Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy reports on incidents of racial hatred
By William Yoder,
Special to ASSIST News Service
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (ANS) -- After a break of a year-and-a-half, Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy’s 11-year-old “Racial Task Force” (RTF) is back in business. Its first two quarterly reports for 2012 listing incidents of racially-based, physical and verbal abuse in Moscow were released on July 5, 2012.
On February 18, 2012, a 42-year-old Nigerian had his face sprayed with gasoline by rowdies shouting racial epithets, seriously irritating skin and eyes. He died on 21 April following a stroke. Since he is no longer able to send money home to his family, MPC is supporting his desperately poor family in Nigeria for an interim period.
The RTF readily concedes that its limited, largely-volunteer forces can only document a tiny percentage of all racially-motivated incidents. The first two reports for 2012 describe 10 attacks and four instances of serious verbal harassment. One of this year’s victims has been physically attacked four times over a ten-year period; another twice during a three-year stay. A man from the Congo has been attacked five times within a two-and-a-half year period and says he is “verbally harassed on a daily basis”.
In one incident on a streetcar this year, an elderly woman weak in both demographics and history shouted: “You monkeys are overrunning our country! What are you doing here? Stalin would have dealt with you. Russia is for Russians!” (Joseph Stalin was a Georgian, qualifying him as a “black” in current Russian racist terminology.)
Five Russian burglars had broken down the door in order to enter. Afterward, the Russian landlord demanded the Ghanaian pay for the door, for his skin color had been the source of the problem. The matter ended with the landlord asking the renters to move out: “The landlord does not want to have this kind of problem.”
Because of the miniscule number of Africans in Russia, their best chance for protection appears to be the presence of Caucasian or Central Asian men in larger numbers. These minorities feel the brunt of Russian racial hatred and several million of them reside both legally and otherwise in the vicinity of Moscow. Their lot is comparable to that of the undocumented Hispanics moving into the United States.
A source on Yahoo lists 0,12% as the percentage of blacks in Russia: a bit over 170.000. The “Metis Foundation” estimates there are 40,000 Russians of mixed, partially-African race. There have nevertheless been Africans in Russia since the 17th century. Indeed, the great-grandfather of national poet laureate Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) came from the region of today’s Eritrea.
The Russian police are still more of a hindrance than an aid to Africans in their plight. On June 8, 2012, an African was taken to a forest and robbed by Moscow policemen. In only one of the 14 incidents listed in the two reports is a court case expected. The very weak legal support of Africans is compounded by the fact that many of them lack sufficient visa documentation and are for that reason highly reluctant to contact police.
Another serious problem is insufficient medical insurance. After being beaten on April 15, 2012, a 17-year-old Congolese youth spent a month at Moscow’s Butkin hospital on food and water. Released with his arm still broken and dislocated, a nurse at MPC’s medical clinic was able to obtain hospital access and the required operation. MPC secured funds for the treatment and the patient is now recovering. The RTF reports this was the second physical attack the victim had suffered during his first six months in the country.
MPC’s mostly-voluntary clinic, called “Medical Advice Centre”, has proven to be a bastion of hope and final resort for more than a few needy Africans. It recently moved to the renovated basement of a major Protestant church. It enjoys strong support from Moscow’s “Agape Medical Centre” headed by the US-American Baptist physician Bill Becknell.
Small inroads have been made. This service reported on the Baptist “Moscow City Church’s” commemoration of Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-Day on January 15, 2012. This modest event was the first known commemoration of this holiday ever by Russian Protestants and received worldwide attention. More importantly, it was also widely covered by Russian Protestant media.
Last year, a Cameroonian physician from France, Olivier Akaa, got nowhere in his attempt to be elected mayor of the South Russian city of Lipetsk. But this incredibly upbeat citizen of Russia is running a successful humanitarian organisation, called “City of Light”, dedicated to serving the homeless. Fascinated Russian media have been reporting warmly on his efforts.
Besides reporting on incidents and supporting attack victims, the RTF lists the building of a support community for Africans and a new website in English and Russian as two more of its objectives for 2012. Cooperation with Russian civil rights initiatives is also on the list; one of them is the secular NGO “SOVA”. Moscow’s small Quaker community is involved in a project on training Russian police to communicate better with people of color.
The highly-international, English-speaking “Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy” was founded in 1962 and is supported jointly by five US denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Reformed Church in America, the American Baptist Churches, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). The MPC’s present website is found at: www.mpcrussia.org. The RTF’s coordinator, Jennifer Voecks, can be reached at email@example.com.
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