News / Europe

For Africans in Moscow, a Slow Return to Soviet Exoticism

Africans in Moscow Struggle with Snow, Harassmenti
X
March 14, 2013 11:43 PM
In Soviet days, African students were welcomed in Moscow as exotic visitors from fellow socialist countries. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of nationalist skinheads, Africans along with Muslim immigrants from Central Asia face harassment and even violence. VOA correspondent James Brooke takes a look at black life in Russia’s capital.
James Brooke
When Russian nationalist skinheads chant against “the chyorni” — or “the blacks” — they protest Muslim immigrants from Central Asia.
 
But Africans in Moscow say they also can be targets.
 
For several African immigrants interviewed on a recent afternoon in the warmth of a Protestant church community center, Moscow is not welcoming to people of color.
 
Rukunayi Pitsou, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said 15 skinheads once chased him into a building. He only escaped by jumping out a window, breaking his foot.
 
“There is no way to avoid it,” says Pitsou. “They are like that. They don’t like seeing black people. When they come, they attack. When they come, there is nothing to do. And when they attack, they have no pity. They beat. They beat.”
 
The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy recorded 16 physical attacks, including one killing, of Africans last year in the capital, a city where several thousand Africans work or study.
 
Peguy Nkodia, a Congolese immigrant, has never been physically attacked, but he has heard the insults.
 
“They call us obyzana, which means in French ‘singes’ — monkeys,” says Nkodia, who studied electrical engineering in Kinshasa.
 
Despite the hostilities, though, Africans say some Russians do step in to stop skinhead attacks. Some private aid groups, such as the Civic Assistance Committee, help African and migrant workers.
 
“Moscow is a big city with lots of different type of people,” says Alexander Panov, a Committee social worker. “There are parts of society that have a negative relationship. But at the same time there are many people here that actively help.”
 
Eric Merlain, from Cameroon, gives fellow Africans advice about getting by on Moscow streets.
 
“The only thing is for you to be very calm and avoid problems — yes, avoid fighting,” he says. “Because if they beat you, just look for a way and escape. If you engage in a fight, you might lose your life.”
 
For African migrants without language skills or connections, life in Moscow is tough. Ibrahim from Mali, for example, earns $20 a day passing out ‘reklama’ — or paper flyers. It is barely enough to survive in one of the world’s most expensive cities where some African migrants sleep 10 to a room — far from the wealth of oil-rich Russia migrants like Nkodia dreamt about in Kinshasa.
 
“If you plan to come to Russia, I advise my brothers and sisters - do not try it,” says Nkodia, whose goal is to get to Paris, where he has relatives. “Life here is so difficult. Life here is expensive, expensive, expensive, and there is not work that pays well.”
 
Yet some foreigners of color say they can enjoy the exotic status once enjoyed by black visitors during Soviet times.
 
Brandon Cross, a Russian-speaking African American, stayed to work after his university program ended: “The Russians also say that now it’s not about black,” says the radio station employee. It is “like Africans and black people aren’t the blacks anymore. It’s people from the Caucasus and Central Asian — they’re the new black.”
 
Moscow’s Peoples’ Friendship University, originally named after the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, was established by Soviet officials as part of efforts to make diplomatic inroads to the Third World. By offering a university education to thousands of young people from Africa, Asia and Latin America, the institution promised to strengthen key geopolitical alliances. Today, 6,000 students still study there, including hundreds from Africa.
 
Vice Rector Alexander D. Gladush says the university gives all new African students safety tips.
 
“We recommend the students to travel around in groups, not by themselves,” Gladush says in his university office, decorated with souvenirs from Sierra Leone and Mozambique. “We recommend avoiding places where there might be drunk people.”
 
Gladush believes the skinhead violence has peaked and that Moscow is now more accepting of African students. “There's a word you hear repeated everywhere you go — tolerance," he says.
 
Post-Soviet Moscow can be a tough town, but it may be softening for Russian-speaking Africans — or at least those with jobs or seats in university classrooms.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid