Is Russia really racist, homophobic and extremist?

The news tells us: Russia is racist and homophobic. Is this true – or is the Western media portraying Russia in a certain way?





Is Russia racist?

Racism is prejudice and/or discrimination against someone of a different race. It’s the belief that your own race is superior to others. A study by the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia found that around 70% of Russians hold negative feelings about people of another ethnicity.

Back in 2009 research by the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis found that the number of victims of racist attacks had actually dropped for the first time in six years. However, the centre stated that “xenophobic violence remains alarming in its scope and extends over most of the Russian regions, affecting hundreds of people.”

In recent years many articles in the media have expressed concern about an increase in racist activity in Russia. The most recent example gaining a lot of media attention related to a football game. Emmanuel Frimpong is a footballer from Ghana in Africa, who plays for Arsenal. Frimpong claims he heard racist chants and monkey noises when playing against the Russian team Spartak Moscow. Not cool.

This isn’t just an isolated incident. Anti-discrimination group the Fare Network released a report on racist activity in Russian football. They list 99 racist displays in Russian football from 2012 to 2014, and 21 incidents of violence linked to racism. The Fare Network say these figures are “far from exhaustive”. It adds that they can “only be indicative of a wider problem”. Meaning that in reality things are probably a lot worse.

Many people believe Russia should not be allowed to host the football World Cup in 2018 due to this recent racist behaviour. The obvious question: why are things so bad?


Russia is all “united” now, but against who?

Russia - Extremist, Homophobic and Racist. President Vladimir Putin with a gun

Russian nationalism: President Putin’s “macho” image is all about portraying a strong Russia

Russia’s President Putin leads the United Russia political party. When he came into power in 2000, the country was not in the best of places. It had suffered a financial crisis in 1998 when the Russian stock market collapsed. The Washington Post describes how Putin, facing opposition from other parties, needed “an ideology of power” to inspire the country.

This new ideology included the values of nationalism and patriotism. Basically: Russia is the best, and we are becoming stronger.

Patriot Park is a good example of this “pro-Russia” approach. It’s a “military Disney-land” where families can explore military vehicles and weapons. Yes, a theme park for Russian military strength. You can’t make this stuff up.

Extreme nationalism is sometimes described as a far-right ideology. Extreme racist views are also described this way. The Fare Network believes that the rise in racism can be linked to the spread of a new far-right ideology, found in Russian football supporters in the late 1990s. It’s worth saying that not all far-right ideas lead to racist activity.

According to the Fare Network “the situation inside [football] stadiums reflects societal developments coinciding in certain periods with rise in nationalist rhetoric of the government.”

What this means: racist behaviour is on the rise and this could have a link to increases in patriotic and nationalist language used by the government.

Putin’s nationalist language seems to be working. The Pew Research Centre reports that the percentage of Russians with a very favourable image of their own country has risen from 29% in 2013 to 63% today.

However, Putin’s nationalism may not be to blame for an intolerance of diversity. Historian and journalist James Pearce believes racist attacks across Russia could simply be a response to what Russians see as a failure to integrate into their society. “Russians are also still ‘adjusting’ to foreigners, many have never even met one.”



Is Russia homophobic?

LGBT activists were attacked during an action "Day of Kisses" against a homophobic bill that would prevent "non-traditional sexual relations propaganda among minors", aka the "gay propaganda ban" in front of the State Duma in Moscow, Russia.   Москва. Акция активистов ЛГБТ сообщества "День Поцелуев" против приниятия гомофобного закона у ГосДумы в Москве закончилась избиениями активистов и задержаниями.

Is Russia homophobic? LGBT activists under attack in Moscow

Homophobia is the hatred or fear of homosexuals.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, yet many gay Russians hide their true sexuality. They fear what might happen if they’re discovered.

Polling company Levada Center discovered 37% percent of Russians think homosexuality is a disease which needs to be cured.

An article in GQ is just one of many which details violent attacks on members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Gay pride rallies are often hijacked by extreme homophobic groups. It has also been reported that homophobic groups trick gay men into meeting for a date then film the torture of their victim and post the footage online.

When many people celebrated the legalisation of gay marriage in America by changing their online profile pictures to a rainbow flag, many Russian users changed their picture to the Russian national flag. The Russian version of SIRI, the iPhone personal assistant, got caught making homophobic comments. The “system error” which led to this was corrected.

The Fare Network report points out that “although the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community are not the primary target of discriminatory abuse inside [football] stadiums, these spaces remain ‘no-go’ areas for them.”

Again, this isn’t just about football. This video seems to make a point in evidencing that even basic public displays of affection between a gay couple could be problematic;


Further evidence

New laws are making it more and more difficult for Russians to express their sexuality.

