Pyotr Tolstoy, the Russian Parliament’s deputy speaker and the great-grandson of Leo Tolstoy, is facing a backlash from Jewish organizations for remarks perceived as anti-Semitic.
According to International Business Times, Tolstoy’s comments were made in response to a petition with 200,000 signatures opposing the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg, to the Russian Orthodox Church.
“The people who are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who pulled down our temples, and jumped out from the Pale of Settlement to the revolver in 1917, today are working in very respectable places on the radio, in the legislatures, and continue the work of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers,” Tolstoy said in a press conference, appearing to insinuate that Jews were behind opposition to transferring the Cathedral. The Russian Pale of Settlement was an area in western Russia designated for settlement by Jews.
The transfer of the church has provoked controversy due to fears that inadequate funding could cause the historic church, whose construction began in 1818, to fall into disrepair. Others felt that the transfer was a sign of how the church is becoming enriched and empowered under Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to Radio Free Europe.
Tolstoy’s comments were denounced Tuesday by Russian Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) president Aleksandr Borod, who accused Tolstoy of invoking anti-Semitic myths and conspiracy theories.
“We usually hear such statements from irresponsible instigators of anti-Semitic campaigns,” the organization, which unifies Orthodox Jewish communities in Russia, stated. “When we hear this from the mouth of the State Duma deputy speaker at an official press conference, it directly undermines inter-ethnic peace in the country and stirs up tension.”
In response, Tolstoy defended himself by protesting that he was not ant-Semitic and that his comments would only be perceived as such by “people with a sick imagination, who do not know the history of his country.”
“Someone obviously likes to label, in an attempt to [cause a national rift],” Tolstoy added.