Friday, August 27, 2010

Racism in Russia

Racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia have always defined both external and internal politics of Russia. The Russian Empire was notoriously oppressive towards the peoples it subjected and exploited. Pales of settlement for the Jews, prison sentences for Ukrainians who dared use their own language in the classroom, ridiculous accusations of human sacrifices against the Udmurts, the list can go on forever. Still, the Russian intellectuals, writers, thinkers, artists hated racism and saw it as a painful reality of their country that needed to be changed.

Neo-nazism in Russia is on the rise
Today, things have changed. Russia is plagued by a profound sense of inferiority caused by its tragic XXth century history. The result of this is an insistent cultivation of the idea of Russian exceptionality. This idea is not new, of course. Educated, intelligent people in Russia, however, always ridiculed those who insisted on the exceptional nature of their country. Nowadays, it has become fashionable even among the most educated, liberal-minded people to proclaim Russia's superiority to everybody else.

This way of thinking is, of course, accompanied by the rise of racism, anti-semitism, and xenophobia. You can barely visit a Russian website, read a blog, watch a television program without being bombarded by a string of vicious and ridiculous statements imbued with hatred towards some group of people that is not Russian.

Racism is fashionable today in Russia. It is as if people almost competed in who could come up with a greater degree of hatred and with the most sophisticated kind of insults towards every other ethnic group in the world.

I can't begin to tell you how much this saddens me.


Anonymous said...

Come on!! Like there is no racism in the US or in Western Europe.

V said...

Calling it "racism" misses the point in my opinion. Or at least misleads the westerners among the readers a bit. Some of the most hated people according to Russians are the people from the Baltic states, who are obviously very white.

Of course there is nationalism everywhere. The difference is in the context. US and Western Europe did not lose the cold war. Eastern Europe (where various forms of nationalism are also quite rampant) does not perceive what happened to them as a loss either, because they got independence.
Russians (I am talking chiefly about a position on historic events, not so much about ethnicity or citizenship) are the only ones who feel they "lost" something important. So there seems to be a lot of pent-up revanchism. (I am consciously making parallels to post-WWI Germany here...)

Disclaimer: I am NOT saying ALL Russians are racist/nazi/nationalist.

NancyP said...

African students at Russian Unis have been looked down on by Russians for a long time, even though the Party sponsored them for study in The Great Communist Motherland. Nothing new here. Anti-Semitism? Hardly new. "Intellectuals" will hold liberal values only as long as they accept being out of power. Politically ambitious "intellectuals" pander to the lowest common denominator, as do a large percentage of politicians everywhere.

Sophia said...

And I can't begin to tell you how your obviously biased, prejudiced, and mistaken piece of writing saddens me.
Watch much BBC and CNN? No wonder.

Of course there is nationalism, white supremacy and anti-semitism, but perhaps apart from the former (which is healthy for any country), it would be ridiculous to say that the government somehow sponsors and encourages these sentiments.

"You can barely visit a Russian website, read a blog, watch a television program without being bombarded by a string of vicious and ridiculous statements imbued with hatred towards some group of people that is not Russian. "

Oh really? That's news to me, considering I watch Russian tv all the time and have yet to see something anti-somebody else. Individuals foster hatred, sure, but not media such as the tv!!! Russia is becoming more and more 'politically correct' in this sense.

Russia is a federation, don't forget that - not simply a nation state, but a multinational state. Ethnic minorities are just as Russian as the other Russians.

Of course racism saddens me and I wish it didn't exist - but this bleak picture you painted of what seems like organised, planned, state-funded discrimination and mistreatment of foreigners and minorites is ludicrous, far-fetched, and untrue. You clearly don't know much about Russia. Try visiting someday.

Sophia said...

Okay, sorry about the previous comment, I take back the last two sentences about not knowing much about Russia. Now having had a look at some of your other posts, I can see that it is not so.
Nevertheless, though - the Western bias shines through.

cringe-all said...

