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Racism in Russia

Belgium
5 posts
Racism in Russia

Hi everyone!

I'm a Belgian woman with two Moroccan grandparents. I'm not Islamic, dress very Western. My features are also fairly European (form of my nose/face) apart from my skin color.

Now, I'm planning on studying on Slavonic studies as I'm very passionate about Russia, Slavonic languages (I'm already learning Ukrainian) and Eastern European cultures. There is no doubt I'm going to study this in September, so your answers will change nothing about that. My studies will include a semester or two spent in a Slavonic country, preferably Russia. I would love to go to Tver, Moscow, St.-Petersburg or Gorno-Altaysk. I would know Russian very well. I would not be your usual tourist/student: I love backpacking and going off the beaten path; I would also use the chance of being in Russia to travel to remote villages, smaller towns etc. to talk to people and get to know the culture.

As I'm very enthusiastic about my future studies and will have the opportunity to visit Russia as soon as the fall of 2018, I've been reading a lot, and disturbingly have found a lot of stories about racism in Russia, especially Moscow. I know this question has been asked a lot, but how bad is it, really? Of course I know some of the news has to be exaggerated, but in all honesty, how frequent are violent attacks? Do the attackers just randomly pick anyone who doesn't seem white, or do they only attack African/Caucasian people? Or people who dress Islamic/traditionally African/Asian, who look like low-skilled workers and refugees? And where do these attacks happen? Is it safe to take the metro at night? To travel to small villages? It feels so immoral to ask these things, but I just want to know what to expect.

Thank you in advance!

Lila

Also, I won't actually be going to Russia until about a year (although a city trip to Moscow might happen sooner), so don't expect me to brief you about my experiences just yet :)

34 replies to this topic
Moscow, Russia
Destination Expert
for Moscow
Level Contributor
4,417 posts
15 reviews
1. Re: Racism in Russia

Please do some search on this very forum. We had several reports from all skin-colour people travelling to Russia, especially Moscow, and I do not remember anyone being aggressively attacked/beaten... Plenty of people on the streets are Islamic/darker-than-pure white skin, etc, going to Altair you'll surely see lots of Asian-looking Russians... Relax on that please...

Belgium
5 posts
2. Re: Racism in Russia

Hi! Thanks for the quick reply. I have read everything I could find (on the forum as well), which has made me a lot less panicky already. I guess the media really have a talent at making the world seem like a nasty place. So I shouldn't have to worry, even in rural areas or non-tourist areas of cities? Just asking because I know that in Western Europe and the U.S.A. those are the non-friendliest places. I know probably nothing will happen; people said the same things (kind of) when I was planning on going to Poland, and I really enjoyed that trip. It's just so confusing when one half of the people you read about say Russia is amazing, and the other (admittedly, mostly in newspapers from England) describe it as "living hell"; you don't know what to believe anymore.

New York
Destination Expert
for Moscow
Level Contributor
4,265 posts
40 reviews
3. Re: Racism in Russia

You are much more likely to be attacked in the UK than Russia. Ignore the ridiculous media propaganda.

You may get stopped by the police who profile if you look like ethnically someone from the troubled Caucasus region. Have your docs on you.

Level Contributor
386 posts
6 reviews
4. Re: Racism in Russia

Out of all possible issues...

Moscow Oblast...
Level Contributor
381 posts
38 reviews
5. Re: Racism in Russia

Hi, Lila! Here are two incidents that I personally know about.

The first incident happend with a friend of my husband. He is an ethnic Korean, has long been living in Moscow, a very educated man (a journalist), looks accordingly. Once he was attacked by a group of drunk scum. They accused him of being "too clever", laughing at his glasses. They also mentioned "narrow eyes". They pushed him a couple of times and broke those unfortunate glasses. Then some passers-by showed up, and the attackers run away.

I witnessed the second case myself. My family lives in a close suburb of Moscow. Russian University of Cooperation is situated here.It's traditionally popular among students from Asia and Africa, and even back in the past, during the Soviet Union, we had a lot of foreigners on our streets. Interracial marriages are regular, and you always can see dark-skinned students in our schools. When my son was 7 or 8 (he is 16 now), he told me about one of his classmates bullying another classmate - a boy, whos father was from Uganda. He offended him because of his dark skin. I told my son to interfere and stop it, if it would happen again, and we reported the aggressor to the teacher. I happend to witness, how the teacher spoke to a bully's father. The man was very ashamed and looked shocked. Of course, he apologised.

I can assume, that the boy saw something similar in a cheap American action movie and decided, that it was cool. It obviuosly was not from his family, I clearly saw it with my own eyes.

