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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech 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.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs