The problem of othering…

A few years ago I was watching a BBC documentary about Moscow. The reporter was interviewing some young people in a coffee shop about life in the city. A thought struck me as I watched it – Moscow looked like any other European City. I do feel a bit dumb saying this because Moscow is a European City. With over 12million residents it is actually the most populous city in Europe.

It is a strange feeling to confront your own prejudices. I grew up in the 1980s when the USSR was an evil empire that we all equally feared or pitied. The world map in our school classroom had a massive pink bit where the USSR was. It was an amorphous blob; I knew nothing of Georgia, Kazakhstan or any of the other member countries of the USSR.

In the movies, Russians were portrayed as cold amoral automatons, not to be trusted. Rocky was not just fighting Ivan Drago, he was fighting for Western Civilisation. Even now sinister Russian billionaires are a staple of movies and TV shows. Belfast-born Kenneth Branagh has played the Russian billionaire bad guy not once but twice, in Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit and Tenet.

Old stereotypes are hard to shake off, much to the irritation of the Russian people. Such stereotypes as:

  • Everyone is in the Russian Mafia.
  • All Russians drink vodka.
  • Attractive women in Russia are dating scammers.
  • Russian ladies are hopelessly domesticated.
  • Russians keep bears as pets.
  • Russians never smile.

We treat war like a modern video game to be followed live on Twitter. But for me, the tragedy of the Russian invasion is the utter futility of it all. Young Russian soldiers sent to kill their former fellow-citizens is nauseating.

Thankfully the Russian people seem equally disgusted by it all: there have been many protest marches all over Russia. We can but pray and hope some sense prevails.

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