Skip to main content Accessibility help

Social Distance from Jews in Russia and Ukraine

  • Vicki L. Hesli (a1), Arthur H. Miller (a1), William M. Reisinger (a1) and Kevin L. Morgan (a2)


With the rise of ultranationalist organizations throughout Europe, the issue of attitudes and orientations held toward designated "out-groups" has become a critical concern of anxious observers. In Russia the strength registered by Vladimir Zhirinovskii's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party during the parliamentary elections of 1993 has been interpreted as a sign of intolerance among the Russian populace. In fact, the success of candidates associated with the Liberal Democratic Party was not only based upon appeals to strengthen the Russian nation against perceived enemies, but also upon promises of a return to price stability and upon Zhirinovskii's anti-establishment, populist program. Nonetheless, Zhirinovskii's success in the 1991 presidential elections (he attracted 7.8% of the electorate) does serve to reaffirm the importance of tracking how attitudes toward groups that have often been targeted as scapegoats in times of social or economic upheaval have evolved in the late Soviet and immediate post-Soviet period. Two major questions concern us here: first, how pervasive among Russians and Ukrainians are perceptions of significant "social distance" between themselves and designated out-groups, most notably the Jewish population; and second, to what extent do these perceptions of distance form part of a cohesive ideology of ultranationalism? Understanding the basis of sentiments toward Jewish populations is particularly important for interpreting the workings of the complex mosaic of the post-Soviet political culture.



Hide All

1. Ralph R. Premdas, “Secessionist Movements in Comparative Perspective,” in Premdas, S.W.R. de A. Samarasinghe and Alan B. Anderson, eds., Secessionist Movements in Comparative Perspective (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), 13.

2. Walter, Lacqueur, Black Hundred: The Rise of the Extreme Right in Russia (New York: Harper Collins, 1993 ; Miron Rezun, ed., Nationalism and the Breakup of an Empire (Westport: Praeger, 1992); Andrei Siniavskii, “Russian Nationalism.” Sintaksis 26 (1989): 91-110.

3. Zvi Gitelman, “Jewish Nationality and Religion in the USSR and Eastern Europe,” in Pedro Ramet, ed., Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and Eastern European Politic, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989); Alice Nakhimovsky, “Russian Jews: A Hundred Years in Search of a Self,” Cross Currents: Religion and Intellectual Life 41 (1991): 69-77.

4. Benjamin, Pinkus, The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988); William, Orbach, “A Periodization of Soviet Policy Towards the Jews,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 12 (1982): 4562 ; Phillip, Walters, “Soviet Policy of Religion,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 15 (1985): 7277 .

5. Lukasz Hirszowicz, “Anti-Jewish Discrimination in Education and Employment” and “Discussion (from the Experts’ Conference on Soviet Jewry Today, 1983),” Soviet Jewish Affairs 15 (1985): 25-34; Samuel Ettinger, “The Jewish Question’ in the USSR,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 15 (1985): 11-16; Zvi Gitelman, “Ethnic Identity and Ethnic Relations among the Jews of the Non-European USSR,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 14 (1991): 24-54.

6. Zvi, Gitelman, “Soviet Jewry in Transition,” Soviet Jewish Affairs (1989).

7. Andrey, Sinyavsky, “Russophobia,” Partisan Review (1990): 339-44.

8. For more on Gorbachev's reforms and the impact upon the Jewish question, see Kim Andreev, et al., “Pamyat: An Appeal to the Russian People,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 18 (1988): 60-70; Lukasz Hirszowicz, “Breaking the Mould: The Changing Face of Jewish Culture under Gorbachev,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 18 (1988): 25-45; and Stephen J., Roth, “The New Soviet Law on Religion,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 20 (1990): 2737 .

9. In May 1991 the Moscow Jewish newspaper Evreiskaia gazeta listed 45 Russian newspapers and periodicals which it described as anti-Semitic. Examples of publications included on the list include such well-known titles as Sovetskaia Rossiia, Krasnaia zvezda, Literaturnaia Rossiia and Nashe vremia (Zvi Gitelman, “The Decline of Leninism and the Jews of the USSR,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 21 [1991]: 105-17).

10. Andreev, op cit.; Josephine Woll, “Russians and ‘Russophobes': Anti-semitism on the Russian Literary Scene,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 19 (1989): 3-21; and John, Dunlop, “The Return of Russian Nationalism,” The Journal of Democracy 1 (1990): 114–22.

11. Mykola Kolisnyk, transcript from the conference “Ukraine: The Threat of Intolerance and the Promise of Pluralism,” as referenced in David, Little, Ukraine: The Legacy of Intolerance (Washington: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1991), 22.

12. David S., Broder, Washington Post, 22 July 1990.

13. David Little, Ukraine: The Legacy of Intolerance.

14. For a discussion of the problems and potentialities associated with measuring anti-Semitism and racism through surveys see James, L. Gibson and Raymond, M. Duch, “Attitudes toward Jews and the Soviet Political Culture,” Journal of Soviet Nationalities (1992): 77-118; Lipset, Seymour Martin, “Blacks and Jews: How Much Bias?Public Opinion 10 (1987): 45 ; and John B. McConahay, “Modern Racism, Ambiance, and the Modern Racism Scale,” in J. Dovidio and S. L. Gaertner, eds., Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism: Theory and Research (New York: Academic Press, 1986).

15. Henri, Tajfel, “Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination,” Scientific American 223 (May 1970): 96-102; Henri Tajfel and Michael Billig, “Familiarity and Social Categorization in Intergroup Behavior,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 10 (March 1974): 159-70; and Vernon L. Allen and David A. Wilder, “Categorization, Belief Similarity and Intergroup Discrimination,” /oMraa/ of Personality and Social Psychology 32 (December 1975): 971-77.

16. Patricia Gurin, Arthur H. Miller and Gerald Gurin, “Stratum Identification and Consciousness,” Social Psychology Quarterly 43, no. 1 (1990): 30–47.

17. This finding reaffirms a survey undertaken in March-April 1992 sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and conducted by the Russian Center for Public Opinion and Market Research in seven states of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the three Baltic republics: anti-Jewish sentiment in Russia remained relatively unchanged over the year and a half since the first such survey was conducted (in Ukraine attitudes had improved) (Antisemitism World Report [1992]: 68).

18. Miller, Arthur, Hesli, Vicki and Reisinger, William, “Reassessing Mass Support for Political and Economic Change in the Former USSR,” American Political Science Review 88, no. 2 (1994): 399–411.

19. Although many Lithuanians are self-identified Catholics, Russian social distance from Lithuanians is not the same as Russian social distance from Catholics— the two measures are correlated but not identical (Pearson correlation coefficient for the two measures among Russians in 1992 is .483).

20. Few straightforward comparisons between our findings and those drawn from surveys conducted in other countries are possible. The National Election Studies of the United States do include a feeling thermometer on Jews which ranges from 0 (negative) to 100 (positive). Among 1992 respondents in the United States, 5.3% rated Jews below 50 (assumed to be neutral), 36.3% ratedjews at 50, and 58.4% ratedjews above 50. A question on closeness to Jews was also asked, but there were only two possible response categories: 8.95 said they felt close to Jews while 91.1 percent said that they did not feel close.

21. Respondents were first asked to name the group with which they had the most in common.

22. Gitelman, op. cit., for example, has identified the belief that Jews have received more privileges than the average citizen as one of the major arguments of anti-Semites.

23. Among Russians in 1991, 31% of those who had nothing in common with Jews also saw the Jews as having too much influence. The Ukrainians in 1991 were very much like the Russians in the sense that 32% of Ukrainians with nothing in common with Jews also saw the Jews as having too much influence.

24. If respondents said Jews were the group that they had the least in common with, they were assigned a score of 3. If they said Jews had too much influence, they also received a 3. For the social distance measure, scores were assigned as follows: 4 = nothing in common, 3 = very little, 2 = some, 1 = a great deal in common.

25. For this type of analysis see Miller, Hesli and Reisinger, op. cit.

26. G. W., Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1954).

27. R. A., Levine and D. T., Campbell, Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes and Group Behavior (New York: Wiley and Sons, 1972 .