Is Russia homophobic? Gay activist Kirill Kalugin has been arrested several times for protesting for gay rights

Is Russia homophobic? Gay activist Kirill Kalugin has been arrested several times

In 2012 the city of Moscow banned gay pride events. Was this ban for the year? No, it was for the next ONE HUNDRED years. The government said Pride events would spread disorder and that people living in the city didn’t want it. It’s not clear what they plan to do when the 100 year ban expires.

Then a 2014 law banned educational material about homosexuality for under 18s. The exact wording of the new law was:

“Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.”

Educating kids about homosexuality would mean you are guilty of breaking the law. Russians who break the law face a 5,000 rouble fine (£50). The penalty is even worse for schools at 500,000 roubles (£5000). Foreigners can also face a fine, jail time for up to 15 days, and even get kicked out of the country. Way to kill the mood, Russia.


Religious Values?

Is Russia Homophobic? Group shot of the band Pussy Riot

Feminist punk rock band “Pussy Riot” were arrested after protesting against President Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church

The Russian Orthodox Church is Russia’s largest religion. 90% of Russians say they are Orthodox (though 75% admit only attending church only once a year, or not at all).

Writer Andrew Kornbluth comments that Russian homophobia is “a psychological coping strategy”. It’s a response to “a distinct trauma: the long-ago disintegration of the same ‘traditional values’ that the homophobes profess to be defending.”

As we mentioned above, President Putin is attempting to revive traditional values of nationalism across Russia. Forbes Magazine describes how Putin noticed how the Russian Orthodox Church played a “useful role in boosting nationalism and the fact that it shared his view of Russia’s role in the world”.

Putin strengthened the Church’s role in Russian society. The Church now teaches religion in Russian schools and is able to review legislation going before the Russian parliament. So, what are they teaching?

Is Russia homophobic? Protesters from the Russian Orthodox Church at a Gay Pride event in Moscow, 2010

Protesters from the Russian Orthodox Church at a Gay Pride event in Moscow, 2010

Recently Putin praised the Russian Orthodox Church for inspiring a “spirit of patriotism” in young Russians and for preserving Russia’s “rich cultural and historical heritage and in reviving eternal moral values”.

These moral values don’t seem to include homosexuality. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says that gay marriage is “a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom” and that every effort should be taken to make sure “sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law.”

President Putin’s push for a patriotic Russia isn’t to blame for Russian homophobia, but the power of the Russian Orthodox Church over Russia probably isn’t helping matters. As for the church, they believe they are protecting traditional moral values.

Speaking out against Putin and the Church will get you into trouble. Feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot often incorporate LGBT themes into their work. In 2012 they performed a song “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” This act of protest against President Putin was performed in a Russian Orthodox cathedral.  Members of the band were arrested; the head of the Church said they were doing the work of the devil. Not exactly constructive criticism.


2) The flip side: Does Russia have a problem, or is the media wrong?


Whose side are you on?

Screenshot of the Guardian asking "Is Western media biased towards Russia?"

Is Western media biased towards Russia?

Western media has got a little fixated with Russia. But is the media biased against Russia? This year the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies launched a “mass media hostility index”. Sounds ominous; it’s actually quite clever. It measures the anti-Russia bias in the media, and aims to identify which countries are bad-mouthing Russia.

According to the study, throughout 2014 Western media increased its “anti-Russian propaganda”. The brains behind the study called this the start of an “information war” against Russia.

Of course, 2014 was the year Russia nicked a patch of land called the Crimea from Ukraine. Western countries especially, were not impressed by this. So, it might be no surprise that our media started bashing Russia for what it considers an illegal takeover. But, there are always two sides to every story.


Extreme Russia?

This year the British presenter and DJ Reggie Yates traveled to Russia to film a documentary series: Extreme Russia. It covered the rise in Russian nationalism, homophobia and the modelling industry.


The documentary was praised for exploring the rise of extremism in Russia. Not everyone was a fan, though. Journalist and historian James Pearce wrote an article claiming that the documentary series only showed one side of the story.

Pearce wrote, “in simple terms, what Reggie Yates has done, is play on an existing prejudice and told a British audience ‘this is Russia’; a country full of neo-Nazi’s, homophobes and child models.”

According to Pearce the documentary showed off “the worst sides of some extremist groups” and did not explore why these groups have grown in popularity.

We asked him where he thinks the current racist and homophobic stereotypes come from. He believes it stems from small truths being blown out of proportion. “In Russia, it is not a crime to be homosexual – in India it is and seven African nations have the death penalty for it, yet people don’t seem to be discussing this… Moscow has gay clubs, as does St Petersburg. This isn’t to say homophobia is non-existent but by and large, Russia remains a conservative society.”

