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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Columnist encounters theft, bias”

    After being in Russia for one month, two predicted things have finally happened: I was robbed, and I met a group of Russian white supremacists.

    First, a little on the latter.

    For some reason, there has been a recent, world-wide resurgence of neo-Nazism. In addition to that unfortunate phenomenon, Russia is notable for its generally “”conservative-minded”” population. Euphemisms aside, many people here are racist, and openly so.

    Seriously, Russians are not afraid to throw around their equivalent of the “”n-word,”” speak freely about stereotypes, and hold many antiquated views on any non-Russian. For the most part, however, this side of Russian culture remains underneath the facade, and, obviously, does not apply to everyone. Generally speaking, it is the older generation that is less forgiving, but even in that hardly-excusable case, racism does not surface here with much frequency.

    Of course, that is not always the case. Occasionally, and unfortunately, you will meet someone ignorant, frightening and brash enough to voice their opinion. And who happens to be young. In this case, I am talking about white supremacists.

    I will give you a little description of what happened.

    To begin, I should tell you that it was on a holiday called “”Maslenitsa,”” celebrated March 1, as a funeral or effigy for winter. Many people get together, eat Russian pancakes, drink and burn little straw people in a giant effigy as a representation of the death of winter and the coming of spring.

    I was sitting in a small cafe in a town on the Gulf of Finland, two hours north of St. Petersburg. I was eating pancakes with a few friends, when a man and his friends (two men and two women) came to our table and asked us if we were American. Once we said yes, he attempted to explain, in very broken English, the source of America’s economic crisis. At this, I laughed in his face. Although I couldn’t quite understand him, I knew he was saying something sweeping and broad. After a while of talking, he stated simply, bluntly and with shocking confidence, that black people and Barack Obama, were to blame for America’s economic crisis. In one clear moniker, he illustrated his pathetic psychology: “”white pride, worldwide.””

    I would like to say that I stood up, shouted and ran him out, that I insulted him, made a fool out of him, or stood behind my own opinions. But the truth is, I was so completely taken aback that I said nothing for the remainder of the conversation. I believe he got the point that I had nothing left to say, and left shortly after.

    For the rest of the celebration, I avoided him.

    After this incident, I have been thinking much more frequently about racism, both abroad and in America. In America, you will find racism, but you will have to look, you will have to unturn cultural stones, and you will have to pry. In Russia, you will not. To say which is worse would be a matter of much debate, and, in all honesty, something that is probably not possible to determine as a white, middle-upper class, male. That being said, I think there is something much more dangerous about veiled opinions.

    Now, on to being robbed.

    It wasn’t like I was held up, by knife or gun, and forced to turn over my belongings. And it wasn’t (I am guessing here) by some shady, downtrodden, thief. I am ashamed to admit, that it was entirely my fault. I left my coat on the back of a chair in a cafe, went to the bathroom, and, although the table I was sitting at still had four people present, had my wallet promptly stolen. It took me a few hours to realize that it was gone, and once I did, attempting to ask the workers of the cafe if they had seen anything was nearly as frustrating as losing the wallet itself.

    Amidst all of the confusion of losing money and credit cards (not my passport thankfully) the two petty knaves (who I guess stole it) rode around town (according to my deduction) with my money, eventually throwing out what they didn’t need on Vasilevsky Island, nearly five miles from where they stole it. By chance, a woman who has a daughter in South Carolina, found my CatCard and a few other pieces of identification in a dilapidated car, and decided that because she had a daughter traveling, she must find the poor soul whose IDs were laying on the ground. In an unprecedented turn of events, according to my resident director, the woman called the dorm, informed them that she had a students information, and offered to let me come over and retrieve it. Of course I did, and thanked her as best as I could in broken Russian, and although I regained nothing necessary to my survival here, it was nice to know that someone in the city wouldn’t have access to my information, or to the ILC after midnight.

    Without a doubt, Russia is a curious place. Some absolutely love it, saying it is a wonderful place with a bad reputation, others hate, saying that it is a terrible place with an accurate reputation, but the conclusion that I have begun to make ð- after only one month mind you – is that it is neither. It is certainly a mix; both good and bad, both sweeping generalization and accurate representation, and both fun and misery exist here.

    Of course, this is like every city in the world. But unlike every city in the world, St. Petersburg is its own mixture, a city attempting to remove the bonds of criminality and poverty and one attempting to enter into the realm of first-world civilization.

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