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Almost Worth Staying For
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What Did Russians Eat Before Potaotes?
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Serious Soviet Pollution
Day-Tripping Around the Garden Ring
The Russian Poezd
Yeltsin's Family
Soviet Photography
Happy Times in HTML Hell
Road Runners Rule!
Piva is Good!
A Subaka Says What?
Soviet Swimming
Manly Russian Men
And Peter is a Distant Second
Invest in Russia?!
The Zen of the Line
But He Went by the Name of Lenin
That Looks Just Like My Dom
Russian Adoptions by the Dozen
Internet Cafes Are Everywhere
Going to See Mama Russia
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Russian Visas
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Fidelity is Not a Brokerage
Soviet Suburban Living
Taking the tramvai
Cash Transfers Across Russia
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Do Your Spring Cleaning Now!
Reclama Nation
Russians Do Tours
Going Local
Pecktopan = Restaurants
Yevgeniy Primakov, Who?
101 Reasons Why NATO's War Sucks
A State Secrect: Women's Ages
Russians Blew up the US Embassy!
It's Dacha Time Again
I Love Me a Starlite Diner
Anything Goes at Night
Yesho Piedesat Gram Vodkoo
Shock Thearpy
IMF & Reform
Zoos Should Be for Politicans
There Was Giligan, And the Skipper Too
The Regions Exist?
Do You Believe the Media?
What is Russian Feminism?
Russian Music Rocks
Bye Bye Fast Food
Yest Klooch?
Addicts Are Addictive
An Education in Russian Politics
Orphans Are Lonely
Making Bliny
Nasty Newspapers
#51 If you get the jokes
Sick as a Dog
Those Crazy Russians
An Open Road Ahead
Iron Felix
You Can Buy (Almost) Anything in a Market
Education Makes Elections Happen
Ice Cream in Winter
Superstitions Are Sneaky
The Adventures of Flat Jon
Ice Fishing in Sibera
Death is Painful in Any Culture, Anywhere.
Lenin is Alive
Every Thing is Leaking
New Russians
Go Dollar!
Corruption is Endemic
The Joe-Cool Moscow Crew
Taxes Will Find You
I'm Driven Mad
Holidays Last and Last
It's All About Location
Taxies Take You Everywhere
Russian Religion Re-emerges


Russia, February 24, 1999

Racism in Russia Too

Racism in Russia

Russia has to be the most racist country I have lived in. In winter, when I have a beard, I am routinely stopped for document checks to see if I am a Chechen or not. Boris Nemsov, a leading Russian politician, and once governor of Nizhy Novogord, will never be more than Deputy Prime Minister, because even at that post, he is criticized for being a Jew. Anybody of quasi-Asian decent is called a "Zholtic," or yellow, and Russians still use the word "nigger," to describe anyone of color. Worst of all, racism isn't even hidden or spoken about with guilt. It is part of life, sort of what I think 1950's America was like (only America was probably much worse), before the discriminators were put on the defensive.

Below is an article from the Moscow Times that illustrates my point quite well. If you look past the sugar coating the author puts on the situation, you realize that Molisa is the only black man in the world's largest army. Then, a critique of this topic by someone who should know better than I, followed by and odd look in the mirror, and finally my Singaporean friend's experience.

Now make your own conclusion, or better yet, go see for yourself.

The Moscow Times, 29 July, 1998

A Black Russian Fights the Odds

By Sergei Minayev, Agence France Presse

The product of a mixed-race love match at the height of the Cold War, Molisa Seia stands out in more ways than one - for the son of a Russian accountant and a Tanzanian medical student is the only black mail currently serving in the Russian armed forces.

While thousands of ordinary Russians live on the run from the police after dodging the dreaded draft, Molisa hag embraced his comrades with open arms, despite the armed forces' unenviable reputation for brutality toward new recruits. "I have been dreaming of becoming an army officer all my life, because I think the army is a job for a real man," said Molisa. "I also realized that the army is the only opportunity for me, as I'm not rich, to get higher education and enter a relatively prestigious profession. I did not have any other choice, but I like it," he said,

But while Molisa was ready for the rigors of the Russian army, the army was less than ready for him, admits Colonel Andrei Sakhno, head off department at Moscow's Military Institute for the Federal Border service.

"A black officer in the Russian armed forces is all extremely unusual event," Sakhno said. "There has never been such a case in the Soviet or Russian army before. He is the first and probably the last," he said. "It is difficult to say at present whether 's a good thing or not, but what I am sure Is that he will experience a lot of problems because of his skin color," Sakhno said.