28. Boulding, Kenneth E., Conflict and Defense: A General Theory (New York: Harper, 1962); and Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn W. Sherif, Groups in Harmony and Tension: An Integration of Studies on Intergroup Relations (New York: Harper, 1953). For Glazer and Moynihan, it is “strategic efficacy” that reinforces and maintains ethnic group structures (Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, eds., Ethnicity, Theory and Experience [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 197]).

29. Walter C., Kaufman, “Status, Authoritarianism, and Anti-Semitism,” American Journal of Sociology 62 (1957): 379–83; J. H., Kessel, “Comment: The Issues in Issue Voting,” American Political Science Review 66 (1972): 459–65; J.H. Kuklinski and W. Parent, “Race and Big Government: Contamination in Measuring Racial Attitudes,” Political Methodology 6 (1981): 131–59; Herbert McClosky, “Conservatism and Personality,” American Political Science Review 52 (1958): 29-34; and John Photiadis, “Religiosity, Education and Distance,” American Journal of Sociology 67 (1962): 666-72.

30. According to Brym, Pamiat’ sympathizers were opposed to reform, and attitudes associated with anti-Semitism and authoritarianism tended to overlap. (Robert Brym, “Perestroika, Public Opinion, and Pamyat,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 19 [1989]: 23-31).

31. According to Tambiah, these types of “group entitlement claims” reflect group competition based on relative comparison and relative deprivation in a universe of redistributive politics ( Tambiah, StanleyJ, “Ethnic Conflict in the World Today,” American Ethnologist [1988]: 335-49).

32. The question used in 1991 only provided three statements; it excluded the third option for those with at least three years of residence.

33. Marilyn, Hoskin, New Immigrants and Democratic Society: Minority Integration in Western Democracies (New York: Praeger, 1991 .

34. In 1991 the following were listed as “basic” Pamiat’ groups: Pamiat’ World Anti-Zionist and Anti-Masonic Front; Pamiat’ National-Patriotic Front (two groups); Pamiat’ [Russian] Orthodox Front; Pamiat’ National-Patriotic Movement; Pamiat’ Russian National-Patriotic Front-Movement; Pamiat’ Historical-Patriotic Association; Pamiat’ Union for National Proportional Representation; Pamiat’ Coordination Council of the Patriotic Movement (World Jewish Congress 1992: 62).

35. We decided to test a regression model rather than test for goodness of fit with a probit model. The probit model estimates response rates (probabilities) associated with each category of the dependent variable. Because of the continuous nature of the “scale of negative evaluations,” together with the smooth distribution of responses, we selected the regression procedure, even though we understand that a bounded dependent variable consisting of only ten possible scores is less than ideal for OLS regression.

36. Studies of “symbolic racism” in the United States have noted that self-interest and personal experience have less to do with aversion to African Americans than do learning and cultural absorption. See Paul, M. Sniderman and Philip, E. Tetlock, “Symbolic Racism: Problems of Motive Attribution in Political Analysis,” Journal of Social Issues 42 (1986): 129–50; and Donald R. Kinder, “The Continuing American Dilemma: White Resistance to Racial Change 48 Years After Myrdal,” Journal of Social Issues 42 (1986): 151-87.

37. Frederick Weil, “The Variable Effects of Education on Liberal Attitudes: A Comparative-Historical Analysis of Anti-Semitism Using Public Opinion Survey Data,” American Sociological Review 50 (1985): 458-74; Robert J. Brym and Andrei Degtyarev, “Anti-Semitism in Moscow: Results of an October 1992 Survey,” Slavic Review 52, no. 1 (1993): 1-12.

38. The results of the factor analysis for Ukrainians only is different, indicating yet a different attitudinal structure, but no single, strong factor exists which brings together authoritarian, anti-west, and anti-Jewish attitudes. The complete factor analysis results are available from the authors by request.

Social Distance from Jews in Russia and Ukraine

  • Vicki L. Hesli (a1), Arthur H. Miller (a1), William M. Reisinger (a1) and Kevin L. Morgan (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed