|Matryoshka dolls of President Vladimir V. Putin and Dmitry Medvedev on display at a souvenir stall in Moscow. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)|
Last-ditch pitch by Russian extremists
Election favorite might have Jewish roots, group says
MOSCOW - Dmitry Medvedev has faced little public criticism as he coasts toward Russia's presidency and Sunday's election, but a fringe extremist group is trying to turn voters against him with claims the candidate might have Jewish roots.
The bid to tap into Russian anti-Semitism is attracting attention but not many backers, as even other nationalist groups distance themselves from it. Medvedev, a deputy prime minister who enjoys the support of the hugely popular president, Vladimir V. Putin, isn't commenting.
Nikolai Bondarik, who heads a group calling itself the Russian Party, says Medvedev's mother is Jewish, citing what he has deemed her Jewish maiden name, Shaposhnikova, and information from unidentified friends of hers. He offers no solid proof, but says voters should be informed.
"It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism," he said by telephone yesterday from St. Petersburg. "I just think Russia's president should be Russian."
Russian nationalists have persecuted Jews for centuries, from pogroms that wiped out whole villages under the czars to systemic discrimination that pushed many Jews to flee the Soviet Union. There have been occasional but persistent attacks on Jews and Jewish graves in recent years.
In a recent magazine interview, Medvedev, 42, talked of his mother's forebears in provincial western Russia. He gave their names and professions - one sewed hats, another was a blacksmith - but said nothing about their ethnic or religious background.
His mother's family name could be Jewish or ethnic Russian. She reportedly lives in Moscow, but officials in his campaign refused to provide information for contacting her. His father died in 2004.
Medvedev, who has described his choice to be baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church at age 23, in the formally atheist Soviet Union, has spoken out against anti-Semitism, saying the government must stamp out anti-Semitic and other xenophobic propaganda. He met with Jewish leaders during Hanukkah.
Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities shrugged off Bondarik's campaign, which spokesman Borukh Gorin called an "attempt to play the Jewish card."
He said that despite continued anti-Semitism in Russia, the contention was not denting widespread support for Medvedev, who is expected to handily beat three other candidates in Sunday's ballot.