Belarus lawmakers protest destruction of Jewish sites
MINSK - Seventy-five Belarusian lawmakers appealed to President Alexander
Lukashenko on Tuesday to stop the destruction of Jewish cultural
landmarks in the capital Minsk.
In the appeal - a rare show of dissent in the pro-Lukashenko parliament -
75 members of the 109-member House of Representatives demanded the
immediate end to construction on the site of a 19th-century synagogue and
over the foundation of a ruined 16th-century synagogue.
The lawmakers said they would form a joint commission with Jewish organizations
to investigate "the actions of top officials in the barbaric destruction
of the historic center of Minsk." However, many top lawmakers derided the
appeal. "We live in a Slavic country, not a Jewish-Masonic one," said
Sergei Kostyan, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee.
Jewish groups praised the lawmakers' action. "Belarusian lawmakers are making
the first attempt to stop anti-Semitism at government level," said Yakov
Gutman, president of the World Association of Belarusian Jews. A year ago, a former
19th-synagogue was torn down by decision of the Minsk city government and the
Culture Ministry and turned into a construction site. Separately, officials plan
to turn the site of a ruined 16th-century synagogue into a parking lot.
Jewish groups say Belarusian authorities have been reluctant to hand over
former synagogues that were taken away from the community in the Soviet
era. The groups accuse the government of turning a blind eye to what they
say is growing anti-Semitism in the country.
Belarus was home to a substantial Jewish minority before the 1917
Bolshevik Revolution. Of the 6 million Jews who died in Europe during
World War II, 800,000 were killed by Nazis in Belarus.
Soviet discrimination prompted many Jews to hide their background, and
many fled to Israel or the West following the 1991 Soviet collapse. About
27,000 Jews remain in the country of 10 million.
Lukashenko has cracked down on dissent and media freedom, and the
country's parliament is controlled by forces loyal to him.
By The Associated Press
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