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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Russia, under the administration of President Vladimir Putin, may be the most dangerous country for racial violence in the world, according to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. the story teacher Eugene Avrutin.

This was not always the case. In his new book,Racism in Modern Russia: From the Romanovs to PutinAvrutin explores the history of racism in Russia over the past 150 years, from the end of the tsarist regime to the reign of Putin.

The book opens with a major anti-migrant riot in Moscow in 2013, following the arrest of a migrant worker for the murder of a man of Russian origin. The rioting crowd chanted “Russia for the Russians”. This slogan was also used in the late 19th century at the end of the Tsarist regime, Avrutin said, “mainly addressing individuals attracted to the radical right”. Activists chanting the slogan perceived the old order as under attack.

“Racism in Modern Russia: From the Romanovs to Putin” is published by Bloomsbury and is available for free access.

Courtesy of Eugène Avrutin

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Until recently, scholars of Russian history and culture have dismissed the broader impact of race-based thinking and practices, Avrutin wrote. Unlike other empires, Russia’s colonial expansion involved contiguous territories, so there was no sharp distinction between colonizers and those whose lands had fallen under Russian control. Populations were categorized primarily by religion and later by class or nationality. Official documents had no category to indicate breed.

Soviet Russia promoted a social utopia based on equality. State policy sought to promote a single national identity, emphasizing an anti-racist image. African-American writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and WEB Du Bois saw the Soviet Union as a model for black equality, Avrutin said.

“But by rejecting the premise that an individual can belong to multiple identities, the state classification system prepared people to see the world in unambiguous racial terms,” he wrote.

At the end of the 19th century, Russia included many ethno-racial groups. Although race plays no role in determining a person’s rights, group prejudice has created divisions against East Asians, Poles and especially Jews, Avrutin said.

“There were many commonalities between anti-Jewish thought and anti-Asian prejudice. Fears of occupation, economic domination and entrapment, legal controls and population decline have all caused daily violence and discrimination both in the far western frontier regions (towards Jews and Poles) and in the far eastern periphery (toward the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese),” he wrote.

Under Putin, “a significant change occurred in the way ethnic Russians perceived themselves and the world around them: not only in terms of national historical symbols, myths and legends, but also through the prism of race and whiteness,” Avrutin wrote. “A society that was largely colorblind had become increasingly aware of the role whiteness played in determining social status.”

In recent years, ideas operating on the margins of society have moved into acceptable discourse. “The rise in whiteness has occurred against the backdrop of a conservative turn in Russian politics and society: the normalization of sexism and homophobia in popular consciousness, the strengthening of ‘traditional family values’ and the regulation of family and reproductive behavior,” Avrutin wrote.

“There is no doubt that Putin’s authoritarian policies allowed white militarism to flourish. Putin’s administration not only supported Europe’s far-right – notably supporting the activities of the National Front in France – but provided a model for white nationalist rule around the world,” Avrutin said.

Contemporary Russia has seen an upsurge in racial violence and xenophobic attitudes. Several factors, including the uneven economic recovery and concerns over an influx of migrants from Russia’s southern border, have contributed to racial conflict, Avrutin said.

Between 1992 and 2006, more than 11 million people migrated to the Russian Federation from post-Soviet states, with the share of ethnic Russians steadily decreasing. In 2000, about 4.5 million undocumented migrants, mainly from Central Asia and the Caucasus, resided in Russia.

Discriminatory attitudes based on race became a reality for anyone who did not look typically Russian. “By the time Putin began his third term as president, most ethnic Russians had no problem drawing distinct lines between themselves and populations commonly referred to as ‘black,'” Avrutin said.


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