Russia doesn’t have a race problem

I once had a conversation with a good friend of mine who wanted to go on a trip with her (black) boyfriend to Russia to meet some of her family members. I suggested that perhaps that might not be such a good idea. She asked what I was talking about. I was talking about this:

More than 100 Russian skinheads have attacked a music festival in central Russia, reports say. At least 10 people were injured while attending the Tornado festival in Miass, in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region. The skinheads were reported to have been armed with truncheons and sticks when they launched their attack on the event, attended by some 3,000 people.

What I was actually talking about at the time was reports of ethnic Uzbeks and Kazakhs being assaulted on subways and busses by gangs of young neo-Nazis, but it was symptomatic of the larger problem. Russia has well-known economic problems, made even worse by the wildfires that destroyed much of the wheat crop this past summer. As I’ve said since I started this blog, any time there’s an economic crisis the first people to be blamed are those who look different from the majority group. It happened in Uganda when Idi Amin drove out the South Asian population, almost immediately turning a prosperous country into an economic ruin by removing an entire class of workers. It’s happening in Arizona, where draconian laws are being signed into law to discriminate against Latinos, and it’s happening with violent assaults in Russia.

There is, of course, a non-trivial irony of the existence of Russian neo-Nazis. Somewhere in the area of 20 million Russians (~6 million military, ~14 million civilians) died fighting the Nazis. There’s an argument to be made that they didn’t fight the Nazis so much as the invading German army, but at any rate Russia is no friend to the Nazis. It’s then bizarre to see the mantle of the master race be picked up by the youth of Russia, but since race bigotry is fundamentally non-logical it’s not really that strange.

We can’t separate race from economics, and until we recognize that a rising tide raises all boats, we’re going to keep falling back into this trap.


  1. JN says

    yes, it’s true there’s an issue with racism in Russia, no doubt.
    A few comments regarding the post:
    1-the Neo-Nazi movement is not new in Russia. The event at a concert you described above is not one of the first. This has been an issue since basically the fall of communism, once more foreign people/products/media, etc. were allowed access to the country that has been forcefully isolated before.
    2-I wouldn’t say there is an irony re: Neo-Nazis vs. Nazi fighting in the WWII. Hitler and Nazism represented a lot more in Russia than just discrimination/racism at the time of the WWII. (For another discussion.) But basically, that’s not really what Hitler is known for in Russia specifically as much as it is in North America.
    3-I also wouldn’t agree that there’s a connection between the economy and wildfires that happened this year and this ‘phenomenon’. If you talk to ‘the average Russian’, there isn’t really a specific reason that people would say the intolerance is fueled by. There’s just a general lack of exposure to the different cultures and peoples for many, especially in places like Chelyabinsk (not exactly a tourist location), thus, sometimes creating this fear just due to ignorance.
    4-If you recall, this friend of yours was the one to actually tell you that she couldn’t take her boyfriend to Russia, not her saying ‘what are you talking about’.

  2. says

    I must be misremembering the conversation. My apologies if I got it wrong.

    Re #1: I don’t doubt it’s not a new phenomenon. This was just a recent news item, and I thought it was worthwhile to highlight the fact that the struggle we have about race in North America is not isolated here.

    #2: I am similarly happy to believe that the reason Russia fought the Nazis had less to do with race than other factors (likely not the least of which was Hitler’s expansionist ambitions to slaughter Russian civilians and annex the entire country under his Reich). I just think the idea of being a Russian neo-Nazi makes about as much sense as being a black member of the KKK.

    #3 – Fair enough. I’ve noticed a pattern wherein flare-ups of racism and anti-immigrant violence tend to happen during times of economic scarcity, but that may not be the case here. I definitely can’t claim to be an expert in international affairs 😛

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