I could not help noticing during my recent trips to Russia just how xenofobic some Russians continue to be.

Xenofobia in the past: In my experience, a fair amount of Russians have always been anti-semitic. This is constantly reflected in the day-to-day life and in Russian humour which can be quite cutting to Jewish people. Other minorities also get mocked. The amount of “Tatars”, “Chukchis” and “Armenians” jokes in the past used to be quite prolific. It might still be but I have not been following this closely. I’ll be surprised if this has changed.

Xenofobia lives on: However from what I have observed is that many are increasingly anti-semitic and now also strongly anti-“Southern nations”. The latter is a catch-all category for all ex-USSR republics of the far South, such as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Tadjikistan, etc. These days, a very large number of migrant workers come to work in Russia.

The unadulterated anti-Semitism seen today is explained by some as follows: “the Jews sold Mother Russia <to the West, to the Devil – delete as appropriate>”. Jews are blamed for having illegally acquired, for currently owning, and for “irresponsibly squandering” the whole country’s riches. When confronted to back up such strong claims, I have only heard one reply in return – just look at the oligarchs’s surnames, they are all Jewish-sounding.

The current feeling against “Southern nations” is also fairly endemic. They are suspected of all matter of evils – from petty theft and price increases to rape, and anything in between. These people are now referred to as “Talibs” in a clearly derogatory way – a transparent reference somehow likening them to the Taliban in Afganistan.

This shocking xenofobia even comes through on national TV, where for instance people were openly discussing that their kids going to the same class as kids from Azerbaijan was detrimental to the former in all sorts of ways, and needs to be prevented.

I’ve seen migrant workers being treated with open contempt by Russian youngsters. These workers take up the jobs that Russians would not want to do, you know the sort – sweeping the streets, painting railway stations and unloading trucks. But they are still treated like they are taking valuable jobs of the majority population.

Government stance: The government is only too happy with this attitude and since this is happening on state TV, I can only assume that this is quietly encouraged. What a great way to channel the frustrations of the people and deflect this away from the current government’s economic failings, authoritarian policies and self-isolating aggressive foreign policy. For the ruling government, there is no enemy within. The search for the “enemy with-out” is on as ever.

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