The campaign to “Stop Racism” in St. Petersburg

From the 15th to 23rd of March, education was provided about the “Stop Racism” campaign, as part of the International Week of Educational Action. The objective of the campaign is to unite different groups and forces of society: NGOs, civic initiatives, public education socio-cultural institutions, Diasporas, and concerned citizens who wish to demonstrate that it is possible to live and work together without discrimination.

Through civic initiative and the teamwork of peoples, organizers wanted to demonstrate successful examples of interaction, and spark a public discourse about our society and recognize those who have been marginalized.

The campaign offered two introductory courses from the International School of Human Rights and Civic Action. Vitus Media and Tatiana Vershinina led the seminars, which discussed the concepts of human rights, their basic properties, and how human rights differ from other rights. The pair also invited attendees to participate in other programs offered by the School.

Also, a round table discussion on “Xenophobia and Right-Wing Radicalism in St. Petersburg: How can the State and Society Help” was held at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences of St. Petersburg State University. At the round table, the analytical center “SOVA” presented its report “A Primordial Shrug: Xenophobia and Racism in 2013.” The event was attended by a member of “Citizens Watch,” Boris Romanov.

A four hour training course “Mirror of Another: Scorched Masculinity” took place on March 18th. The discussion focused on the connection between traditional masculine socialization and xenophobia and the creation of the image of the other. This practice can cause tension and without reflection and awareness can cause aggression against one another, often taking the form of sexism, racism, lookism, homophobia, transphobia etc. The training included several related units fostered heated debates about the nature of masculinity, its limitations, and what about its role in modern society.

On March 19th an open lecture was held by a PhD candidate of historical Sciences, Dmitry Dubrovsky, on “Culture against Xenophobia? Critical notes on the role of Culture in Combating Racism and Discrimination.” The lecture discussed important emerging issues such as the challenges of multiculturalism and the perverse understanding of the concept of tolerance exclusively as “love and friendship of peoples.”

During the speech the lecturer shared his opinion of tolerance in Russia, namely, that tolerance is not associated with human rights. The lecturer also analyzed state programs on tolerance, primarily those aimed at helping migrants adapt. During the lecture, participants were forced to think critically about common beliefs about migrants, such as they are “peddlers of other cultures,” and other beliefs that are popular in nationalist circles and even in some media institutions.

The next day, the intercultural concert “Dove of Peace” took place. The concert included participants from Ukraine, China, Russia, Congo, Rwanda and the Ivory Coast. Participants were able to share their countries’ cultures to the public. During the performances, the artists played with the audience and gave lessons in African song and dance. During the event, an exhibition of “Respect” comics took place in the corridor. Those interested were able to create their own peace doves and Chinese calligraphy.

On the 21st of March we held a viewing and discussion of Mikhail Romm’s film Ordinary Fascism (1965). In the beginning of the film psychologist Kirill Fedorov discusses a series of psychological mechanisms and phenomena upon which, fascist regimes are built. Examples indentified by social psychologists include, “The Lucifer Effect,” “The Eyewitness Effect,” “The Foot in the Door Effect,” and phenomena that address conformity and obedience. In the words of prominent human rights activist Andrei Yurov: “Within each of us, there dwells a little fascist.” We must be aware of this inner fascist and be able to control it. After the viewing, there was a discussion led by Igor Kochetkov, a sociologist and historian, a member of the human rights council of St. Petersburg, and Chairman of the Russian LGBT network. At the end of this discussion, participants came to the conclusion that exploiting psychological mechanisms and phenomena in society can artificially form a “majority” and the common conviction among this majority to obey.

Additional Information:

The international “Stop Racism!” week is held in many cities around the world and associated with the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination on March 21st. On this day in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people during a peaceful protest in Sharpsville, South Africa against the state’s oppressive apartheid laws. In 1996 the day was recognized by the General Assembly of the UN, which called upon the international community to double its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination (resolution 2142 (XXI).

Campaign Organizers in St. Petersburg: “Citizens Watch,” “The Youth Human Rights Movement,” “The Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg,” “African Unity,” “Children of St. Petersburg,” and “The Youth Council of the Narva District.”