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Ex-Klansman David Duke Sets Sights on Russian Anti-Semites

January 06, 2001|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Lost track of David Duke, who first made a name for himself in the 1970s as the supposed fresh, modern face of the Ku Klux Klan? If so, his latest opus can be found here, on sale in Russia's parliament.

For the past two years, the man who promised to move the Klan out of the cow pasture and into the hotel meeting room has been spending more and more time in a rented Moscow apartment, building bridges to right-wing nationalists in the new Russia.

He has held a rally at a respected literary museum, signed autographs at the Russian Writers Union and met with members of parliament, including a retired Soviet general, Albert Makashov, who is known for anti-Semitic remarks. And the preface to Duke's book was written by one of ex-President Boris N. Yeltsin's former ministers.

Since last month, bookstalls operating next to the cafeteria in the Duma, parliament's lower house, have been selling Duke's first book in Russian: "The Jewish Question Through the Eyes of an American."

According to the local office of the Anti-Defamation League, the book--with a glossy black cover portraying a suited, serious-looking Duke--is a classic anti-Semitic tract and appears to have been selling briskly.

Boris S. Mironov, the former Yeltsin press minister who helped arrange a December news conference for Duke to launch his book, said he has since been getting calls from other regions of Russia seeking copies.

Mironov is a self-described anti-Semite who is secretary of the nationalist-dominated Russian Writers Union and chairman of the Slavic Union of Journalists.

Duke did not respond to an interview request relayed through an associate this week.

The former Klansman served in the Louisiana Legislature in the 1980s and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990. Until recently, he was an elected committeeman of the Republican Party in his home Louisiana parish. He left the Klan years ago and now presents himself as the president of a group he calls the National Organization for European American Rights.

Five thousand copies of his book have been published here, though it remains to be seen if he will develop any real following in Russia.

One right-wing editor said he doubts that Duke will win a large constituency, not because people don't agree with Duke but because his thoughts are not original.

"All the things that are said in the book are as old as time," said Alexander A. Prokhanov, editor in chief of Zavtra (Tomorrow), a nationalist weekly that sells as many as 100,000 copies per edition.

According to leading Russian pollster Yuri A. Levada, anti-Jewish sentiments are not representative of Russians as a whole. The number of rabid anti-Semites is relatively small at about 3% to 4% of the population, he said. "David Duke, apparently, is flirting with this particular lot."

Levada said he is not too concerned about Duke, but he does worry that his compatriots have been too sanguine about Duke's proselytizing.

"The real problem is there is no anti-anti-Semitism, that anti-Semitism meets no overt public reprimand," he said.

"The borderlines between the admissible and the inadmissible start to blur," he warned, "and people can no longer tell good from evil."

Asserting that the "white race" is facing a "genetic catastrophe," Duke argues that Russia can play a pivotal role. "Russia is a White nation! Of the many capital cities of Europe, it is accurate to say that Moscow is the Whitest of them all," he proclaims in one tract.

In his book, Duke blames Jews for the evils of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Currently, he charges, Jews are behind the Russian Mafia, and Russia is being "plundered by the Jewish oligarchs."

Lev Krichevsky, director of the ADL's Center on Anti-Semitism and Extremism in Russia, said authorities need to act against such anti-Semitic propaganda, which he said openly flouts existing anti-hate laws. He senses that Russian nationalists are getting bolder.

"The major problem is the way the authorities and law enforcement forces respond when there are incidents. Reaction never happens," Krichevsky complained. "David Duke's visit here, and the way he feels almost at home in this city, testifies to this change."

Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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