Famed emigre novelists letter enrages, worries Russian Jews

MOSCOW — Edward Topol's novels have captivated audiences all over the world.

And now a letter that the Russian Jewish emigre has published in a Moscow newspaper has outraged Russian Jews.

The full-page letter, which was printed last month in the Moscow weekly Argumenty i Fakty, called on Russian Jewish bankers not to throw Russia into a "chaos of poverty and wars."

Topol, who emigrated to the United States 20 years ago, also urged Jewish tycoons to "chip in a billion or two" to help Russia's economy.

In the letter, Topol implied that a small group of Jewish business magnates exert an enormous control over the Kremlin and eventually led the country to the economic and financial crisis that began earlier this year.

He also claimed that the Jewish prominence in Russia could lead to pogroms and even to a new Holocaust.

Argumenty i Fakty has a print run of over 3 million copies and is especially popular in Russia's provinces.

Many Jews said the letter implied that a Jewish conspiracy exists in Russia and are worried that it could therefore trigger an outbreak of anti-Semitism.

"The article made me feel very uneasy," said Lydia Tseitlina, an accountant. "All my Jewish friends were frightened."

The letter "touched Russian Jews in a sore place," said Mikhail Chlenov, president of the Va'ad, the Jewish Federation of Russia.

Another Jewish leader said he did not expect a Jewish author to write such a letter.

"I would rather expect such an article from Anpilov or from Zhirinovsky," Moscow's Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said, referring to Viktor Anpilov, the leader of the leftist group Working Russia known for his anti-Semitism, and to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party.

Topol, who is 59, immigrated to the United States in 1978 and lives in New York. During the Soviet regime, his books were banned, but he gained international fame for a novel he published that focused on Soviet corruption.

After the fall of communism, he became famous throughout his homeland. Fifteen of his novels have been published in Russia.

Many of Topol's novels have Jewish characters. Among the villains in his 1997 novel, "China Lane," is a character based on Boris Berezovsky, a Jewish media and oil tycoon-turned-politician who is one of the most influential people in Russian politics.

"It is true that the number of Jews in the business and financial spheres are higher than their proportion in the population," Goldschmidt said. "But to say that all the banks are controlled by Jews is completely wrong."