There is No Racism in Russia Just as There was No Sex in the USSR

Xenophobia has long been characteristic of Russia, Leonid Storch says, but Russians when accused of racism get angry and say that they have a positive attitude toward all nationalities, even those they refer to with terms members of those groups find offensive.

Nowhere in Russia have been such manifestations of racism more frequent in recent years than among football fans who routinely refer to blacks, North Caucasians, Central Asians and others in ugly ways; and nowhere has that become a bigger issue for Moscow that fears such actions will cost it the right to host the World Cup in 2018.

Last week, at a match between Moscow’s Spartak Team and Ufa (the capital of Bashkortostan), Russian fans started shouting that a Ghanaian player on the Ufa squad was “an ape.”

Consequently, media controlled by the Russian government have tried to play down such episodes in the hopes that if they don’t talk about these things, no one will notice, but television viewers can see how the fans behave and the fans themselves now routinely take to social media to express their horrific views.

In his own Livejournal account, Storch, a Russian scholar who now teaches in Thailand, not only lists some of the terms of abuse Russians direct at an increasing number of ethnic minorities generally but discusses in some detail recent outbursts of racism at Russian football matches.

Last week, at a match between Moscow’s Spartak Team and Ufa (the capital of Bashkortostan), Russian fans started shouting that a Ghanaian player on the Ufa squad was “an ape.” Emmanuel Freemond responded by giving them the finger. The Russian judge expelled him from the competition.

Russian “official and semi-official persons condemned” what Freemond had done, but Sports Minister Mutkov “called on society not to focus too much attention on the incident lest Russian fans acquire the reputation of racists and a new scandal undermine the image of Russia before the 2018 World Championship.”

The minister’s words, however, did nothing to keep Russian fans from expressing racist remarks on websites like euro-football.ru and sport-express.ru; and Storch provides a selection of their comments, each more racist, unspeakable and thus unrepeatable than the last. It perhaps says enough that one Russian fan has as his screen name, Rommel, after the Nazi general.

for some reasons, xenophobia especially flourishes on the basis of patriotism. The more calls to ‘love Russia’ circulate and to ‘defend it from its enemies’ are heard, the more often people are beating for the wrong color of their skin or the shape of their nose.

This is hardly the first such case, Storch says, pointing to others over the last several years. But notes that “for some reasons, xenophobia especially flourishes on the basis of patriotism. The more calls to ‘love Russia’ circulate and to ‘defend it from its enemies’ are heard, the more often people are beating for the wrong color of their skin or the shape of their nose.”

“I don’t know,” he continues, “whether patriotism is ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ But it certainly is NOT” or at least should not involve “hatred for other peoples.” Unfortunately, in Russia, it all too often does. But Russians will continue to insist that “all the same there is no racism in Russia, just as [in Soviet times] they insisted that there was no sex or prostitution.”

Miss Russian Football League Olga Kuzkova whose VKontakte site shows her giving the Nazi salute

And as if what Storch documents weren’t bad enough, today’s news features the story that Russian fans have selected as Miss Russian Football League Olga Kuzkova whose VKontakte site shows her giving the Nazi salute and indicating that “it is a good thing” that Jews and other minorities “burn in the ovens” (svoboda.org/content/article/27137894.html).

From Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia series

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