Russia is a country with a troubled past and present, and the recent rise of Neonazis and other less virulent forms of ultra-nationalism, is surely one of the major signs of that. I don't speak Russian, so yes I get most of my news about Russia from "Western propaganda", but I have good friends, some of them ethnic minorities, who have lived there and have stories to tell.
Some of the comments here clearly sound very defensive, and a lot like denial - and actually goes a long way in illustrating your point about even highly educated Russians having a blind spot when it comes to this issue. This is sad, especially for my generation in a third world country, who grew up identifying Russia with great authors and scientists while America meant MTV and hamburgers.

V said...

(Clarissa, please feel free to edit the following if you believe I am disclosing any info you do not want to be disclosed)

first of all I would like to express my respect for your trying to defend Russia from our "western bias" here. But I also would like to explain where it comes from.

First of all, Russian is my primary language. Therefore, I am definitely not limited to "western propaganda" in choosing my sources of information about Russia. I am not sure if Clarissa thinks of Russian as her primary language, but believe me, she is fluent in it.
Where does the impression of the rise of nationalism/racism/nazism in Russia come from? Mainly from very Russian sources.

First, there happens to be a forum (also containing a diary) of a certain famous Russian writer/feminist/human rights activist/psychoanalyst... If you are a Russian, you can guess who she is. :) According to this description, she is supposed to be a liberal, right? But in the last several years the views of that person have drifted towards nationalism remarkably. One can's help but ask a question - if THIS is a "liberal" now, what are the political views of her less liberal compatriots? Or - if a "liberal" gets unconsciously infected by nationalism to such a degree - who the hell surround this liberal?

I (not Clarissa) am also watching closely the inner life of the Russian community in Estonia. This includes reading blogs, newspapers, having various acquaintances and friends, etc... This also includes reading what different Russian sources have to say about Estonia and Baltic republics in general. Again, the rise of Russian nationalism is remarkable. And yes, it is indeed supported by the Russian government through such organizations as the infamous "Nashi".

Finally, about "healthy nationalism". I am convinced that if such a thing exists at all, it must be of "I am good - you are good" variety. If you are honest with yourself, you know Russian nationalism is NOT of this variety.

Once again, I am not making any allegations concerning ALL Russians. I am only describing the tendency as I see it (and as far as I understand, as Clarissa sees it). I wish Russia well and it is just painful to watch what is happening... Sorry if I offended you.

Jerome Donaldson said...

Hello there, I have been very interested to read these comments and as a result I have several questions to ask whoever choses to answer. I am British-Jamaican living in London, I have been learning Russian Language For almost a year now, I find it a beautiful and intricate tongue, indeed one could say that I am a Russophile. However, one thing really affects my learning, I have never been to Russia, A country which I find mysterious and beautiful, all of which I have found out purely from learning the language. Another thing about me is I am a gay man, and my partner of of two years is a Russian expat! He tells me that he would much rather I didn't go to Russia but if I must then to avoid April or May! Not sure why! However, this is a sentiment concurred with by my other expat Russian friends, but, other people in Russia really would like me to visit them. So many people talk of really bad things happening foreigners in Moscow, but some talk of having a trouble free trip! Very confusing. What I would like to ask is whether someone could give me an impartial view, are things really that bad? Do the police not act on these things? I am aware that there are dark skinned Russian from the south, are some people really so hateful towards their own people? I find it difficult to understand. For sure we have areas in London where there is racial tension but it is very very rare to have it acted on in violence. I actually was going to visit before anyone told me of the tensions some people experience, now it upsets me that I have caught the disease of racism, as one should know that it is only a state of mind. I would love to hear from anybody!!!
With kindest regards

Clarissa said...

Nice to have you here, Jerome.

It is true that there is a lot of racism and homophobia in Russia. However, I don't think that anything bad will happen to a tourist from London. The racism is mostly aimed at immigrants who come to Russia from other republics of the former Soviet Union. People like tourists everywhere, though. :-)

I think you'll have fun if you travel to Moscow, especially if you have some friends there to show you around. The only thing is that I hear it's quite pricey there nowadays.

Have a great trip in case you decide to go!