12 February 2009

ADVICE: On News Sources, Travel to Russia and Dissertation-Blog Balance

Following last month’s post in which I advised young people of color to think twice before spending significant periods of time in Russia, I received a number of wonderful thank you notes and a few interesting queries. Rather than answer each email with a personal missive, I thought I’d take the opportunity to publicly respond, in case other readers had similar questions.

1. A reader from Luxembourg writes:

A friend of ours just went to Moscow to pick up her son, who was recently beaten by skinheads. He will recover. Many don’t.

After hearing this news, I googled racial violence Moscow and your blog from late February was first. Your list is very important. I first want to thank you for posting it. Second, I want to ask if you know of any other sources of information (in any language) about this issue.
There are a number of sources that I keep tabs on to stay abreast of racial violence in Russia. The most reliable and frequently updated source is the SOVA Center website, available in Russian or in English (though the latter has only limited translations of the former). Similarly, the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights maintains a website covering human rights issues, with a limited English-language counterpart. The Coalition Against Hate runs a Russian-language blog, though it is scatter-shot in its coverage. The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union puts out a weekly Bigotry Monitor that you can subscribe to or read online. The Central Asian news portal Fergana.Ru has a Russia page that hosts articles on life for migrants workers and relations between Russia and its southerly neighbors. Finally, occasional reports on Russia are posted to the Human Rights Watch site about every two weeks.

That should get you started.

2. A university student poses the following dilemma:
My friend and I have arranged a one week trip to Moscow [in late March], we would be staying in central Moscow. We have always been aware of the issue of racism in Moscow, and the consequent attacks that have occured, but recently, an English newspaper printed an article which has caused us some worry. It went into quite graphic detail about several racial attacks around Moscow.

My traveling partner is mixed race, she comes from Indian descent, and we are obviously worried that she may be in some danger whilst we are on our holiday. I would really appreciate some advice as to whether we should go on the trip, or will she be endangering herself? It hard to judge by reading articles on the internet, would tourists visiting for a week be affected by the issues in Moscow? We do not plan to go outside of the city's center, and are already aware of the huge contrast in culture. However, despite this, we want to go on the trip with confidence that she will be safe.
Will she be endangering herself? Yes. Whether or not the danger is a "deal-breaker," that's another matter. Assuming that you exercise extreme caution--always travel in groups, be especially careful after dark, carry a mobile phone with police and embassy numbers on speed dial, only go to known public places, never take rides from unofficial taxis--your risks will be greatly limited. Most, though not all, racist attacks occur outside of the city center and target migrant workers. Foreign tourists, however, face the dangers of pick-pockets, con artists and muggers who prowl around the center; you should be very careful to avoid these types.

The real question, I should think, is: does a week get-away in Russia still sound like an enjoyable vacation?

Sure, Moscow has delicious salted fish, amazing beet salads and any number of scrumptious vehicles for mayonnaise and chopped dill. And there are also solid museums, theaters, parks, and markets. But my recollection of university holidays is that they usually feature letting one's hair down and having fun. (Don't get me wrong: there is a nightlife in Moscow, for sure, if you're into that kind of thing.)

On the other hand, if you and your friend have always wanted to see an embalmed revolutionary after eating a pancake with caviar and sour cream, Moscow is one of the few places in the world where you can do that.

3. Finally, a common question:
Can I ask what you were doing your research project on? I looked around, but I couldn't find too much on the facts of what you were doing there, why and when.
Yeah. I avoid the subject for a few reasons. First, on any given day I spend between four and sixteen hours working on my dissertation. I consider this blog a little distraction from that academic writing and a good excuse to keep up on world news, not letting that beastly dissertation completely colonize my brain. Second, I like my semi-anonymity here and don't feel completely comfortable with my Buster persona writing about my professional work. Lastly, if you knew more about my topic, you'd know how unlikely it is that a blog on the subject would attract much attention at all!

All that said, every once in a while I do post research notes or funny tangential observations related to my dissertation. In fact, I'll probably be doing one of those in the next week on a marginal figure from my dissertation and his residence in a curious corner of Brooklyn in the 1930s.

So stay tuned. And keep writing in with questions, mild invective and praise.


MasterGote said...

All praise Buster! You can do it! And 16 hrs./day? Yeesh! Leave a little dissertation left to complain about over bahn mi this summer...

Sean Guillory said...

16 hours a day! What are you some kind of dissertation stakhanovite? Trying to make the rest of us look bad? You do realize that finishing too quick will only get you a seat one way trip to the unemployment line. Man, I know so many people who applied for jobs this year only to get them canceled . . .

Where is that evil Putin when we need him! I hope he starts rearing that head of his again. Papa needs some of that war machine money.

Sean Guillory said...

Oh and great responses by the way . . I'm sure a lot of people will find them helpful, no matter how horrifying.

Buster said...

Guys, don't worry. The sixteen-hour days are the exception. The problem is that I have never been able to pull off that regular work schedule, so I'll slack for a few days, freak out, and then work all day long for a couple of days in a row before slacking off again.

It's not like I fall asleep every night pondering, "Kak perevypolnit' normu?"

And I hear you, Sean, on the job market. With any luck, Obama's imperial foray into Afghanistan will open up that Central Asia money (as brother Busta Rhymes calls it) and lead to more money for "Eurasia" in general, as it seems that Russia/Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan will be needed for a well-executed failure. A job in the State Dept. for some modern-day E.H. Carrs, anyone?

Anonymous said...

You could try emulating the old nail factory legend: produce a single, 350-page endnote. There are, after all, no fortresses a Bolshevik can't storm, one way or another.

kg said...

"It's not like I fall asleep every night pondering, 'Kak perevypolnit' normu?'" - Why even try to compare yourself with Marina? You and norma have such a troubled relationship anyway.