This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Joshua Tartakovsky is an Israeli-American independent journalist who writes frequently for progressive publications. He is a graduate of Brown University and LSE. Written for Russia Insider.
The Guardian newspaper can hardly be characterized as a "new right" journal, championing British imperialism abroad and anti-immigration policies at home.
When it comes to Russia and ethnic Russians, however, it peddles racism and stereotypes towards Russians whose sole vice is their ethnicity.
Take for example the Guardian’s recent article from October 4, on the rise of an ethnic Russian politician in Latvia and on the potential political power of ethnic Russians there. The article “Latvians fear elections could let Kremlin in by back door” begins by claiming that recent events in Ukraine “have set alarm bells ringing for the country's politicians and increased suspicions about Latvia's large ethnic Russian minority.” No additional sentence is provided below to express caution or reservation.
Would it be acceptable if the Guardian would have reported on “increased suspicions about England’s large Jewish or Arab minority” without expressing an additional caution on the irrationality of such suspicions or at the very least the danger of stereotyping a large ethnic group who are citizens of a given country?
Only later in the article do we learn that many ethnic Russians who are citizens of Latvia cannot vote since they did not take certain language and history exams. However, the political power of ethnic Russians is still feared, as they may be a fifth column serving the Kremlin.
The next paragraph makes the highly dubious claim that Moscow is responsible for the bloodshed in East Ukraine while not providing any evidence for this and ignoring the fact that it is the Ukrainian army and irregular extreme right-wing armed forces who have been bombarding civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk.
The case of Nil Ushakov, Riga’s mayor who also happens to be ethnically Russian is then introduced. The Guardian explains that Ushakov’s Harmony Party may pose a challenge to Latvia’s center-right coalition but that he will most likely be kept out as other political parties will unite for that purpose. The Guardian clarifies however that “the fear among many Latvians is that, if Ushakov's party ever formed a government, it could lead to increased influence for the Kremlin.”
One could just imagine the Guardian running a similar line stating that the election of a Jewish person in the UK could lead to increased influence of the Zionist lobby, or of a person from a Saudi origin to increased influence of Saudi Arabia and OPEC. However, in this case, as has been the case with anti-semitism throughout the centuries and with Islamophobia today, ethnic Russians are viewed not only with irrational fears but as ones who operate in a cunning ways in the dark and cannot be trusted.
Ushakov is then condemned for his refusal to criticise Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, as if his loyalty must be determined before he can be given legislative power. Similarly, Ushakov’s support for making Russian an official language in Latvia is criticised strongly.
Although the article concludes by quoting a member of the Latvian government that Ushakov is a reasonable politician and that the Latvian government has erred in alienating its ethnic Russian population by taking an extreme right-wing stance, the initial subtitle of the article stated that “Riga's young mayor was seen as the politician who might unite the country, but the ethnic Russian's refusal to condemn the annexation of Crimea has raised eyebrows” therefore reinforcing Russophobia and a negative characterization of ethnic Russians as somehow different from others who do not possess legitimate interests and who must be viewed with suspicion.
It is quite unfortunate that while one can and should criticise any government, including the Russian government, when necessary, one’s ethnicity is raised as a legitimate concern by a progressive newspaper.
Russophobia has become mainstream in the west, with Russians serving as the new Jews or Muslims, due to the unproven assumption that their loyality is always questionable, that they may be serving other countries' interests and that they may be operating in the shadows.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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