22 November 2007

Conspiracy Of Silence

Last night's Ten O'Clock News had a good report on the rise of neo-nazism in Russia, including an interview with Nikolai Kuryanovich, a member of the extreme nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and deputy of the State Duma. Unfortunately, it left the viewer with the impression that ill-feeling towards the "ten million foreigners" who have moved to Russia in recent years is only to be found in the country's equivalent of the BNP. However, the truth is that Central Asians, such as the Uzbek they interviewed who had been beaten up for being "dark-skinned filth" (a rather tame translation of regular abuse that is actually as harsh and inflaming as was "filthy n****r" in America), were always treated as second-class citizens in the former Soviet Union and, as economic migrants today, continue to be harassed and exploited by both the authorities and population at large. Anti-Turkic, anti-Muslim, anti-Western, and even anti-Georgian or anti-Ukrainian stereotypes dominate the mainstream, Kremlin-controlled media.

I say that not simply to point fingers at the racist attitudes endemic in another country, but to question to what extent race has been allowed to subvert a proper and reasoned debate over immigration here† and to question whether we are aware of the ways that our attitudes towards "outsiders" are shaped by our own positive perceptions of national identity and expression of national pride. I am conscious that these are inconvenient questions that the politically correct might like to brush aside, but they are ones on which our elected representatives cannot afford to remain silent.

† Consider, for instance, the recent over-reaction to comments made by Nigel Hastilow, the now former Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, who observed:

"When you ask most people in the Black Country what the single biggest problem facing the country is, most people say immigration. Many insist: “Enoch Powell was right”. Enoch, once MP for Wolverhampton South West, was sacked from the Conservative front bench and marginalised politically for his 1968 “rivers of blood” speech warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably.

He was right. It has changed dramatically. But his speech was political suicide. Enoch’s successors in Parliament are desperate to avoid ever mentioning the issue. It’s too controversial and far too dangerous. Nobody wants to be labelled a racist. Immigration is the issue that dare not speak its name in public."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nikolai Kuryanovich is not a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). He was thrown out for his extremist views. Nor is the LDPR the Russian equivalent of the BNP. It has been a solid bloc in the Russian parliament since the first post-Soviet election in 1993. Nor is there evidence for your sweeping claim that "the authorities and the population at large" harrass and exploit economic migrants. Of course some individuals do, just as in the UK, but let's not tar the entire Russian public and their leaders with the same brush. And it is utter nonsense to claim that "Anti-Turkic, anti-Muslim, anti-Western, and even anti-Georgian or anti-Ukrainian stereotypes dominate the mainstream, Kremlin-controlled media". How much Russian telly do you watch? Not much evidently.

So, apart from all of the words, your paragraph on Russia was excellent.

John said...

Actually, Anonymous, I lived in the former Soviet Union for the best part of a decade - although, having specialised in indigenous languages, I am not anywhere near as fluent in Russian as my wife. As for claims about Russia's xenophobic media, you will find these supported by The Heritage Foundation; e.g. in the article Domestic Factors Driving Russia's Foreign Policy by Dr Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, part of The Heritage Foundation.

So, I stand corrected on Kuryanovich's present political affiliations (he remains a member of parliament and presidential contender), but the rest of my points remain unchallenged by your anonymous assertions.