Lawyers for Jewish Poet Imprisoned by Putin Regime File Antisemitism Complaint Against Russian ‘Destructologist’


Russian Jewish poet and theater director Evgenia Berkovich at a court hearing in Moscow. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

Lawyers in Moscow acting for Evgenia Berkovich, a prominent Russian Jewish poet and theater director recently imprisoned by President Vladimir Putin’s regime, have filed a legal complaint against a vocal regime ally for antisemitic incitement.

Ksenia Karpinskaya, a lawyer for Berkovich, said on Thursday that she had filed a complaint with the Moscow prosecutor’s office against Roman Silantiev, an academic at Moscow State University and advisor to the Russian Ministry of Justice, for a bizarre statement that accused Jews of supporting the Islamist terror group ISIS in the Middle East.

Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk were arrested on May 4 on charges of “justifying terrorism” with their new play, “Finist, the Brave Falcon”, which tells the stories of Russian women who decided to marry radical Islamists and move to Syria, and is based on real events. Supporters of Berkovich believe that the decision to arrest her was heavily influenced by her activism opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Expert” examination of the play’s content was carried out by Silantiev on behalf of the prosecution. Silantiev is the inventor of a pseudo-science known as “destructology”, which purports to examine the social influence of cults and which includes several well-known religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Pentecostals, in its sights.

“All groups that criticize the Putin regime and its war of aggression in Ukraine are branded as ‘destructive’ and ‘misanthropic,’” noted Bitter Wintera website covering religious liberty, in an article on the phenomenon. Silantiev has also targeted women’s rights activists, claiming that “the ideology of radical feminism, based on the idea that women are inherently oppressed, is far from innocuous. Destructological science has documented instances where the internalization of this ideology has led to the conscious preparation and execution of terrorist acts.”

In an interview with Lemovka — a pro-Putin channel on the Telegram social media platform — published shortly after the arrests of Berkovich and Petriychuk, Silantiev said that the play “was unacceptable, especially when theatrical awards are given for it, when it is promoted, even when it is people, excuse me, of Jewish nationality doing it.”

He went to claim that “this is not the first time I have observed that the Jews are actively supporting the Wahhabis, it seems to spite the Russians.” Wahhabis practice a deeply conservative form of Islam and their theology has strongly impacted the development of ISIS, Al Qaeda and similar Islamist groups.

Falsely asserting that “we have a whole group of Jews who joined this organization (ISIS),” Silantiev concluded: “Watching this, although all the Wahhabis want to cut down all Jews at the root, watching the Jews justify these actions – this is kind of postmodern, to be honest. But it exists, it exists in famous theaters, and this disgrace must be stopped.”

In the complaint filed with the court, lawyer Karpinskaya wrote that “the Jews as a nationality and E. B. Berkovich in particular have nothing to do with terrorism. Jews have nothing to do with Wahhabism. In turn, Wahhabism is not only a religious and political movement in Islam, formed in the 18th century, but also the official ideology of Saudi Arabia, a country friendly to the Russian Federation.”

She continued: “Silantiev incites ethnic hatred, forms not only a negative attitude towards E. B. Berkovich, but also towards Jews in general. How such rhetoric ends is known not only from the events of the early 20th century in the Russian Empire — a large number of pogroms that led to numerous victims and the emigration of 5 million people from the Russian Empire — but also from the events of the 1930s and 1940s with the struggle against ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the USSR.” Karpinskaya argued that his comments were a violation of the article in the Russian constitution that prohibits the incitement of ethnic hatred.

Following her arrest this month, Berkovich has already spent nearly three weeks in solitary confinement as she awaits her trial in a special pre-trial detention facility. Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for her release initiated by the independent Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta that urges the Russian government to “hunt murderers, not poets.”

“Evgenia Berkovich did not want to leave the country, the city, to abandon the language in which she writes, thinks and stages [theatrical plays]. And she didn’t leave. At the same time, she hoped to retain the right to write a sober and compassionate assessment of what is happening in Russia, in Ukraine, in the world,” the petition states.

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