RT speaks to Russians who are subject to discrimination at home and examines the situation of foreigners living in the largest nation on the planet.
As Moscow’s military operation continues in Ukraine, many politicians and ordinary citizens have noted a growing degree of Russophobia around the world. Back in late February, the country’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatiana Moskalkova, claimed that Russian citizens abroad are being attacked because of their nationality or simply because they speak the language.
Dmitry Peskov (Kremlin Press Secretary) has expressed concerns about Russia’s growing hostility in Western countries. “Our fellow citizens should be on the alert and exercise appropriate caution. Of course, we expect the authorities of all countries to cease making statements that fertilize the soil for this hatred and Russophobia,”Peskov made the observation in March.
Alexander Nurizade (director of the Department for Work with Compatriots Abroad), brought to our attention the April issue. “Russophobia… is becoming an ideology on which the policy of a number of states is based.”Monuments to Soviet soldiers-liberators were demolished in masse with the help of authorities in Poland, Lithuania and Bulgaria.
Representatives of the Czech Republic’s older generation enjoy reminding Russian tourists, who have been having difficulties with relations with Russia, about how Soviet tanks invaded Prague. They also forget who liberated the entire world from fascism.
They are still in dire need of a lesson in history. 1968 was a Soviet invasion, and not a Russian one. The troops were ordered into Prague by two Ukrainians (Leonid Brezhnev and Nikolai Podgorny) & were under the authority of another Ukrainian (Andrey Grechko). The commanding officer was a Belarusian named Ivan Yakubovsky.
“We moved to Prague 19 years ago,” says Vladimir. “During this time, we’ve put down roots and become almost native. Therefore, I couldn’t imagine that a huge part of my colleagues and, most offensively, friends, would just openly refuse to communicate with me.”
Vladimir, an ethnic Russian from Russia, ended up in Almaty Kazakhstan where he met Aliya his future wife. After that, he moved from there to the Czech Republic.
Vladimir is a Prague machinist and speaks the Czech language. A few years back, he was granted citizenship. “My wife and I don’t discuss politics with anyone. Each person has their opinions. And most importantly, I don’t want to jeopardize our children, or risk the life and work we’ve established in a country I consider my second homeland.”
Indignation reverberates as he recalls an incident from this Spring. “We were walking around Prague with Aliya and saw how three Ukrainians put a Russian guy on his knees and forced him to kiss the Ukrainian flag, saying: ‘Ask forgiveness for your people.’ After that, my wife and I decided not to speak Russian in public. We should speak only at home together. However, as an ethnic Kazakh, it is easier for Aliya to avoid suspicion of being connected with Russia.”
Restaurants in Czech Republic have denied Russians service. “We rarely eat out, as we like to cook, so we have not personally encountered this, but the manager of a cafe asked our friends to leave when he realized they were Russians. This, of course, is unpleasant,” explains Maria, who moved to the Czech Republic three years ago with her Ukrainian husband.
Anti-Russian sentiment is felt even by schoolchildren. Maria Ivashova, who has lived in Prague for more than 20 years, went to a school director for an explanation after a teacher tried to force her ninth-grade daughter to tell the whole class how she could live with a clear conscience knowing that her country had “attacked Ukraine.” Another similar case occurred in an elementary school, where ten-year-old boys beat up a Russian classmate. “Most of all, I feel sorry for the children. We have come to accept the negative attitudes over many years. This has become worse. Children sit in their homes listening to adult conversations, and they watch TV where they are told about how terrible Russians are. Although children don’t understand much, they feel a deep hatred. Russian? It means the enemy.”
The UK is not much more welcoming to Russians. Some schools warned parents that hostility against Russians based on their nationality could result in expulsion. Anna is a London bank employee and received this letter. “The relationship between children at school is already quite difficult, especially for adolescents. In a forum for Russian families in London, many parents complain that their children have been subjected to verbal and physical bullying more often,”Anna added, “the classmates of my friend’s son, who she calls Vovka when picking him up from school, have begun to call him ‘Vodka.’”
It often seems that people who can hardly find Ukraine on a map, and often don’t even know the name of Russia’s capital, have become completely obsessed with the news, despite never being interested in politics before. Olga lives and works in London since more than fifteen years. After hearing Olga speak Russian, she says that she was surprised by the question from the contractors she called to fix her windows. Olga stops having such conversation and now avoids using Russian public transport. One particularly egregious incident was brought up by her in a Russian community forum. One passenger was speaking in Russian to her child on the tube. A stranger approached and asked her if she was Russian. After hearing the positive answer, the woman demanded the mother and her child board the train at the next station. This was because they were of Russian nationality. The lady was aggressive and they refused to leave the train.
According to Olga, everything is calm at work, where her professionalism is highly valued, and many colleagues support her precisely because they understand what kind of pressure is being exerted on people who aren’t openly political and “want peace.”
But not all professionals have displayed such professionalism. Contracts with Russian musicians have been ended in many countries. Elnara Shahibullina, a Dutch opera singer, was not fired personally; she was dismissed by email. Conductor Valery Gergiev was offered a choice – either publicly condemn Russia’s special operation or say goodbye to both the Munich and Vienna Philharmonic.
The West cannot seem to reach a common understanding on how to deal with hate. Meta had to reverse course and say they wouldn’t allow violence against Russians. The company previously decided to allow users of Instagram and Facebook in certain countries to post violent comments against Russian military personnel. At the same time, Reuters notes that the tech giant’s internal correspondence clearly stated that calls for violence were being directed not only against the Russian military, but also against Russians in general.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt has called on his country’s authorities to take care of the country’s Russian community and speak out against incitement to hatred. The tweet she published was in Russian. It stated that Ukraine is not under the control of normal people and that sanctions are being applied. “are aimed at the government, not the Russian population.”
This idea has not been adopted by everyone in Western countries. If you don’t publicly express political views that are in line with West’s, you not only have a different view, but you also pose a threat.
Anastasia studied at an academic university in Poland. Anastasia works as an architect. “I want to bring my mother over to live with me now, as she lives all alone in the suburbs. Because of Russia’s sanctions, it is likely that things will become more expensive and you may have difficulty obtaining medicines. It’s not an easy decision, but I can’t leave her alone.”Anastasia states that her mother works and will retire in five years, but is afraid to lose her job.
These concerns can be understood. Around 120,000 people may lose their jobs because of Western companies leaving the Russian market. A saturated labor market may lead to reduced wages and more competition. Some older people will be especially vulnerable — as they may be reliant on their children.
New vacancies, on the other hand are being created by US requests for citizens to leave Russia as well as difficulties caused by sanctions. Unfortunately, such workers are not always available to be replaced quickly. The head of Moscow’s private school stated that nearly all expat teachers left Moscow since February. Even though it used to be difficult to find somebody who could speak English and teach math or physics, this is no longer the case. Online tutors have had to leave their Russian students because of problems in payment systems.
Irina says that her son, who is learning English from a native speaker of Manchester, doesn’t have to discuss politics with the teacher. Some international agencies that conduct foreign language proficiency tests cannot be separated from politics. Consequently, the ability to take the TOEFL or IELTS exams, for which Irina’s son was preparing, is now in question.
Kommersant reported that IELTS, an international English language testing system, had cancelled all Russian exams on March 10. Although the company denied the reports, the statement shows that it did not completely rule out this possibility.
“In case of cancellation, we guarantee a full refund. Funds will not be frozen,”The organization stated. IELTS will still conduct all of its scheduled English tests in Russia for the moment and continue to function as normal. The representatives of the language centre stated that any modifications to their policies will be communicated to customers.
However, the American TOEFL International English Testing System is not following suit. Russian and Belarusian citizens will no longer be able to demonstrate their level of language proficiency using this method. Applicants can use the test results to apply for foreign universities.
“To study at a Western university, of course, you need to know the language and pass an international exam. If we don’t pass this exam, we’re not going anywhere. But it still makes sense to prepare for such an exam, because everything can change, and people will probably find a way anyway,”Irina thinks.
Russian schoolchildren and students have many problems. But foreigners also face difficulties. Maria is studying at the Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow. Her mom is Russian while her dad is Portuguese. Her father was a businessman who flew from Portugal to Russia twenty years ago. He met her future wife, and they decided to live together forever. Maria has aspirations to be a dentist. She chose to stay in Russia to study because she believes Russian medical schools are top notch, and she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to study with real professionals. However, her brother, a professional photographer, chose to go to Western Europe.
“When events began to unfold, cell phones were simply ringing off the hook in the lecture halls,”Maria says it all. “I’m studying at the faculty for foreigners, as it was easier to do that. My classmates’ parents constantly called to ask them how they were here, begging them to fly home immediately. They all said that things were calm and everyone was happy, even though it was difficult to pay tuition fees because of Western sanctions. Nothing has changed.”
Financial difficulties are very real. Russian universities are offering financial aid and shifting payment dates for dormitory and tuition accommodation to foreign students. As a result of sanctions, many students can’t receive money transfers from abroad. Vladivostok’s Far Eastern Federal University has promised its international students all the necessary support to resolve their financial and residential problems.