Those troubles began even before he signed up; the 18-year-old had to battle racism at the Staff College just to have the right to take the entrance exams. Officers, baffled by the Russian citizenship stamp in the passport of a black man, were reluctant to believe his story, "They had no legal foundation to refuse me for race reasons, but I felt that they looked at me as a spy," he recalled. "They treated me with a great deal of suspicion, kept checking my documents again and again, trying to find even the slightest evidence of forgery. But their efforts were ill vain," said Molisa, who passed the entrance exams with flying colors.

His difficulties did not stop there, as the young recruit had to win over the staff and his fellow students. "There are a lot of guys from small villages in the academy. Many of them had never seen a black man," Molisa explained. "One day our platoon went to the banya [a Russian sauna], and as we got in I noticed that one guy kept staring at me. He seemed to be studying every detail of my body. At first, I was ashamed because thought he must be gay. Then he came up to me and said, 'It's so strange, You've got everything I have, and everything is almost the same.' It was really funny," said Molisa.

Standing out from the crowd can have its drawbacks, however, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. When the institute organized a disco, Molisa found he was given a wide berth when it came to the slow dances. "It didn't offend me at all. I was ready for it because I realized that I was very unusual for them," he said.

The black-into-Russian-doesn't-go equation has caused Molisa problems on city streets too, where police patrols, convinced they have nabbed a foreigner masquerading as a soldier, are always forced to let him go once they see his military ID. For others, a more direct approach has been enough to prove his Russian roots. During a training exercise in the country, Molisa surprised one hapless villager by asking to buy some milk. Seeing a black man in Russian army fatigues, the unfortunate villager proceeded to beg him to spare her life. Only the red star in his cap and his masterful command of Russian army slang convinced her he was just a normal Russian lad.

Molisa's story began in 1980, when his father William met Olga at a student party in the Russian capital. "I think my mother must have fallen in love with him to marry him in the very same year," said Molisa. However, when William returned to Tanzania two years later, his businessman father refused to allow him to bring his bride and boy with him, leaving Olga to raise Molisa with her parents in Ukraine, before returning to Moscow in 1995.

February 24, 1999

RE: Racism Page

By Michelle

The comment and article quoted under "random russia experiences- racism" was a bit strong to be universal. specifically, "Russia has to be the most racist country I have lived in." I've only lived here for about a year & a half so I'm definitely no authority on anything (black american female), but I've found racism here to be extremely mild.

Also, I notice that you use strong comparisons with black experiences to prove your point about racism here (moscow times article, mention of the word used to describe people of color here, etc.).

You made a very interesting point when you mentioned that you are not "use" to feeling racism. I must say that I have never experienced much overt racism but have definitely been aware of many subtle occurrences (spent time in the South). In any case the experience itself is definitely not something foreign to me, which is definitely not something you are familiar with. This could explain why you find this place so racist because you are experiencing something for the first time here. This is actually an interesting topic. I already knew that Russians used the term "negro" to describe people with dark skin before I moved here. I learned about this from my Russian friends in the States.

I heard many funny stories of how they mistakenly used the term in the USA or UK but I never thought the term was negative in the context used by them. Hey this is the word used to describe dark skinned people here so I can't see faulting them. But if we're talking about an American using the term it's another story for me because it is widely known to be a very derogatory term towards blacks. In the 1 1/2 years I've lived here I've been passport checked about 4 times or so. I'm sure the lack of frequency has to do with various factors: I'm usually not walking around a lot on the streets or on public modes of transportation, I'm an obvious foreigner and probably stand out a little by dress. In regards to lack of Africans in the military,

I get the impression that unlike other places that support African countries, Russia is not seen as a place for long term residence for most Africans. They come here for a specific purpose, in most cases, perhaps an education and then leave. For example I believe that Molisa's (from the Moscow Times article) African father did just that. To come and serve in an army for a particular country I would hope that you would have long term residency plans there. So, maybe it isn't such a bad thing that Molisa is the ONLY black person in the world's largest army, especially the army in THIS country today. Why would you expect to see more?

The Times (UK) July 26 1999

'Russia unnerves us because its familiar-looking people consistently refuse to conform to our ideas of acceptable behaviour'

Anna Blundy

To your casual observer most Russians look reasonably European. Not in the sense that they all sit drinking frothy cappuccino in pavement cafe or wear tasteful, expensive and understated clothes, but in that they are, crudely speaking, white.

Admittedly, they mostly have a bit of Tartar in them (few Russian women came away unimpregnated from the hundreds of years of Tartar yoke), but you wouldn't necessarily notice it. Not unless you happened to be staring into the face of one of Moscow's incredible-looking women - the kind of perfect-skinned, green-eyed, tall and exotic-looking types that make Western businessmen sweat into their suits and go even redder in the face than usual.

