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Russian Legislator Addresses Helsinki Commission

Washington — Russian Duma Deputy Alexandr Shishlov, a member of the Yabloko Party from St. Petersburg, addressed a Helsinki Commission briefing on March 24 providing his assessment of the political and human rights situation in Russia. Attending the briefing were Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NY), Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Michael Forbes (R-NY), Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI).

In a prepared statement, Shishlov noted that political developments in Russia have been hampered over the past few years by a lack of political infrastructure, undeveloped civil society, and problems in relations between the central government and the regions. With regard to human rights and the rise in anti-Semitism and extremism, Shishlov stated that Russia’s poor economy has served as a breeding ground for such attitudes: “Poverty is the best soil for communism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism…we may say that anti-Semitism had been the state policy in Soviet times, when communists ruled the country, and now it is once again the voice of communists.”

More dangerous, in Shishlov’s opinion, however, has been the lack of strong reaction from governmental bodies. Attempts in the Duma to condemn anti-Semitic statements made by General Makashov, for instance, have been blocked by the communists in the Duma. [Note: On March 23, 1999 the House of Representatives passed unanimously a resolution condemning anti-Semitic statements made by members of the Russian Duma. The House resolution was introduced by Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and all House Commissioners. A similar resolution sponsored by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Minority Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and eight other Senators, is pending in the Senate.]

Deputy Shishlov noted the scheduled parliamentary elections in December 1999, and sees them as indicators of “Whether we continue with oligarch rule, or travel the road to democracy.” Joining Mr. Shishlov at the briefing were several other speakers involved in human rights issues in Russia: Thomas Jandl of the Bellona Foundation, Judah Schroeder of the Watch Tower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Leonid Stonov of the Moscow Human Rights Monitors, Steve Mills of the Sierra Club, and Micah Naftalin of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry. They briefed Members and the public on such issues as the case of environmental “whistle blower” Alexandr Nikitin and Russia’s environmental situation overall; anti-Semitism, political extremism, and the criminalization of Russian society; and continuing difficulties for Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities in Russia.

In this connection, Deputy Shishlov noted that NGOs have become a significant segment of the political landscape in Russia and expressed appreciation for the efforts of NGOs from abroad who assist Russia in human rights efforts. He cautioned, however, that ignorance of Russia has undermined some efforts at assistance. Chairman Smith noted that several Members of the Commission are interested in attending the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg in July. Deputy Shishlov expressed the hope that Members would attend and invited them to visit the Yabloko headquarters in St. Petersburg.

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