18 January 2009

ADVICE: Should People of Color Go to Russia?

A reader writes in:

I'm leaving this comment because since you have lived in Russia and know much more about what's going on there than I do, I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I was wondering, do you think it would even be smart at this point for a Black student to go to Russia to study? I was planning on going there after the summer for a year-long study abroad program but after hearing about all the racism I'm thinking that it might not be the right thing to do. Did you have a lot of close calls when you were over there?
This is a painful question for me.

On the one hand, I have had amazing experiences in Russia and I have been indelibly marked by the time I have spent with Russian history, literature and contemporary society. I can't imagine my sense of the world outside of my interactions with Russia.

On the other hand, I simply don't know if I can, in good conscience, advise people of Asian or African descent to travel to Russia in light of the continuing problem of racist violence.

In the past ten days, there have been attacks on Bangladeshi and Chinese students in Moscow, in addition to the earlier assaults this year on citizens of Cameroon and Vietnam. Last December, a nineteen-year-old African American was stabbed multiple times in Volgograd on his way home from the gym. While these are certainly the most extreme types of violence, interviews with African students also reveal pervasive everyday racism in Russian society. If you travel to Russia, you are, quite frankly, playing a numbers game with your life and your well-being.

That said, you can do some things to improve your odds.

Personally, I was never attacked and I never experienced anything worse than dirty looks, stupid comments and mumbled threats. A number of factors probably account for my "luck" and I'll share them with you, both as useful precautions and as information that might give you some insight into life in Russia for those of us of "non-Slavic appearance," in case you are still considering your travel options even after the warning above.

First and foremost, I had the gift of genetics and a bad disposition--I am over six feet tall and, generally speaking, not of a soothing appearance; when I would hang out with African friends in Russia, they would joke that I was their bodyguard. To give you a more clear picture, a few years ago my high school students nick-named me "Mr. Buster, AKA Suge Knight." If your friends haven't given you a similar handle, then you should up your worry level a little.

Second, as soon as I got to Moscow, I asked other Asian and African residents about safety and took their recommendations very seriously. I rarely wandered around alone after dark. If there was a major soccer game, I avoided the subways and took a taxi instead to avoid the possibility of running into a crowd of drunken racist football hooligans. In general, I kept an eye out for groups of sketchy-looking young men and walked away from them, even if it meant I would be late to wherever I was going. And, at the insistence of a Russian friend, I typically carried a small, easy-to-reach knife as a last resort.

Lastly, I tried to maintain a serious appearance—I wore a collared shirt and I always carried a briefcase (even when there was nothing inside of it) to look professional. This was mainly to fend off police shake-downs which tend to victimize people who they think won’t have their papers in order and won’t want to take matters to their bosses or to court. I also worked on the assumption that skinheads targeted people that they perceived as weak, poor or unconnected.

In short, not a day went by that I didn’t consider the very real possibility of being attacked. I told myself that it was worth it to get my project done and I coped with the stress of constant worry. I also tried to focus on the positive interactions that I had with people in Russia.

Which is one reason why it hurts me to give such a negative report. Most people in Russia are not violent racists and I really love many things about Moscow: the libraries, the architecture, the museums, the street food, the random folks who chat with you at the market, the landlord who picks up the rent and stays to talk for three hours, the other migrants and foreigners who share the pain and the pleasures of being an outsider... If you read through my posts from the year I spent in Moscow, it should give you some idea of my diverse feelings and experiences in Russia.

But can I responsibly tell a young person of color (who could presumably choose to travel to any country in the world) that it’s advisable to sign up for a year in Russia? Sadly, I just don’t think so.

The world is large and there are many options. You shouldn't have to fear for your life every day.

UPDATE: This morning I learned of two more attacks on African students in Moscow; five persons were injured and three suffered stab wounds.


Buster said...

I think Anonymous meant to post this comment here, and not over at the Gaza post. So click and read.

Anonymous said...

"I never experienced anything worse than dirty looks, stupid comments and mumbled threats"

Most people in Russia just did not happen to know people of your race! That means, you do make an unusual appearance. The looks of wonder and stupid comments may be inevitable.

"I rarely wandered around alone after dark."

A bitter reality is that you SHOULDN'T walk around alone after dark, whatever your race is. Your safety just can't be guaranteed. Some of my friends, ethnic Russians, during the time of my study in Moscow were being attacked by local hooligans (reason: robbery is most typical).

And your "knife" won't help if you are attacked. The best weapon would be a meter-long iron stick if you can cover it under your cloths (remember that personal firearms are illegal in Russia). The best tactics would be NOT to fight against a group (YOU CAN'T STAND AGAINST A GROUP), but be swift enough to run away if a conflict occurs. Equally it would be reasonable not to come acroos groups of hooligans WHATEVER YOUR RACE is.

On the societal level, why wouldn't you volunteer to participate in tolerance lessons, the youth wings of the United Russia (Nashi, or the like) are occasionally making in Moscow schools? You could tell kids about racial differences better than anyone else because: seeing is believing.


Anonymous said...

Generally, I agree with Buster that the majority are normal people you can have good relationships with. Note also that Russia is a home of more than 150 various nationalities.

Also, life is different in big cities and little ones, you may also need to take into account the overall level of crime in the city you are heading to.


lizzie b said...


I've been reading your comments on this blog for some time, and this time I really must respond.

You said:
"Most people in Russia just did not happen to know people of your race! That means, you do make an unusual appearance. The looks of wonder and stupid comments may be inevitable."

I am a white woman. During my travels in West Africa and South Asia, I certainly made an "unusual appearance", and I surely interacted with people who did not personally know someone who looked like me. However, I never had to suffer "dirty looks, stupid comments, or mumbled threats" because of my race (Please note that Buster said nothing about "looks of wonder."), much less fears of physical violence based on race. It's not "inevitable" that foreign travelers must encounter dangerous racial hostility when they dare to venture to places where their appearance is unfamiliar. Rather, Russia's rate of violence against racial minorities and foreign visitors is an exception, not a rule. Which is why Buster recommended that young people of color begin their overseas travels elsewhere.

And this brings me to a larger point. Evgeny, it seems to me that instead of reflexively contradicting every statement that Buster makes, you might do better to realize that Buster's experiences, while not your experiences, are still valid, truthful, and real.

We all draw different conclusions from our various experiences, and it is fine to debate those. But it serves no purpose to tell someone who has gone through the very personal experience of feeling physically threatened because of his race that he has no reason to feel that way, or that he had no more reason to feel that way in Russia than in other places, when he has traveled to various places, and obviously knows the difference. It's just condescending, infuriating, and rude. Moreover, it perpetuates the problem, because as long as mainstream Russians deny that there is a problem, they are silently giving permission to the people who perpetuate the hatred and attacks to continue doing what they're doing.

As for your comments on presentations in schools: In earlier comments on this blog, you've criticized Buster, as a foreigner, for even having viewpoints on Russian politics or society. Now you want him to get involved with a state-sponsored political party and activate for social change? Shouldn't Russian people themselves bear the primary responsibility for creating a society that does not tolerate racism and racial violence?

Finally, this should be an obvious point, but from a safety perspective, it really doesn't matter that the large majority of Russians do not commit racist attacks or even harbor active racial prejudice. Unfortunately, it takes a relatively small number of active attackers to create a truly dangerous environment, and they are assisted when a majority of the their countrymen pretend there is no problem.

Anonymous said...

lizzie_b, hello.

First of all, what makes you thinking I've anything against Buster's views? He seems to be a great guy, despite I don't always agree with his views.

Besides, being a man, I don't actually understand what a "dirty look" may account to.

You say racism is awful. Hey, I agree!

You say mainstream Russians "should do" anything about the problem. What can I do? Nothing.

I don't actually have friends with racist views, so I could positively influence them.

What else can I do? Take an iron stick and go around beating all the skinheads? That way I will very soon find myself in a prison, and I would be wrong.

There are indeed skinheads, and as far as I remember, Buster has himself commented on some of the most violent cases (like the f..ker who has murdered some 30 or 40 people on racial grounds).

From my personal point I can't say if Buster's experiences "are still valid, truthful, and real". I do not say they are not! I just didn't drink vodka with him, and didn't look in his eyes.

"Rather, Russia's rate of violence against racial minorities and foreign visitors is an exception, not a rule."

Let's discuss the statistics.

E.g., according to statistics published by Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2007 in Russia foreign citizens and people without citizenship has committed 50,1 thousand crimes, while the number of crimes committed against this social group was 15985.



Anonymous said...

Besides, I point out that the task to suppress the racist minority may be only completed in a powerful state with sound and active police.

Generally, there's a balance between freedom of a citizen and power of the state that makes up the democracy. Deviations to one side are called the police state, deviations to another are called anarchy.

Soviet Union was a police state, Yeltsin's Russia was much of anarchy.

Let us have some years or decades, to find a good balance.


Buster said...

Let us have some years or decades, to find a good balance.

Taking into account the holiday, the following seems an apt rejoinder, from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

Anonymous said...

These are different situations.

To protest actions of the government, you go to the streets.

To protest actions of criminals, you go working in the police.

The situation is much of clear, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

Oh, and you should know that Moscow policemen who safeguarded your life while you've been in Russia actually earn some only 300-400 bucks a month. Guess, how prestigeous is serving in police in today Russia.

This problem is actually the problem of weakness of Russia's state.

And okey there's Martin Luther King. But what do you yourself think?


Anonymous said...

E.g. we in our university are dissatisfied with the level of security we have. For these purpose we have a "voluntary people's squad", consisting of university students (usually sportsmen in related disciplines), who guarantee additional security. They work in touch with the local police, and they pass hooligans they've caught to the police.


Foreign students could organize a similar structure, we are always glad to share our experience.


Btw, there was a funny story. In 1990s hooligans became too active against students. And one beautiful evening a large group of students have marched across the main street of the city. And they beat up everybody who couldn't answer what the value of integral of sin(2x)dx.

Not a very good example, but imagine this: a group of black students, patrolling the vicinities of their campus and beating up everybody who can't answer who's Martin L. King (Jr.) and what he's famous for.

It's illegal, but one such event would teach local hooligans to stay away from your path.


Desi Italiana said...

Not talking about Russia, but just traveling in general--I also think the dynamics are slightly different for a female foreigner (like fear of violence AND rape). I'd advise female travelers to be cautious and alert everywhere, especially if you stand out (like I do, in terms of skin color, height, etc).

lizzie b said...


I think that you simply do not want to say anything that sounds like a criticism of Russian politics or society, and you don't want anyone else to either. There are also Americans who feel this way about America, but I think that if you care about a place and want to improve it, the first step is clearly state the things that can be improved.

A few thoughts:

1. A "dirty look" is a facial expression that conveys disdain, anger, dislike, or disapproval. It doesn't imply anything sexual, though that is an easy mistake to make.

2. Re: First of all, what makes you thinking I've anything against Buster's views? He seems to be a great guy, despite I don't always agree with his views.

I think this because in your opening comments, you said that racist remarks are "inevitable." Then you suggested that racist remarks are just innocent expressions of "wonder" or recognition of the "unusual."

You went on to imply that the dangers that Buster described are no different than they are for white residents.

Together, these comments communicate, intentionally or not, that you don't think that the fears and dangers faced by non-white people in Russia are very important or very large. By making those comments, you are basically brushing off these concerns, and saying they are not really a big deal.

3. You ask what you can do affect racism in Russia, since you personally do not know any skinheads. Well, I daresay that there are lots of ways that white people who want to make a difference can actively stand up to and protest racism. Russia does have a movement of anti-fascists who work against racists.

But the least you can do is to clearly state that hate attacks are unacceptable. Instead of brushing off the concerns expressed on this blog, or trotting out irrelevant statistics, or saying everyone should just wait a few decades, you can take a stand and say (to your friends and acquaintances in addition to online) that you do not want visitors to your country to be in danger. If ordinary Russians acknowledge this problem and let their leaders know it should be a priority, they can only help the situation.

In a democratic country, it is much more important for the citizenry to agree certain behaviors are unacceptable than for police force to be iron-fisted.

4. You want to talk statistics. We're talking about safety for young people of color who travel abroad. Do you have statistics that show Russian street attacks against black, brown, and Asian foreigners, compared to such attacks in other countries? Those are the only statistics relevant to this particular conversation.

5. Why not try to learn something new from a person who has a different experience from you?

In honor of the holiday, another thought from MLK:
"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."

Lyndon said...

I've had to answer this question also, and it is a painful one to answer. I think you deal with it in a very thoughtful way, and Evgeny's comments are silly and predictable. The statistic about crimes committed by "foreigners" is especially rich, since I'm sure it includes various visa and registration regime violations, which can hardly be compared to hate crimes (that's not to say that every one of the 15-thousand+ crimes against foreigners is a hate crime).

And Evgeny, you seem to have missed the point that part of Buster's concern was fueled by the fact that the police systematically profile and harass people of "non-Russian" (whatever that means) appearance - they are, for now, part of the problem (they also, according to some reports, collaborate with xenophobic organizations), although I do agree that it would be nice if they were to become part of the solution. I hate to say this, since I usually appreciate ongoing discussions in blog comments, but I doubt there is anything to be gained from your trying to rebut my criticism of your comments.

Buster, you may want to do a post on this this rather incredible event (I'm going to be on the road for a few days this week or I would do one myself). The anti-migrant-labor aspect of it adds another wrinkle (uncomfortably similar to something our own "Minutemen" might pull), but it seems to fit in with the story told by your post above.

Anonymous said...

May be we just instead agree upon that Russia is a country of evil, filled with xenophobia, where every foreigner is immediately threatened with inevitable dirty looks as a start of a survival race with poor chances ever to stay alive?

That's also a solution, because it would prevent further possible deaths.

Hey, I actually do not care what way is Russia being viewed from the abroad. Become a citizen, then I will treat you as equal.

Anyway Buster put it correctly, I think. Don't come if you are scaried. But take care if you arrived in this country. Enjoy people while taking care.


MGote said...

I may be a little late on this discussion and doubt that what I say will have much resonance with you, Evgeny. But I feel like I need to speak up here.

Buster, lizzieb, and some of the other commenters who have been talking about race-motivated violence in Russia are not talking about Russia being evil. Setting aside the question of whether the attackers themselves are evil, the more important point here is about indifference, both at the individual and the broader structural level. It's about the police not investigating or being slow to investigate hate crimes. It's about people who witness violent attacks standing idly by and not doing anything. It's also very much about the attitudes of ordinary people (who do not consider themselves racists) that this is somebody else's problem and that there is nothing they can do.

When you say that you don't care about the opinions of people from abroad, that citizenship is required for you to take their opinions seriously, do you also mean that you don't care about the opinions or experiences of non-Russian citizens who happen to live or work in Russia? This seems to me an important part of public safety in any place: to treat the people who live in, work in, and share that space as human beings whose safety is a right, whatever their citizenship status or appearance. Is this something we can even agree on, that all people deserve safety?

If we do agree, I wonder why it is that you feel that you can do nothing? Do you think that the system is too static for you to make any difference? (And I can't decide whether to laugh or cry at your idea of gangs of foreign student vigilantes trying to protect themselves against attacks...what do you think would happen first: police brutality or deportation?) But if we agree that safety for all human beings is an important goal for Russia, it seems to me that indifference toward racially motivated violence does not serve that goal.

So, rather than talking about evil and dividing people into citizens and foreigners, let's talk about safety and the political process, which begins, at the very least, in expressing one's desires to live in a safe environment.

Anonymous said...

"do you also mean that you don't care about the opinions or experiences of non-Russian citizens who happen to live or work in Russia?"

I care. As I said, I consider Chechen, Tatar, Bashkir, etc. citizens equal to myself. We are different in the way of our self-identification but we are equal in both legal and "general" terms.

And if needed, I would fight for Chechens, and likewise they would fight for me and other Russians.

I wonder what makes you to make a very serious statement that hate crime stand out of the general criminal statistics. And that police's slowness on them stands out from the police's slowness in general. It's very serious and must be taken with great care.

I do not consider hate crimes the topmost threat, because there are more serious problems and I can't actually say if Russia will be staying after 10 or 20 years.

Before we have a happy and tolerant country perhaps guests indeed should not come.


Anonymous said...

Because, see you, Russia is a specific country, inhabited by a lot of people who love the country whatever tough place it is, and won't leave it under whatever circumstances. Expecting it to be a heavenly garden you may commit a serious mistake.

During most of the XX century Russia WAS NOT a merry place. Indeed, better stay out if you don't have an intention to make it serious.


Anonymous said...

Like: the average life estimate for a man in Russia is only 57 years. Should we speak about policy of genocyde?

So, indeed, let us handle our problems, then we'll return to the question of how to make guests feel comfortable here.

For not the solution is truly easy: don't come = don't create problems for yourselves.


Anonymous said...

*for now

MGote said...

So, it seems we all agree on something. (Wish that weren't the thing, though.)

Anonymous said...

"the political process, which begins, at the very least, in expressing one's desires to live in a safe environment."

When I say I can't do anything it's merely I see no certain action I could take.

Btw, recently the idea of "people's squads of volunteers" which de facto exist (they are created by people themselves) and provide additional security on streets gained legal approval (the law was passed to the State Duma).

I.e. such volunteers will now have certain legal status (inferior to MVD personnel though), their rights defined.

So why wouldn't foreign students establish such a squad to guarantee security at least around the campus? This IS legal.


Anonymous said...

From again my personal point I can say that there are lots of foreign students in my university. For the most part they are students from post-Soviet space, i.e. mostly share the same cultural background. But e.g. there were 2 vietnamese students at my year/faculty. Normal guys. I was friendly with one of them. We never discussed political topics, though.


Anonymous said...

I remember talking to some Chinese student. We occasionally met at a train station. Naturally we both moved in the same direction (the univ.) so we chatted about random stuff for some 10 minutes until we reached the univ. He seemed to be happy with life.


Anonymous said...

One of students in my group was Georgian. We discussed politics while remaining friends. We are friends now. During 2008 war we talked a bit; I sent him my words of support. Now he's in an American university. That's not unusual for Georgian students: upon leaving home, they have better opportunities in America.

That's a very personal glance.


Anonymous said...

A peculiar story is when I was finishing 2-year long military courses in the university this summer in July (this was after a month of near-military serving) I met a Georgian friend while wearing my military uniform. He jokingly greeted me with formal greeting of the Russian Army: "Wish you health, comrade Lieutenant". I replied: "You shouldn't." That happened in July. If I replied differently I would feel ashamed after the war in August. (No, I didn't know about it beforehand, nobody did. It was different.)


Buster said...


As a general rule of blog etiquette, one only leaves one or two unanswered comments at a time. And these should be comments relevant to the post at hand. I think you've expressed everything you have to say on this topic. For now, please take a break. And others (lizzie, Gote, Lyndon, et al), please let's just not engage.


Anonymous said...

No problems, buddy.

Would be nice if you also showd knowledge of certain etiquette, e.g. when writing about country you used to live in.


Anonymous said...

She has shown- I think Buster did not criticize just for the sake of criticism but if you’ve read the comments you will see that it has been done in order to remedy and improve situation in the country which I can assume you love.

You claim that you do not consider it to be top most problem, as you put it. Let me remind you that when Russian people are supposedly discriminated (NOT SYSTEMATICALLY KILLED or INJURED, but just supposedly discriminated in such states as Baltic or Ukraine), somehow Russian media makes such a fuss about it, as though some difficulties in obtaining passport or learning some others’ languages are the end of the world. (While certainly they also love Russia, somehow after accession of Baltic nations to the EU, they are likely to move to the UK and Ireland rather than east to their historical motherland).

Again about statistic- do you know about Russian mafia in Eastern Europe-in Czech Republic or Poland or Hungary? How many crimes do Russians commit in those states? I would like to see what reaction there would be in Russian federation if the groups of shaved youth ravaged the streets of Prague or Warsaw or Budapest, killing Russian tourists, students, workers or immigrants. Somehow I suppose the reaction of the Russian state officials (judging by their reaction to the removal of the monument of the soldier in Estonia) would also be much stronger in this case. If innocent Russian citizens or Russian immigrants in those states were terrorized the same way as it looks like Tajik or Uzbek immigrants are treated in Russia, Russian public would hardly be satisfied with such explanations from these states as “ it is not the big problem as our Eastern European states have more urgent ones” or “ Russian nationals commit more crimes than crimes committed against them’ and etc).

avvakum said...

Thanks for your very thoughtful post, Buster. Unfortunately, you are right. People of color should not come to study in Russia right now. A few years ago, after a long wave of attacks on foreign students and other people of the wrong color in Petersburg, I raised the alarm with the deans in charge of the US college study abroad program I was working for -- and got in trouble with my Russian colleagues, who like your friendly troll just couldn't get their heads around the problem.

Although the police have started to do a slightly better job of arresting the neo-Nazis guilty of the assaults, that won't help you after you've been attacked -- and killed or maimed. And there are no signs that the numbers of attacks are on the wane; in fact, there is every sign that the neo-Nazis have become better organized.

And the indifference on the part of the "greater (Russian) public" is deafening.

The murder of Stanislav Markelov -- who, among other things, represented the families of antifascists killed by neo-Nazis -- is another chilling sign of the general climate.

My apologies if I have sent this link to your blog before (I have a dim memory that I might have done this), but last year our group published a map of Petersburg with a list of the victims of racist attacks over the past four years, with the numbers keyed to the places in the city where they were assaulted and/or killed. People who have read your post might find it interesting. Unfortunately, it's in Russian:


This is actually a .pdf of the entire newspaper. The map is in the centerfold. Before the centerfold, you'll find the reflections of four local leftist/anti-racist/human rights activists on how they are dealing with the problem, plus my introduction.

Anonymous said...

Okey, perhaps the problem exists. I do not know.

I'll try to explain you why. E.g. I who's grown up in Moscow District and studied in a near-Moscow university has NEVER in my life talked to a man of negroid race. This doesn't mean I'm a racist. But such people are truly very scarce in number.

And if I meet a person of such race in Russia it would be a new experience for me.

Must the government launch special programs to ensure racial tolerance in the situation when 15% of population lives in poverty and the number of other troubles is also high?

I believe the question must be set up differently: we have to ensure African Russians enjoy the same rights as the others.

Currently it's reported that there are about 40,000 people of that race in Russia as well as their children.

Notably enough, a number of African Russians gain good positions in the society. Just to name a few,

However, it's easier for adults to socialize. African children in Russia may live up in tougher environment than their white compatriots.

It's really a problem, for it's very important for children to socialize and grow up properly. The only solution I may come up with is: the cure must be applied locally. Teachers in schools where such pupils are studying need to pay special attention to correct understanding of racial issues among the pupils, as well as parents of pupils may need to pay attention to what way do their children treat African compatriots.

The lessons of tolerance which are reported to happen nowadays are a new thing and they may be of help. When I learned in school myself years ago, there were none of them yet.

Anyway, thank you, Buster, I had no idea such problem exist at all before.


Anonymous said...

Besides, there's high death rate in Russia compared to the most of the world -- something about 30 cases for every 100,000 population a year.

E.g., during the last 2 or 3 years in the University I can remember a murder assault (hooligans robbed a guy and left him laying unconscious in snow), a suicide, a traffic accident, another accident.. Not insignificant for 5,000 University.

Ergo: you have to take care in Russia even regardless of your race.


Anonymous said...

By the way, Buster, if you could prepare a statement (not necessarily long) about attitudes towards people of African race and send it to the Russian Government, President, Ombundsman, Public Chamber, SOVA center, to Russia's Congress of African people -- select what you like -- there is a possibility it would make a change.

The only thing can be said almost for sure is that they do not read your blog and can't remotely scan your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

If you need aid with correct Russian wording, I'm ready to help 256642170 ICQ/mailto: filatovev (a) mail.ru, although have no law education.


Anonymous said...

Most of black children in Russia are kids of Russian mothers and African students.

With that I want to make a serious statement to all black students who may be reading this: USE CONDOMS and insist on that while you're in Russia.

You'll leave the country, and your possible children will make a rather poor living. Do you want that?


Anonymous said...

Buster, I have always wanted to visit Russia and in recent months have become obsessed with the idea of going this spring. I have been doing a great deal of research on the topic of racism in Russia ever since I read about the rising incidents against the foreign African students, and now I hear that the Asians are also a main target.

I came across your blog only today and was relieved to find such recent information about this topic and wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences. Unfortunately, I am having serious doubts as to whether I should make this trip after all as it seems these attacks are on the rise and hearing that the Russian authorities are turning a blind eye to the problem is not at all comforting. I have read so many accounts of how attackers "could not be identified" and therefore, go unprosecuted. I have also come across an eerily high number of comments left by a large number of Russians who often blame foreigners for these assaults and seem to justify or even blame Chechens as the source!! While I am no fool and understand that the entire nation is not racist, I can not be comfortable visiting a place where racism and the attitudes toward these issues are as they are.

I have visited other countries where I have stood out--in Italy, I either got hit on, completely ignored, or had CINA (I am not Chinese) mumbled in my face by random passerby or greeted very warmly by shopkeepers who mistook me for a wealthy Japanese woman who may buy the entire store, paying full price and not daring to bargain! This is more or less the case in other places I have been to. Italy is but one example, however, it is a country that is not new to foreigners and relies heavily on tourism and yet, this kind of nonsense continues to exist. While I can see the validity in Russians being not used to those of other races, etc., this certainly does not justify the kind of behaviour subjected to foreigners. Even the application for a visa form asks questions that I have yet to encounter for those of other countries! It's as though they don't WANT foreigners showing up!

To lizzie_b (and others), thank you also for a much-needed lesson to Evgeny, who might want to get his own blog space. And Evgeny, I have tried to understand where you are coming from but I've failed. It is obvious that you refuse to confirm or acknowledge to a greater extent, that there is such rampant racism in your country--at the same time, try to understand that comments left by other people here are not attacks on Russians, as you seem to miss the point in many instances. And to counter by suggesting we all simply stop visiting Russia as a defense is rather weak and annoying. Russia has such a rich history and so much beauty within that I can't see why one would not want to visit and witness it for themselves, but if it is at the cost of one's life, well, I'm not sure it's worth it--maybe if I were already suffering a terminal disease I'd consider it toward the end but at this point, I have to say that I am not ready. Perhaps one day, if it ever comes, when Russians can be more accepting of other people, and tourists can roam safely, it would be possible but that time does not seem to be now.

I was very interested in knowing mostly how safe it would be for a lone female of Asian descent to visit Russia (Moscow & St-P) this year and I found my answer. And no, I do not resemble Suge Knight in the least~ But more importantly, I wanted to hear the accounts of someone who is not white, because truth be known, unless you have ever been anything but white, you can never really know what someone who is not faces or feels or deals with regularly.

Evgeny, I think it's time to get your own blog space!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I indeed should write shorter statements.


One of topmost goal for me (as for every human) is to maintain stable and comfortable psychological condition.

I recognize psychological pressure, and I'm immune to it.

We are open for friendly advises, and if there's pressure we battle it.


If you need a first-hand experience of an Asian in Russia, try this journal of South Korean student:



Anonymous said...

"because truth be known, unless you have ever been anything but white, you can never really know what someone who is not faces or feels or deals with regularly."

There are feelings like humiliation, hatred and anger which are equal for any human being, and I know of them.

I believe the core of Western political correctness is: different races hate each other, and to cover it all up there's political correctness to ensure the hate doesn't go out and hurt anyone.

It's easier and more naturally to admit people of any race are initially equal, and that diversity of cultures is a treadure rather than a threat. It's the Soviet way, to which I'm trying to adhere.

Btw, I have experience of telling someone in the West of a well-known fact that a number of ethnic Russians became victims of racially motivated attacks in some post-Soviet countries.

Do you think the reply was "poor victims of racial hatred"? Ha! The best would be "they are occupiers they got what they deserved".

That's, partially, why I'm ready to stand for my country with AK in hands, or whatever weapon I would have the authority to use.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Soviet way by adhering to princeples of equality. Apparently it was the princip of equality that spurred Soviet power to resetle Chechens, Ingushs, volga germans, Estoanisns, Latvians, Kalmyks and Crimean Tatars from their lands; than to launch antisemitic campaign " affair of doctors". In order to make it more equal they bann their citizens to marry foreigners and started to fight against cosompolitism, they also implemented 5th paragraph in internal passport which was widely used in the 70s to bar potential Jewish students from entering Universities. One can go on and on describing so called Soviet " equal" approach to national and racial questions.

Anonymous said...

As it's commonly said, don't mistake hot with blue.

In the American literature there's perfect Steinbeck who wrote prose with true poetic inspirations of freedom, human rights and human spirit -- in 1940s, with segregation of blacks, nuclear bombing of Japanese cities and etc.

Don't mistake principles with policies.

Besides, "Soviet" here is only rough description, because note I say nothing about Communism or marxism-leninism. Better my "Soviet" is a tribute to those good features which undeniably existed in the Union and which we lost thereafter.


Buster said...

Friends and blog-readers,

I'm going to make the judgment call that (1) we have gotten pretty far away from the original topic of safety for people of color in contemporary Russia and (2) this conversation is generating far more heat than light, as they say. Maybe we can take up some of these ideas in a little while, but for now I'm going to close comments on this post.

Thanks for understanding,

Buster said...

Hopefully, things have cooled down. In the interest of allowing folks a chance to add interesting, useful, or insightful thoughts, I'm re-opening comments. If I don't think your comment worthwhile, I will, I should note, delete it.

Anonymous said...

i m half asian my wife from moscow blonde and beautiful

we got married there last year

no problems from anyone even deep in the heart of russia in small villages

Stankoniforous 0ne said...

I have never been to Russia. I hope to one day, but I am extremely concerned how black people are treated there as I happen to be black as well.

I got a good taste of the former Soviet sphere in Central Asia. You deal with stares and gawking, but I never feared for my safety, and I was out at night alone almost on a nightly basis. You will have to be wary of a police shakedown, here and there.

So, any people of color thinking of the former soviet sphere try Central Asia. If you like that, then I would advise a trip to St. Petersburg. I haven't heard of any incidents there. I was told by friends to visit there rather than Mockva anyway.

I want to visit Mockva just for the Kremlin and the Red Square.

Buster said...

Stankie One,

Thanks for your comment. I would note that Petersburg is not immune to the problem of racial violence, as Avvakum's comment and linked map above indicate.

Your point about Central Asia is good, as a previous commenter noted. All the post-Sovietness with fewer racist attacks.

Marley said...

Esteemed Sir,

Just wanted to "lay a flower on the grave" as it were... ;-) I went to Moscow last week. Spent 5 nights in Moscow with my Afro-Caribbean-natty-dreadlocks-5000-miles-away-from-home self. Thanks Buster, for being so brutally honest despite your obvious love for Moscow/Russia. I read this blog and sites you recommended like SOVA to educate myself and be more aware.

That said, I had a great time. Had my friends (a couple girls I met here and one fellow I met there) take me around above ground and via metro (mostly in city centre). There were stares, but mostly of the "whooaaa, f'real?" variety I felt. I am not a "clubber", and was more interested in going out as an ordinary denizen would. Had my fill of caviar and pancakes and literally left the whole Red Square thing for my 2nd-to-last night. In your honour, sir, I had had my friends find me an ole school place to have Chebureki. They took me to one right by Sukharevskaya (Сухаревская) Metro. I was told it was still a favourite of ex-Soviet types, and had been around since the time when my guides' parents were in university. Washed three of them down with some Kvas (КВАС) for good measure. :-)

Other highlights: Patriarchs Pond - where part of Bulgakov's "The Master & Margarita" takes place; Kolomenskoye, on a brilliant 27degC day with nary a cloud in the skies over Moscow (my best day of the trip); and hanging out in Китай город (China Town).

If, as the Stankie one alluded to above, one's desire is just to see the Red Square thing and the wider city center, I say do a short trip and check it out. Better to have Russian friends around - I was embarrassed not to be able to speak better - unlike my trips to western Europe (where many speak English), everyone outside the hotel (including panhandlers) assumed I spoke Russian. Plus you need a local handy for negotiating prices for souvenirs! (2000 ry for a Matroyshka?!)

In closing, thanks for ever having this blog in the 1st place. I'll be scouring it for more info as I ramp up on my Russian "studies". I'll poke around the ROTE as well... love the Russian Rap excursions.

One Love,

Buster said...


Glad to be of help and happy to hear about your trip! Sounds like it was great.

Anonymous said...

I might be a little too late into this conversation. I would like to introduce myself as a guy that lived from my childhood years to adulthood in three different continents. I am half Greek a quarter Syrian and quarter black African. I actually searched for this blog because i wanted to travel to Russia to look at their rich history and live some of the Russian Culture. There are many Russians in Greece, many not for education but mostly for work, in fact Greeks don't have jobs them selves, yet you don't see rascism, although I am sure there is some discrimination, but none of that skinhead 400 years backward kind of attitude...so I hope i will not be given a rude awakening that Russians discriminate against Foreign people or dark featured people. Oh my people ....should I go to a different destination?

russiangirl said...

hi everyone, i was born in St.Petersburg, 6 years living in US and now married and have pretty daugther with the best men i ever met - who is an caribean african american...this summer i planing to go visit my hometown ... and as far as i know - that the St Petersburg is very peaceful and beautyful city, then Moscow. But still as my advice, centre is safe then suburns(speacialy at night)Good luck and have wonderful trip. P S excuse me for my literacy

Anonymous said...

My russian students that are in american are working with me I say " I want to go to russia" and they say no please don't...I'm black and they say its not safe

Anonymous said...

I'm a Southeast Asian who has done some travel and had lived overseas for some time now. Since childhood I've always been intrigued with Russia, its people, its history and its natural beauty and diversity. I really plan to do some travelling there one day. I do hear some precautions about racially motivated attacks and corruption in the police and government. However, I've met and worked with a few Russians here in New Zealand, and so far all of them have been fantastic people. I really hope that one day, Russia will clean up all the scumbags from top to bottom and realise its true potential as a great nation. I would love to visit all the interesting places, I'm sure it's got something that can match the rest of the world. Thank you.


Rand Om said...

Russia is the most racist place on earth and the Kremlin bots that flood the Internet do not want you to know that. That's why they post different messages pretending to be half-Asian, black, etc.

Here is the sad truth:

All ethnic minorities are a subject of racism in Russia. The country resembles Germany in 1936 with the Olympic games coming up. The history repeats itself.

And if you want to know about what kind of discrimination people of color face in Russia, all you have to know is that gays are less discriminated. By the way, all those Kremlin bots insists that gay people are not discriminated against. Well, we all know it is not true, right?

Anonymous said...

I have no idea who you are Liz, but you have excellent debating skills and make valid points about facts.