So, yes, if we want to be absolutely honest, we must admit, that sometimes something can happen. How serious and dangerous is it? You decide. As for me, I don't think, that you will be in a danger, even in smaller towns and villages. Be ready, though, that small children will giggle at you and point at you with their fingers (exactly like children in Africa do, when they see a white man).

Good luck :-)

Moscow, Russia
Level Contributor
3,409 posts
244 reviews
6. Re: Racism in Russia

Lila,

It depends on where you go, you can't expect Petersburg and Gorno-Altaysk to have the same climate and atmosphere.

If you understand Russian, you can judge for yourself - get a Russian TV, I mean the one in the Russian language, meant for Russians - you will see how people look in the street and in the metro

And, by the way, in Belgium I noticed that even Vallonians and the Flemish are not too friendly to each other, let alone any other nations. When I went to a district by the Atomium (can't remember the name), but I was the only one not coming from Maghreb on the bus, Felt a bit strange, to be very honest, proovided that was Brussles. Made the journey anyway - wanted to take a photo of our poet Alexander Pushkin. He was partly Ethiopian, you may know.

Belgium
5 posts
7. Re: Racism in Russia

Thanks for the reply, sorry for my late one. I've become a little less stressed lately, although it still remains difficult to see a completely split digital world, where one half says there's nothing to be afraid of, and the other says there is, and that this divide even exists among people of color who have visited. I guess I'll have to see for myself to know for sure, which I'm really looking forward to doing. I'll let you know, even if it takes me a year :)

Belgium
5 posts
8. Re: Racism in Russia

Konstantin V, do you mean to suggest there is nothing to worry about?

Edited: 15 December 2017, 20:14
Belgium
5 posts
9. Re: Racism in Russia

Hi Muscovite!

Sorry for the late reply; exams have been taknig up a lot of time lately. About the regional differences, could you perhaps give me some more information about the Moscow/St.-Petersburg area? Those are probably the first places I will visit (I know, cliche right?) for a language program or city trip.

I will try to access Russian tv and other media, thanks for the advice. Although, it's not because there is a lot of diversity that there isn't a lot of racism. Perhaps there's even more, depending on the situation.

As for Belgium, I agree it can be strange! Especially when using public transport or walking around in certain neighborhoods. People in Belgium usually don't have such a good view of people with Arab heritage. I don't really know what to say about that, but I guess both groups strenghten the stereotypical image that white Belgians have of them. It's difficult, however, because in the '60, when Moroccan and Turkish people were transfered to Belgium (they were actually inquired to come) they were very happy to be in Belgium, and tried to be part of Belgian culture. However, the white Belgian population wasn't too happy and started putting signs with "Entrance forbidden for Africans" on the doors of cafes, restaurants and disco's, which excluded migrants who were willing to integrate from public life. As a response, they pulled back completely, and now, fifty years later, racism is alive and kicking, we have one of the lowest numbers of people from Arab origing who go on to study at University, our poverty numbers among this group are skyrocketing and most people with Arab heritage just reject Belgian culture completely. I personally disaprove of that, although I can understand the general thought "why should I love a country that doesn't love me back?". But it's just ridiculous to hear Belgian-born people say they're "Moroccans" and act in traditional Moroccan village ways. It's also frustrating to see that many people assume you just fit one mold because of your skin color: Muslim, traditional, being able to speak Arabic, "coming from somewhere else", when I'm atheist, Western without scrupules, although with the greatest respect for other cultures and with great disgust for (contemporary) Western colonialism (colonialist attitude) and the patriarchal way anyone who isn't "all in" for "liberalism", "democracy" and "freedom (of the market") is treated, and I'm just from Belgium. Not Morocco, not Africa, not the Maghreb. Just Belgium. Also, public transit is looked at as something for poor people (crazy, right?) and people with an Arab heritage do belong to the poorest groups of Belgian society, especially in Brussels and Antwerp. Wow. I hope you enjoyed my little piece of cultural trivia. :)

You know, what scares me the the most about what I've read about racism in Russia, is that it's violent. In Belgium, we have racism, but never violent and mostly hidden. People won't knife you down or beat you because of your skin color, even in the poorest parts of Brussels. Also, people don't publicly express their hatred: it only happens once every while (like, months or years) that someone calls you something derogatory. It's the violence I'm mostly worried about.

Thanks in advance for your advice!

Lila

Los Angeles...
Level Contributor
2,665 posts
18 reviews
10. Re: Racism in Russia

you have nothing to worry about. you're far more likely to have prejudice against you in France or Italy, or Germany.

Russians are very polite people in general ( with a few exceptions of course ) Yes, there is some noticeable prejudice against people from central Asia like Tajiks, and Tartar, but it is not violent . Just use commonsense like he would anyway.

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