Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad via Flickr
The city of Omsk by the Irtysh river

A car repair shop located on Semirechenskaya street, on the left bank of the Irtysh River in downtown Omsk, southwestern Siberia, some 1,400 miles from Moscow has taken on the controversial name “Zhyd,” FlashSiberia reported recently. Apparently, the choice for this name had nothing to do with Jews, instead it is an abbreviation in a local dialect which stands for “big discount automotive oils.” Nevertheless, a minor storm ensued over in the tundra, where the ice won’t be melting for some time and all one gets to do is sit inside the yurta and go on Facebook.

“The name is, of course, original,” one Omsker posted on his Facebook page, going on to wail that no matter how much one tries to explain, “they found anti-Semitism or, worse, some damage to public sentiments.”

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In Russia, the term Zhyd is considered an “anti-Semitic pejorative” by Russian-speaking people across the old Soviet Union. In other Slavic languages, such as Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Slovene and Croatian, the terms zhyd (Jewish man) and zhydovka (Jewish woman) are not particularly insulting. Nevertheless, these words were banned by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s, and the ban included languages in which it had no negative connotations.

In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev recalled inviting a group of Jews to a meeting at the Lvov opera house, where “it struck me as very strange to hear the Jewish speakers at the meeting refer to themselves as ‘yids.’ ‘We yids hereby declare ourselves in favor of such-and-such.’ Out in the lobby after the meeting I stopped some of these men and demanded, ‘How dare you use the word yid? Don’t you know it’s a very offensive term, an insult to the Jewish nation?’ ‘Here in the Western Ukraine it’s just the opposite,’ they explained. ‘We call ourselves yids…'” Khrushchev noted that after some research he discovered that “what they said was true. If you go back to Ukrainian literature you’ll see that yid isn’t used derisively or insultingly.”

“If this name is a mistake and it was picked out of ignorance, then it needs to be corrected,” declared a SuperOmsk editorial by Stepan Bonkovsky, a Deputy of the Regional Legislative Assembly. “If this was done deliberately, then it is very worrisome, because we have an extremely multinational country, you can’t offend people. The word is offensive in any form, so you need to correct the sign.”

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