News / Europe

For Africans in Moscow, a Slow Return to Soviet Exoticism

Africans in Moscow Struggle with Snow, Harassmenti
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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs