Anti-Russian hatred rises in Europe
And yet, angry messages fill his restaurant’s voicemail. “Russians are killers,” said one. “You are Putin’s Russians”, another accused.
Zimin, 50, is among those hit by a sudden and rising wave of anti-Russian sentiment in Europe. As governments moved to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin and punish oligarchs, while corporations demanded cultural figures – from hockey stars to opera singers — to denounce the war, Russian expatriates who have never had any sympathy for Putin and who are horrified by what is happening in Ukraine say they are facing a wave of generalized hostility.
“Across Europe, people who are not involved in the war are being targeted and removed from their jobs,” said Aleksandra Lewicki, a sociologist at the University of Sussex. “There is a clear sense of the enemy, it is Russians, of all backgrounds, who are targeted by racist hate crimes and derogatory comments.”
Rounding up all the Russians was a predictable “gut reaction,” Lewicki said. In the Western European imagination, the East has long been inferior, she says. “A lot of times these things are dormant, but then things happen like this moment of crisis, and then people start acting on those impulses instantly.”
Some people were quick to issue general condemnations in Central and Eastern Europe as well. In the Czech Republic, where people still remember the trauma of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, recent social media posts have suggested that Russian citizens “should be visibly marked, perhaps with a red star”. . The day after the invasion, a professor at the University of Prague wrote on Facebook that he would not teach or test Russian students. (He later deleted the post.)
Prime Minister Petr Fiala has denounced attacks on Russian children in Czech elementary schools, although he also defended his government’s decisions to stop issuing visas to most Russian nationals and to screen Russians already in the country.
Some shops and restaurants put up signs in Czech and Russian saying, “We will not serve Russian and Belarusian occupiers.” Others want Russian patrons to pass some sort of moral test. A sign in a restaurant in the Zizkov district of Prague declares: “Before I start paying attention to you, you must first declare that Putin and Lukashenko are mass murderers. Then you will apologize for them and show remorse. Only then will you be allowed to order.
Russian expats interviewed by The Washington Post universally pointed out that the abusive comments paled in comparison to what Ukrainians faced as victims of war. Russians living in Europe do not expect to be sent to camps like Japanese Americans were during World War II.
But several expats said they struggled with feelings of shame and were newly uneasy about their nationality.
“I don’t know if I should say I’m Russian these days,” said Julia Potikha, 28, who has lived in Germany since leaving Moscow aged six. She said she had not experienced recent discrimination, but she feared people would treat her differently or blame her for Putin’s invasion – which caused a seismic shift in German foreign policy.
“The [Russian] people are not part of the government and many do not support the war,” said Potikha, who volunteered to help Ukrainians. Her relatives in Russia, however, are Putin supporters, she said. Most of what they know comes from Russian television. On the phone, they didn’t want to talk about Ukraine.
russian photographer Alexander Gronsky, 41, has just seen an upcoming exhibition in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia cancelled. He said it was not because of his nationality per se, but “rather because the exhibition was organized in conjunction with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.”
“I completely understand, no one wants to collaborate with a terrorist state. This is part of the collateral damage of the war,” he said, adding that he hopes the “cultural bridges” between Europe and Russia will not crumble. “Not all Russians support Putin and the war,” he said.
Igor Pellicciari, professor of Russian politics at the University of Urbino in Italy, said that “the air is quite toxic for Russians now, because those who live here are constantly asked about the war, as if they had to to justify”.
On a recent night in London’s Trafalgar Square, protesters carried posters that read: “I am Russian. Sorry about that” and “Russians are against war”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to distinguish between the Russian regime and the Russian people. In a video posted to Twitter, Johnson, speak in russiansaid, “I don’t believe this war is in your name. »
Britain is home to at least 70,000 Russians, many of whom live in London, earning the British capital nicknames such as “Moscow-on-the-Thames” and “Londongrad”.
Not everyone feels targeted. Katia Nikitina, 37, a marketer from Russia, said none of her friends had blamed her for “a madman’s war”, as she described it. But she said she tried to explain to her British friends that more Russians would demonstrate against the war if it didn’t risk going to jail. More than 4,500 protesters were arrested on Sunday alone during anti-war demonstrations across Russia, according to the independent human rights organization OVD-Info.
In a global city like London, where hundreds of accents can be heard in “the tube”, a Russian speaker does not stand out. But places with a visible Russian connection were called during the invasion. Mari Vanna, an upscale Russian restaurant in Knightsbridge, garnered reviews on Google such as: “The food was excellent but unfortunately the war ruined our appetites.” A receptionist at another Russian restaurant in London, who asked not to be named for fear of further abuse, said his restaurant received 30 to 40 hateful messages a day, mostly from Brits and Americans. He forwards the worst to the police.
“Do you want to hear one? he asked before pushing the playback on a recording with a British accent that shouted: “Get out of our f—— country before we come to burn you you f—— scum .”
Chef Zimin, who has lived in Britain for six years, said it was not easy being Russian at the moment. He was talking to a Post reporter at his restaurant, which serves traditional Russian dishes like borscht and Russian honey cake and has a huge selection of infused vodkas. The staff came from many countries. One of the hosts was Ukrainian.
“Most people I know in London and Moscow are against the war,” he said. “We can’t stop being Russians, war or no war. We are Russians and we will continue to be Russians, but we are not Russians trying to kill our neighbors.
Zimin said there was a lot about his homeland he was proud of, but expressing that pride was not appropriate at the moment.
“We are a country of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky,” he said. “But not really for today.”
Bauerova reported from Prague, Rosenzweig-Ziff from Berlin and Pitrelli from Rome.