Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Racial and Ethnic Bigotry All Too Real in Russia, Its Victims Testify

Paul Goble     

            Staunton, Aug. 11 – In many ways, the best measure of how much bigotry exists in a society comes not from officials or other leaders who have a vested interest in presenting the situations as being as good as possible but rather from those are a victims of expressions of racial and ethnic bigotry.

            In a collaborative effort the Verstki portal and the Feminist Anti-War Resistance have interviewed female members of ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation about their experiences with the expression of racial and/or ethnic bigotry there. The New Times has published five of the responses (

            “I am a Buryat and Russian society considers me a second-class person,” the first says. “Neither I nor my ancestors have lived calmly and felt themselves to be citizens of the country with full rights.” She like many other Buryats is the descendant of someone who was sent to the GULAG.”

            When she was a student, she lived in Moscow where at a minimum several times a month she was stopped the police; in addition, she often had enormous difficulty in renting an apartment because of her Asiatic features. Moreover, the Buryat woman says she has suffered discrimination because of her language, her religion and even her physiognomy.

            With regard to the last, masks distributed by the authorities during the pandemic failed to take into consideration the different nose structures of most Buryats compared to Russians; and as a result, more Buryats came down with the disease relative to their population than did other nationalities. At the same time, she feels there has been some improvement in recent years.

            The second woman is a Pomor, and she says that because she looks like a Russian, she rarely experiences the kind of discrimination members of groups do who look differently. But she feels discriminated against because Russians won’t accept the fact that her nation exists and is closer to the Scandinavians than to the Russians.

            ”Many consider that we do not have our own language, but this isn’t true,” the Pomor says. “Our language exists; it is older than literary Russian and lies at the foundation of present-day Russian. Indeed, linguists consider it as one of the oldest languages of the world” even though Russians won’t admit that.

            Russian officials refuse to accept her declarations that she is a Pomor and arbitrarily change it to Russian, something they say is justified because the Pomors don’t exist and because this will make things easier for her. In fact, she says, it doesn’t and is an insult to her and her nationality.

            The third woman is an Ingush but has lived outside of that republic for her entire life. Russians routinely call her all sorts of insulting names and attack her when she tries to defend herself. No month in her life has gone without insults. Perhaps the most horrible was from an older Russian woman who told her that the Ingush were “genetically” inferior to Russians.

            But a comment by one acquaintance hurt deeply. “You are a non-Russian and yet read? How unusual!”

            The fourth woman is of mixed ethnicity and a native of Astrakhan Oblast. Her father was a Kazakh and her mother was a mixture of Nogay and Karakalpak. Officials ignored this complexity and insisted on all occasions that she and her children all be called Kazakhs even though they did not identify as such.

            The Kazakh woman says that when she was young, she didn’t understand the insults other children and their parents levelled at her. But as she aged, she learned how to ignore the kinds of cutting remarks they made. Only by so doing, she says, has she been able to make a life for herself.

            When she decided to convert to Orthodoxy, she says, the priest told her that now that she was Orthodox, “that means she is ours and a Russian.” But the woman points out that “Christ himself said that ‘there are no Hellenes or Jews; all people are equal.”

            And the fifth is an African who has lived all her life in Russia and identifies with the country. Despite that, she has been the victim of racist attacks and slanders. But she says “I love this country, but now it is sick, and it became sick much earlier than all the recent events. But precisely now, this problem has become obvious.”

            “Not all Russians are imperialists. Not all of them consider themselves special and elected by God,” she says and urges everyone to approach people individually including ethnic Russians because they deserve what all the others do as well, to be treated as people rather than as something defined by ethnicity or race alone.


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