Monday, November 06, 2006

Xenophobia in Russia

Reading about racially motivated attacks in Moscow brings back memories, memories I would rather permanently delete.

The year was 2001; I was in a Taganskaya Krasnopresenskaya line train in Moscow. It was 31st of December, in the middle of winter and everyone was in a lively mood due to the season. As usual in Moscow, the times when everyone is in a good mood fueled by Spirits are the times when minorities like me needed to be most alert. Okay, you always need to be alert in Moscow especially if you stand out, but it is of even more importance when there is celebration or mourning going on. Russians remind me of Africans, they are extremely intense. That can be a good thing if they like you, but it is deadly if for some reason they do not. So anyway, on this cold winter evening in 2001 I sat in a corner of the wagon, reading my book and trying to disappear in the background as much as is possible for a black person surrounded by a sea of Drunken Slavics. The next thing I knew, there was a hand laid roughly on my knee. I jerked my head up in surprise and indignation. As bad as it was in Russia, up till then, I had never been physically assaulted before. "Shto takoe?"(What is this?) I asked angrily. I got up from my seat and decided to leave the train before something undesirable happened. I did not want to end the year with a brawl on the Metro. Then, out of anger over the injustice of it all, I decided to return to my seat. After all, it would not be the first time I had been racially abused and I decided to sit it through since I still had a few more stations to go. As I got back to my sit, this ugly Slavic specimen forcibly pushed me down in my seat, so that he and his son could take a picture with me. I got angry and swung my very dainty handbag at him. The next thing I knew, he had given me a dirty slap. Nobody blinked an eye, everyone in the crowded wagon kept silent and watched with interest as this man, twice my size that I did not know from Adam gave me a dirty slap for daring to be angry that he forcibly took a picture of me. His wife sat opposite from me and was silent as well. I was mad, as mad as an angry bull. What made it even worse was the fact that I knew that I would not get any justice, it was no use trying. I became hysterical; I cursed him, I really cursed him, and I hope the curse sticks, like a bad odour. I finally got to my friend's place and celebrated New Year's Eve in a subdued mood with welts on the right side of my face, where he hit me. This was the only physical attack I faced in Moscow, but there had been other emotionally scarring attacks.

Nobody is safe, there is the macabre joke which was g0ing around Moscow about the Indian student who tried to avoid being beating by skinheads by shaking his head in that peculiarly Indian way and shouting ' ya ne cherni, ya ne cherni’ (I'm not black, I'm not black), as if black people were the ones who deserve to be beaten up. Anyway, he was beaten up as well, and we were all of one mind in saying that he deserved to be beaten ten times over for his racist comments. Japanese, Chinese Thai, even Russian citizens from Siberia (they look Asian) and every other person who looked remotely Asian was thoroughly beaten up, and their shops were destroyed when South Korea defeated Russia in the football World Cup of 2002. Etcetera, Etcetera, melo ni mo ma so ninu iwe kobo? (How many incidents can I recount?)

I was so traumatised, that one night several months after the physical assault of 2001 New Year's eve, I was in a tube station in London, and having heard what sounded like a group of young men laughing and talking excitedly, I turned and ran for dear life! I then saw a man going underground, and I incoherently tried to explain to him that I was afraid of being attacked by the youngsters in the underground station. He looked at me like I was a mad person. He probably thought I had just moved from Liberia or Congo or some other war torn country in Africa. He probably neither understood nor believed what I told him about Moscow and attacks and skinheads. Basically, I walked back with him into the underground station, only to find that my 'attackers' were a racially mixed group of youngsters who were just fooling around and did not even spare me a second glance. It was at this point that I knew I had to get out before I became certifiable.

I feel so sorry for all non-white foreigners in Russia. Any day could be their last. Neither at home, nor in the University,not at work place, or even at the Kremlin is one safe. Yet countries keep sending new students every year; in Nigeria, it is an opportunity for someone to prove he is helping the people. Even if the Students then get abandoned halfway through their studies. Instead of improving our own higher education system, we send our children en masse abroad to countries of the former USSR, to get scarred for life.

I feel even more sorry for all non-Slavic Russians because they have nowhere else to go, that is their country, and they face the same problems and discrimination as foreigners, even worse! After all, we foreigners could always leave. Our countries might not be paradise, but we could leave. I have Russian friends who abuse the skinheads for the attacks against foreigners, who even housed me to protect me when things go especially hot(like in April every year, when skin heads celebrate Hitler's birthday, going on a rampage of killing and maiming. Grandchildren of those who defiantly withstood Hitler). These same friends of mine at the same time talk of Caucasians (people from Chechnya, Dagestan, Tajikistan Azerbaijan etc) and Jews with such hatred that its frightening. Xenophobia is so deeply ingrained in the Russian, that its people do not even realise it sometimes.


Radiomayak said...

I hear you, Marin. Being balck in Russia nowadays is not a very good idea, as well as being old, sick or poor. I respect your courage though but tell me: why the hell do you risk your life when it seems that you can use the subway in London rather than the one in Moscow? Leave this inhospitable place and go to the UK or the States or anywhere else where life is happier and safer.

Marin said...


Thanks for your comment. I left already, several years ago. But leaving does not mean that the anger and fear disappear overnight. Still working on the anger.....
Just out of curiousity, did you ever live in Russia?

My Talking Beginnings said...

Hi Arin,
I think this piece is one of the most spectaular i have seen on blogs. Please keep it up!!!
P.s it left me speechless

Radiomayak said...

Oh yes, Marin.. I did live in Russia and I hope to be visiting there more often. I'm Russian. My country is a tough place to live I know. It is sick too. Pretty sick.

It breaks my heart knowing that nobody in that subway car did anything, nobody stood up for you, everybody just watched. Beleive me, not everybody is like that. There are normal human beings there. Many..

BLOG WATCH!!!! Don't forget to give credit if you borrow anything from this blog.