The print version of today’s Washington Post features an article in the sports section about Russians and visiting foreigners starting romantic flings during the World Cup, and the article has a curious, not-quite-accurate sub-headline: “The influx of foreigners creates both excitement and fear for a country unused to ethnic diversity.”
It’s not that Russia isn’t used to ethnic diversity; it’s a huge country, and it’s always had lots of people who looked different, spoke different languages, and had different beliefs and cultures. It’s really more accurate that a sizable chunk of the ruling majority doesn’t like ethnic diversity.
Today about 80 percent of Russian citizens are ethnically Russian; with almost 2 million Ukrainians, 5 million Tatars, about a million and a half Chechens, about a million and a half Turkic Bashkirs, about a million Armenians, and about 150,000 Jews.
But if many of today’s Russians have little contact with ethnic minorities . . . it’s partially because previous Soviet leaders put a lot of effort into arranging that! The involuntary resettlement of ethnic minorities in the early decades of the Soviet Union is a collection of horror stories, as the new Communist masters in Moscow forced entire populations from their homes with no warning and shoved them halfway across a continent, often wiping away all traces of the preceding culture.
The fall of Communism brought some marginal improvement, but Russia has rarely overflowed with warm and fuzzy appreciation of minority groups. Back in 2006, Amnesty International declared that racist killings in Russia were “out of control.” Back in 2014, Cody Boutilier wrote on NRO about his trips to Russia, finding “a deeply racist country that holds minorities in open contempt.”
(Update: Cody Boutilier has written us stating that he renounces the judgment of Russia and its people which he made in his 2014 NRO article. He no longer holds those previously expressed opinions.)
Starting that year, Vladimir Putin’s language started to become more ethno-nationalist, speaking about the ethnic-Russian heritage of places like Crimea and Kiev. Last summer, Putin complained that too many Russians felt obligated to learn to speak the language of ethnic minorities.
The story from Amie Ferris-Rotman, filed from Moscow, is a perfectly fine human-interest story focusing on a 20-year-old Russian student smitten with a visiting 25-year-old Mexican soccer fan, and Ferris-Rotman notes that some Russian voices are scornful and outraged that Russian women are cavorting with foreign men. Considering Russia’s history and prevailing attitudes, we really shouldn’t be surprised! The headline writer is the one who really dropped the ball, leaving the impression that Russians just hadn’t encountered minorities until the World Cup fans started arriving.