But basically, if you put your average Russian outside a Soho bar with a mobile phone and a glass of chablis it would only be the long-suffering look in his eyes and the air of casual menace that would be likely to give him away. And it is partly this unity of skin colour that fuels the West's enduring obsession with Russia and her people.

We are horrified by Russia's crime figures, though there are Latin American countries with worse. We are appalled by the bleak stories of Moscow's orphaned street children who sniff glue, beg and prostitute themselves, but there are far too many countries in the world with similar tales. The British press runs articles about the fact that Russia is cold in winter, yet it is just as cold in Canada.

Of course, our concern stems partly from the fact that Russia is near, although at around four hours from Heathrow it is not much nearer to England than Greece and much of the Middle East. Granted, the Soviet Union was a superpower to be reckoned with and, OK, we would all like to get our hands on the natural resources.

But the root of our interest really lies in the fact that we are inherently racist and Russians are white. Any nation where the majority of inhabitants have skin less pallid than ours is allowed its idiosyncrasies, but Russia unnerves us because its familiar-looking people consistently refuse to conform to our ideas of acceptable behaviour.

Westerners have been afraid of Russians for centuries. "Both the men and women are handsome, but they are a brutal race," wrote Ambrosio Contarini, a Venetian ambassador, after his visit to Muscovy in 1476. "They boast of being great drunkards, and despise those who are not. The sovereign, however, will not grant permission to every one to make it; for, if they had that permission they would be constantly intoxicated and would murder each other like brutes," he says. He was not the first to comment on this phenomenon.

The fact that Russia opposed Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia rather than toadying up to the West came as something of a relief to the disturbingly large number of Europeans and Americans who like to pontificate on the subject of Russia. (Articles entitled "A World Without Russia?" are forever popping up on the computer screens of Moscow's resident foreigners.)

You know where you are with a contrary, combative Russia that hates you. It is when she is being all pally that you have to worry. For in the same way that the Russians' current need for money disguises their true feelings about Europeans and Americans (essentially that they are cowardly, uncultured, grinning idiots), their pale skins disguise the fact that they are in fact half-Western and half-Eastern, and so more incomprehensible and fascinating to us than either.

Russians sneer at the likes of us for being so chilly - not talking to each other in lifts, keeping a constant physical distance between ourselves and whomever we are talking to - and they also make jokes at the expense of their Southern and Eastern friends for what they see as their excessive unselfconsciousness with friends and strangers.

They themselves don't seem to know what they are. They appear to flail aimlessly when required to produce a national identity, and always end up talking about Russian souls, enigmas, the countryside and snow. All they know is that whatever happens in the world, they are of vital importance to it.

Nikolai Gogol brilliantly failed to put his finger on this in his 1842 unfinished classic Dead Souls: "'And you Russia, speeding along like a spirited troika that nothing can overtake? Everything on earth is flying past, and looking askance, other nations and states draw aside and make way." Well, they had to in Kosovo and will almost certainly have to do so again.

19 August, 2002

Moscow: About Police Racism in Russia


Yesterday, I took the train to Yaroslavl, a historical city north of Moscow, with Dima, a Russian contact. It was there that I found out via email that my uncle has passed away in Singapore. With Dima's help, I bought an overnight train ticket to Moscow. At 4:30am, the train reached Yaroslavlsky Station in Moscow. Heaven was crying and God of lightning rocked the skies with his angry roars. Together with other passengers, I ran towards the main station building for shelter. The distance between might be a mere 100 meters or so, but it was one of the longest and most humiliating 100 meters I have ever covered in my life. Despite the heavy rain and the short distance, I was stopped three times by hostile policemen for checks.

"Kitai, Kitai, Kitai, passport, passport, passport!" I heard the shouts as I was running towards the station building. Kitai means Chinese in Russian, a word that I was long acquainted with on this journey. It's usually shouted across loudly, with disdain and condescension. I have already experienced daily police checks during my first few days in Moscow. I presented my passport, which the two policemen waved in the rain, wetting it in the process and smearing the ink of the stamp on the document.

"Nyet Kitai ?" They asked. "Nyet, Singapursky," I said, "No, Singaporean." Then they threw the passport at me, dropping it onto the pile of water.

I picked it up, and continued running towards the station. Then followed a second check by another policeman, and then a third one just moments after I left the second one. Three checks in 100 meters!

