jumped out of the Pale of Settlement” and destroyed churches after the 1917 coup d’état. Tolstoy’s statement was perceived by many as anti-Semitic. Meduza quotes Tolstoy himself, his opponents, and one of his supporters – State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.
How it all began: what exactly did Pyotr Tolstoy say?
“Observing the protests surrounding the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, I cannot help but notice the amazing paradox: people who are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who destroyed our churches, [of those] who jumped out of the Pale of Settlement (Meduza’s comment: the area of the Russian Empire that Jews were allowed to inhabit) with revolvers in 1917, now their grandchildren, working in various very respectable places – on radio stations, in legislative assemblies – continue the work of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers.”
A spokesman for Russian Federation Boruch Gorin Jewish communities
“I personally think [the statement] was open anti-Semitism ... If a person ascribes view to a national group solely because of its national origin, then, of course, this is not just generalization, but generalizations nationalist.”
Yabloko party deputy the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Boris Vishnevsky
“State Duma Vice-Speaker Tolstoy said that Jews are protesting against the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral [to the Russian Orthodox Church]. [That the protesters are] descendants of those who destroyed Churches one hundred years ago. In a normal country, severe anti-Semitism treated by law enforcement agencies, as well as the immediate and shameful dismissal [of perpetrators]. I wonder: how quickly will his brethren in the Duma recall who crucified Christ? And yes, we are awaiting [comments on] the blood of Christian babies [too]. What was the quote from the brilliant Stanislav Ezhi Les? ‘Just when he thought that he had reached the bottom, there were [sounds of] knocking beneath [him].”
Vishnevsky promised to bring a complaint against Tolstoy before Russia’s Investigation Committee.
Communist Party State Duma deputy and ethics commission member Aleksandr Kravets (in an interview with Meduza)
“If we receive an [complaint], it is likely that the State Duma’s Committee on Parliamentary Ethics will consider it. I think that there [are] more than enough reason[s] for a [complaint]. It is unfortunate that a descendant of the great Tolstoy, who was excommunicated and anathematized by the church, is saying this … I think that it is evil and stupid coming from an adult man.”
Russian Jewish Congress President Yuri Kanner (in an interview with Meduza)
“There is open anti-Semitism [in Pyotr Tolstoy’s statement.] In Russia, very few people other than intellectuals and Jews know what the Pale of Settlement was. Of course, for Jews it sounds rather insulting. First and foremost, because it is not true.
Secondly, it is also an [anti-Russian] statement. Imagine: 150 million Orthodox Christians were living in the empire at the time and six million Jews jump out of the Pale of Settlement with [their] elderly and children and destroy Churches. It sounds very derogatory towards Russian. During the First World War, there were millions bearing arms and machine guns, and [all of a sudden you have] a group popping up with revolvers and destroying churches!
Thirdly, he himself sits beside the descendants of the destroyers who put monuments and bring flowers to these corpses lying on Red Square and to the mustached statue standing between the mausoleum and the wall. These destroyers he does not see!
I spoke with a serious, internationally known Russian lawyer, who believes that Tolstoy made a hawkish statement. Not only did he not apologize and but he is not even trying to apologize and insists that it is right. [He] does not consider his statement to be anti-Semitic.”
State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin
“These momentary accusations in which each person sees a hidden meaning are unacceptable ... The term [Pale of Settlement] applied to convicts. Then convicts began to occupy leadership positions in the Revolution. What if [Pyotr Tolstoy] was referring to this? Has anyone asked him?”
Pyotr Tolstoy on the defensive
“I am very surprised by the reaction to my assessment of the lawfulness of the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. Only people with a sick imagination, [who] do not know their country’s history, can see ‘signs of anti-Semitism’ in my words. They were, on the contrary, a warning against repeating the events that occurred 100 years ago after which thousands of churches were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were deported and executed. Someone obviously like to make labels in an attempt to [introduce] yet another division into the public debate … I emphasize again: in my referring to actual historical events there is no indications of that which vigilant comrades wish to see.”
Pyotr Tolstoy on the offensive
“I think just the headlines that came out on the Echo of Moscow and in Nezavisimaya Gazeta are actually anti-Semitic themselves. I was, frankly, greatly surprised ... People with disturbing characteristics for some reason [saw my words as an address to ethnic groups]. I did not mean anything of the sort.”