Orthodox priest leads anti-Semitic violence in Moldova

Date Published: 12/15/2009

On Chanukah, some 200 fundamentalist Christian protestors, led by a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, have marched through Chisinau, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, and removed a menorah, using hammers and iron bars. The group removed the candelabrum, which had been set up on downtown Europe Square, and placed it upside down on Stefan cel Mare Square, at the base of a statue of King Stephen the Great. Neither police nor onlookers intervened.

The 5-foot-tall menorah was later retrieved, reinstalled and is now under police guard. ”The Jews can try to kill us, to traumatize our children,” but Moldovan Orthodox believers will resist, the priest told the crowd, many of whom carried large crosses. Moldova, he said, was an Orthodox country, and Jews were trying to ”dominate people.” Allowing the menorah to be set up had been ”a sacrilege, an indulgence of state power today,” he said.

The Chisinau city government and the US Embassy condemned the anti-Semitic violence, and police said they were investigating the attack, which occurred on Sunday. However, initially there was no official reaction from Moldova’s Orthodox Church, which is part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Seventy percent of Moldovans are members of the church.

City officials called on the church to investigate. The head of the church, Bishop Vladimir Cantarean, was at his mother’s funeral in Ukraine and was expected to make a statement on his return, the church said. The Moldovan government said in a statement that ”hatred, intolerance and xenophobia” were unacceptable. Incitement to racial and religious hatred in Moldova is subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.

The head of the Jewish community in the small country, Alexander Bilinkis, called on the Orthodox Church to condemn the priest’s actions. The Jewish community was thriving before World War II but there are now only an estimated 12,000 Jews left in Moldova. Twenty years ago there were 66,000 Jews. Many of them emigrated to Israel.