What a relief when I reached the station building. I ran to a corner, carefully making sure no policemen were in sight. By now, I felt like a fugitive, a criminal on the run, a frightened prey being hunted mercilessly, simply because of my skin colour. Shivering with coldness and hunger, I wiped my wet forehead. Suddenly, tears rolled down my cheeks. The combination of grief from my uncle's death, physical fatigue from the restless overnight train journey, and then finally the humiliating treatment by the local police, have drained me off totally, physically and emotionally. I have never in my travels, not just the past 8 months, but throughout my decade of backpacking, felt so awful and humiliated.

I regained my composure soon enough. I have experienced wonderful hospitality from all my Russian friends and contacts, and I would never forget these, despite the rough treatment from the local police. The latter has totally disgraced their country and did their country a terrible disservice. If any Asian asks me whether he should visit Russia, I am inclined to say, NOT NOW, do it only after the Russian police stop their persecution of Asian visitors. Moscow is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city with huge population of ethnic Asians who are Russian citizens.

However, I am amazed this is how they are treated on a day-to-day basis. I have met Russians who say that such measures are justifiable due to the war in Chechnya (and hence potential of Chechen terrorist acts in Moscow), or presence of illegal immigrants in Russia. I am not convinced by such arguments. I can't see how basic human dignity can be disregarded and certain ethnic groups targeted in such a rough manner. I am not the only one who has experienced this. I have heard of numerous horror stories from other Asian travelers.

The bribery incident on the Red Square also revealed how corrupt policemen are tempted to abuse their power to enrich themselves simply because the system gives them enormous discretion, and allows them to do what is usually not allowed or tolerated in civilized societies. To my Russian friends who are reading this, no offence is meant, for I am merely saying what I feel sincerely as someone on the receiving end of the unpleasant treatment.

Will I abandon my journey? No, doing so would be an act of defeat, especially when I have been planning this journey for a long time. If things get worse, I may consider shortening my stay in the rest of Russia, but will certainly travel on the main railway line to Mongolia.

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I am a student in russia,and from the last 4 yrs I've been here,I definitely came to make the conclusion that racism is part of life of this country,russians are whites too,but there is a big difference from whites of europe or usa.there are very few people who likes foreigners(any skin colour) here.whenever they beated or killed any foreigner,the act is extremely barbarious,I have myself been beaten or threaten on several occasions,it's a common incident here.believe me,my dear friends from the civilized countries,the word 'black' in russian is not only adressed to africans,like in usa or uk,but also to asians(chinese,indians,sri lankans,etc),and also to white-skined people but with black hair(iranians,armenian,arabs,etc).I've been to uk as tourist,though so near to russia by 3 hrs by plane,it's a complete difference.I come from a middle-class family,I can't afford to study in uk or usa,the education expenses are too expensive,the reason why I am studying in russia,now that I am here,I don't want to leave this country without the diploma,my parents took loans to finance my studies in russia.I pesonally do not advise anybody to visit this country or to study here,because even german,british,italians,french tourists coming here have been robbed violently.Recently skinhead killed one student from peru and 2 spanish students,though they are fair by skin complexion.

Dear Friends,

Yes, you are right. Russia in fact is a dangerous place to live & work for black heads (people with black hair) and I, an Indian from New Delhi experienced the same during my stay there from 1989 to 1997. I studied at Kursk and those were still better days. But now Russian youth has become misguided and they wear unnecessary air or superiority on their faces. In year 2000 I was in Ioannina, Greece for a month when some Ukrainian students also came to the University. When they looked at me, they starting yelling - shokolad, shokolad. When I retaliated in Russian they just cold not find the ground to sink their faces, asking me in return where the hell I know the Russian from.

I belive that the self-proclaimed Russian edcuation and culture is a mirage when the kids in present Russia are not even taught the moral vaules and respect for all races and fellow human beings. Citing the reason of economic uncertainty is just like finding an excuse which I do not belive in, since n our India the poverty is far more prevalent, but our youth does not go on banging any white or Russian found on the road. Believe me we have now hordes and hordes of Russian flying to Indian beach cities in India and I can say with certainty that they receive only respect from our people.

The attitude has to be changed of Russians and till then even I discourage anyone planning to visit Russia, for all educated people are respectable citizens and they could be humiliated perhaps even beaten in that great country called Russia. My Russian friends excuse me, it has nothing to do with you guys and this outburst does not reduce my love for Russia at the same time.



Respected humans, I am a former student,now a doctor who underwent studies in russia,tver.I am greatful to russia for giving me education at reasonable cost.But i cannot ignore bare truth that it is one of most dangerous place for black skinned or black haired people.If you are of this criteria,you can be killed anyday anywhere in russia.In every city, in every village you are in danger.You cannot hide any where,you cannot complain any where.Police will only harass you.

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