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

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions 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.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid