Mariya Tunkara, a biracial Russian blogger from St. Petersburg, posted on her social media account this week that officials from the local prosecutor’s office visited her to caution her against “spreading extremist materials.” She presumed this was prompted by a complaint against her recent social media video posts, in which she discusses the prevalence of racism in Russia. After she posted them, she was subjected to bullying and threats online.
I watched Tunkara’s videos and saw nothing inflammatory. In one of them, Tunkara, accompanied by the soundtrack “This is Russia, Bro,” responds to accusations of “whining about racism in Russia” by referring to hate crimes in St. Petersburg. She lists a few well-documented cases of violent hate crimes, including the 2006 murder of a Senegalese student, Lampsar Samba, just a few hundred meters from Tunkara’s home; the stabbing of a 9-year-old biracial girl, Lilian Sissoko, the same year; the 2004 killing of an 8-year-old Tajik girl, Khursheda Sultonova; and the regular beating of “foreign students for which nobody was held accountable.” In her subsequent five videos, Tunkara satirically responds to abuse she received following the first one, including allegations of reverse racism, comments on her skin color, and citations of the right-wing slogan, “Russia for [ethnic] Russians.”
I saw no trace of hate speech in her video. But there seemed to be plenty of it in viewers’ comments on different platforms, and the prosecutor’s office should certainly take a close look at them, if it hasn’t done so already. It’s deeply disturbing that instead of protecting Tunkara from the explicit racist threats directed against her, the authorities chose instead to send her a message that is hard to interpret as anything other than intimidation and harassment.
Following the murder of George Floyd in the US and the protests that ensued, there’s been an increase in media coverage about persistent xenophobia and racism in Russia. For years, experts have reported pervasive hate speech and hate crimes against non-Slavic-looking nationals, migrants, and other groups. Russian authorities should meaningfully address the problem of racism and xenophobia in society. The first step should be to stop their perverse practice of going after critics of the problem – and tackle the problem itself.