Were Arfican students in Moscow subjected to acts of racist violence?

I´ve heard repeated tales of abuse that blacks occasionally faced during their stay as students in Moscow. Particularly those who lived on the campus of the Patrice Lumumba university.

There´s not a tradition in Russia to keep police track of racial abuse or hate speech. Whatever happens of such incidents, is lumped together with general crime statistics.

My impression is that middle class Russians are no more racist than the rest of Eastern Europe. It´s mostly low-income groups that tend to be involved in these incidents. In other words, they are not more abusive or violent toward Africans than they are against each other.

What complicates life for Africans in Russia is our weak tradition of actively opposing racism in daily life. We were too used to letting state take care of it. Besides, a whole lot of us find pride in challenging political correctness, and along with this pride often goes indifference to racial slur, sexism and suchlike.

Are there any former states from behind the Iron Curtain who miss the Russian control?

  • Parts of Serbian society. Those who want Russia to teach a lesson to NATO, Kosovars and their apostate Slav brothers in former Yugoslavia. The fact that Communist Yugoslavia was on the Western side of Iron Curtain (and therefore never had been under Soviet control) may partly explain this quirky sentiment.
  • Large part of Russian ethnic minorities in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia and Estonia. They have largely encapsulated themselves in their Soviet legacy in opposition to the nationalism of indigenous nations, much under the influence of Russian TV
  • Abkhaz and Ossetian minorities in Georgia. They see the Russian control as a guarantor of their newly-won independence from Georgian national state.

What is the relationship between Russia and China about?

It´s a marriage of convenience.

The ruling elite in Russia doesn´t like Western-style democracy because it means rotation of power. Historically, in Russia, if you lose power, you lose everything. Check what happened to the darlings of Yeltsin era, like Nemtsov, Khodorkovsky and Berezovsky. Why anyone would want that?

China, with its one-party state, offers a successful alternative to the West. The weaker Russia becomes, the more it gravitates toward China.

China welcomes this drift, as it gives it more legs in its international standing. There are no unresolved strategic issues between the two countries. Russian raw-material based economy is a useful backyard for Chinese manufacturing.

For Russia, it´s more dubious. Behind the shiny smiles and handshakes there is ingrained mistrust. Deep down, we have qualms about becoming China´s satellite. Russians are fascinated by the rise of China, its robust and multi-faceted, millennium-old culture. But there´s little appetite for “becoming like the Chinese”. We Russians prefer Western clothes, European education and Western culture. We like to see white people busy around us.

The entire “pivot to the East” initially started as a tactical move for leverage against the West. What Putin and the rest of the Russian elite have long worked for, is some kind of a Grand Bargain with the West. The US and Europe must guarantee the top 10.000 Russian families and their friends and associates an indefinite continuation of their power and offer support, like the Chinese do to their client states. If that doesn´t happen, Russia hardly have any alternative to further being turned into a Chinese dependency, much like the neighboring Central Asian states.

Has time come for the bridge across the Bering Strait between Russia and America?

As soon as someone figures out the use of it.

Right now, what we have on either side of the Bering Strait?

  • Next to none people living on either side of it
  • No apparent natural resources that would be useful to mine and bring across the waters
  • The climate and landscape that won´t attract even most desperate refugees from the worst war zones
  • The closest industrial centers and transport hubs thousands of miles away
  • Two neighbor nations that are not exactly best pals
  • Vicious permafrost that makes even the simplest construction project a challenge
  • Ice fields that crush everything in their way at least once a year

As you can see, even with Mr Putin´s proclivity to waste billions of dollars on boosting the national image of Russia, it´s not an undertaking anyone is willing to take in the next couple of decades.

What inspired the “onion-top” architecture in Russia?

It was an inspiration from Iran and South Asia that came with Mongol-Tatars. Before that, Russians used to build Byzantine half-domes.

After the Byzantine Empire was crushed first by Crusaders and later by Ottomans, Russians figured that it maybe was not so wise to slavishly follow our Greek Orthodox teachers in everything. A spat of Iranian-Turkic imports came in like cucumber ornaments in our murals, multi-dome churches and riding boots with uplifted noses.

That´s when the onion domes came as well. Their outline mimicked human head on a long feminine neck. It turned so popular that communities went to the trouble of re-engineering existing churches to fit the new cool tops and color them bright or gold wherever local budgets had room for that.

Why did the Cold War start soon after WW2 ended?

  • Stalin was very dissatisfied with how the strategic situation turned out for the USSR after WWII. The demarcation line with the Western allies in Germany meant that most of Germany, the praised goal of Communist revolution since 1918, was now shielded from the victorious Red Army. The Soviet tried to exert military and political pressure on the West in order to change that.
  • The West expected Stalin to make good on his promise to introduce democracy in countries like Poland and Czech Republic. Stalin meant these were his spoils of war and he was in his right to do whatever he wanted with them.
  • Soviet soldiers and officers were shocked to see the difference in living standards between the USSR and Central European states. They brought this discovery back home, along with many precious trophies taken from German, Polish, Czech and Austrian homes. Stalin needed to instill a new sense of external threat to prevent his people from questioning how the Communist rule was so superior to Capitalism after all.
  • Communists in Italy and France were hugely strengthened by the the wave of popular sympathy for their role in the resistance against Nazis. In order to weaken them, the Western governments isolated them through their association with the hostile USSR.

How do Russians view the human losses inflicted by two Chechen wars in 1990s?

When following Russian and Chechen versions of what has been happening in Chechnya in 1990s-2000s, it’s wise to remember the nation-building that’s going on both sides. Whatever we discuss is almost always tweaked and shaped by both sides to suit their narrative of national identity.

The full scale of carnage can be established first when people who had big political stakes in the Chechen game, exit the scene. Only an independent commission can be trusted with making sense of all the evidence. The current authorities on both sides are hardly interested in it. A lot of skeletons are bound to fall out of cupboards and challenge the stories we like to tell about ourselves.

The logic of nation-building dictates an approach that at least in some parts may appear schizophrenic. For the Russian part, it goes like that.

“Yes, we feel guilt, but the Chechens are at least partly responsible for what has happened.”

“We should’t have started the war, but otherwise we would’ve seen a hostile, probably fundamentalist Muslim country, right in our soft southern underbelly.”

“Yes, we feel bad about the dead Chechen civilians, but they killed droves of civilians in our cities too.”

“Yes, they are Russian citizens, but in our daily lives we try to keep as far from them as we can.”

And this goes on and on. The more magnanimous and strong we feel about ourselves, the more we willing to talk about guilt. When threatened, we relapse into the established “they-were-first-to start-it-all” discourse.

Is it reasonable to compare war crimes committed by Nazi Germany and Soviet Union in WW2?

Not at all.

The Holocaust alone tilts the balance way against the Nazis. Generally, the war objectives of the Nazis, such as murdering and plundering of civil population, as well as ethnic cleansing were undeniably criminal. As a contrast, the declared objectives of the Red Army were liberation of its territories and military defeat of German aggression, which is totally legitimate.

There has not been an investigation of war crimes committed by Allies, comparable to what was done in preparation to the Nuremberg trials. As to the practice of warfare, at least some of the Red Army actions in the East Prussia might have been deemed war crimes by modern courts: Evacuation of East Prussia.

Was WW2 an epic misunderstanding?

Yes. At least this was the position of the Soviet government between 1 September 1939 and 22 June 1941.

Below, is the joint statement of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany after partitioning of Poland. It states that now the two countries have laid a foundation for a lasting peace in Europe, and if the war continues, France and the UK must bear full responsibility for that, and the Nazis and Communists need to meet and decide what to do about it.

Many among radical nationalists in modern Russia sit nowadays with the feeling that Hitler, by attacking Stalin, flunked a major opportunity Europe had of quashing the “liberal Jewish Anglo-Saxon” rule of the world.

If you look at many recent Russian patriotic banners the ubiquity of Nazi soldiers and German war machines used for glorifying the victory in the WWII is striking. Most of this is of course a sloppy work on the part of
ignorant designers. But the recurrent motifs suggest something sitting deep in the subconscious mind of the designers and their patriotic customers alike. People who spoke with Russian history buffs know that fascination with the Nazi war machine among them is nothing unusual.

And you can hardly explain away with ignorance the bank promotion billboards like this one. The text says: “Promo action ‘Victory Day’. Up to 14.88% of annualized discount in rubles.”

What exactly happened during Gorbachev’s Perestroika?

During the first half of the 1980s the Soviet Economy ran out of steam, mainly because of fall in the oil markets, the main Soviet export commodity.

At the same time, the US have sharply increased their defense spending, and the Soviet leaders felt obliged to respond in kind.

As you may remember, the Afghan war was raging at the time, draining the little the USSR had of resources. The leaders in Kremlin ran out of ideas how to avoid a looming bankruptcy and picked fresh blood as a new General Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. It was the starry-eyed and bushy-tailed, smooth-talking 54-year old Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1985 he launched an ambitious series of reforms that got the name of Perestroika. The events initiated by him consisted of:

  1. Finding ways of mending relations with the West, because the arms race was bleeding the Soviets dry. Henceforth, the many summits with Western leaders, all smiles and big words and disarmament treaties. Soviet codename “New Thinking”.
  2. Figuring out how to tell us, the proud Soviet citizens, why we no longer want death and destruction to Western Capitalism, but instead must find ourselves in a dialogue with our class enemies about everything normal people may want to talk about. As well as why it was now possible to criticize at least parts of what Communists had done and continued to do to our country. Soviet codename “Glasnost”.
  3. Figuring out how to boost the national economy and release private initiative in a way that doesn´t rob the state bureaucracy of the unlimited control of everything that´s going on in the country. Soviet codename “Acceleration”.

All three projects ended in abject failure. It turned out that Gorbachev was a well-intentioned demagogue who had no idea of what he was doing. Modern Russians look back at that time with shame and incredulity. The best you can say about Perestroika is that it buried Communism, and relatively few people died.