"Racial Task Force" in Moscow

April 20 – An Ideal Time for Relaxing at Home


Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy reports on incidents of racial hatred


M o s c o w – 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 5 July. These reports indicate that if you are a person of colour in Russia, 19-21 April of every year is an ideal time to stay at home. The 20th of April is the birthday of Adolf Hitler. The reports list the fact that one 30-year-old male from Congo had a rough day in Moscow on 21 April 2012: He was attacked three times.


On 18 February 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, 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.)


A major problem is that persons of colour cannot count on protection from bystanders and police. In more than one instance, casual, coincidental onlookers have been seen filming attacks on people of colour. Civil and moral courage are sadly lacking. During the night of 18 May, a 38-year-old Ghanaian male was beaten seriously while sleeping in the flat of African friends. 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 colour 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 – 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 8 June, 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 15 April, 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.


MPC’s pastor, the United Methodist Matthew Laferty, states: "We believe that our faith in Jesus Christ speaks powerfully to welcoming strangers in a foreign land. We are compelled to provide hospitality to all people regardless of colour or nationality. As an American, I do not point fingers or seek to shame Russians. My country continues to grapple with racism. Our goal is to help strengthen Russia by celebrating its achievements and progress on race issues and struggling with Russians on lingering concerns of racism and race-motivated violence."


Small inroads have been made. This service reported on the Baptist “Moscow City Church’s" commemoration of Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-Day on 15 January 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 colour.


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 “mpctaskforce@gmail.com”.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Smolensk, 11 July 2012


This is an independent journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #12-16, 1.034 words, 6.298 keystrokes and spaces.