According to Forbes Magazine, Russia sees itself as “neither Western nor Asian, but rather a unique society representing a unique set of values which are believed to be divinely inspired.”

Pearce quotes Russian filmmaker Andron Konchalovskiy who said “It’s too bad we’re not blue, green or purple. That way they’d [the West] get off our backs… The West expects us to act like they act. They go after us all the time. Do you know why? It’s because we look like them. If we looked different they’d get off our backs.”

Pearce also argues that countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not receive as much criticism for being undemocratic or living up to western standards. Do we think Russia should act like a Western country, because the Russians look like us? “Many Russians believe this is the problem too. Russians look like Westerners but in fact they’re not. They’re different.”

So, what we see in the media could be biased against Russia. It just confirms stereotypes we already have. If we’re hating on Russia for being “backwards” what about all the other countries that could be accused of the same thing?


What’s next for Russia?

We contacted the Russian embassy to find out their views on the report into racist activity; but so far haven’t heard back.

Yuri Boychenko (chief of anti-discrimination at the United Nations) believes that to stop racist behaviour the Russian government must understand how bad the problem is. “First comes recognition; that authorities here should recognise that there is a problem and I believe that the recognition is coming.”

But for the moment it seems Russia needs some positive press, to allow people to move past the stereotypes.



Is Russia racist and homophobic? Extreme Russia with Reggie Yates can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

When is a Hate Crime not a Hate Crime? When it’s a Terrorist Act…

OK, what’s a Hate Crime?

The organisation Stop Hate UK defines a “Hate Crime” as a crime “motivated by hostility or prejudice towards any aspect of a person’s identity”

These aspects can include; Race, Disability, Faith, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. Why can’t people just learn to get along?

So, can a racist attack be a Hate Crime?

The difference between Racism and a Hate Crime. A black woman holds up a sign saying "Racism"

Doesn’t matter if it’s Racism or a Hate Crime. Just don’t.

For an act to be classed as a Hate Crime it has to break criminal law.

So if a physical attack is made because of a person’s skin colour, yes, it is a hate crime because the law has been broken.

However if a racist comment is made, it may be categorized as a Hate Incident.

If the police decide no law has been broken then it’s defined as an incident not a crime, but still motivated by hate.

Even though no laws are broken, you’ll still get in trouble. If reported to police they would still record this as a Non Crime Incident. Sorry, there’s no escape for being a racist.

What’s the difference between a Hate Crime and a Terrorist Attack?

The difference between a Hate Crime and Terrorism

Quite a big difference, actually.

Terrorism; the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Terrorism causes harm to life, buildings and infrastructure, resulting in fear within communities. If acts of terror specifically target a certain group within recognised hate crime strands (Disability, Faith, Gender Identity, Race or Sexual Orientation) then you could define these as Hate Crimes.

In an interview with Professor Steve Dilks from the University of Missouri-Kansas City states; that Terrorist attacks are often planned attacks to draw attention to a political cause, rather than a spontaneous attack for personal reasons. Terrorist attacks are often part of a larger plan.

Even when Hate Crimes are committed by a group, the aim is usually to send a message to people of a certain race, sexuality or gender, not make a specific political point.

For example;

In 1999 bombings in Soho, London; targeted the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender community (LGBT). Because the attacks targeted the LGBT community and ethnic minorities specifically this could be classed as a Hate Crime.

However the bomb set off by the rebel group the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre in 1996, was an Act of Terrorism. This is because it wasn’t aimed at a specific group of people; it was designed to scare and injure as many people as possible, and to make a political statement.

The Small Print: the definition of a Hate Crime is based on perception. Any incident or crime could be reported as being hate motivated by the victim or any other person. Some might argue the IRA attack could be interpreted as a Hate Crime against all British people.

So, can a terrorist attack be a hate crime? Potentially, though usually the motivations behind the attack make it one or the other. Basically, neither is very nice.

Why are we talking about this?

Hate Crime

Does the media report some Hate Crimes differently?

Yesterday in South Carolina, America; a white man opened fire on an African-American church, leaving nine people dead. The church’s pastor Senator Clementa Pinckney is among the dead.

At the moment very few details are known. The police have arrested a suspect, Dylann Roof and are investigating the incident as a Hate Crime.

On social media some people are already commenting on how the media is reporting this incident. Many people think that because the shooter was white, the media will report differently than they would if he was of another ethnic group.

What are people saying?

South Carolina, Hate Crime, Reaction on Twitter


What we learned; Haters gonna hate, we hate all crime, but it has to break the law to be classed as a Hate Crime.

Does the media report Hate Crimes differently if a white person is involved? Is doing that actually a Hate Crime itself?

Don’t be hatin’

Like, Share and Subscribe. Sign up to our weekly news explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

Baltimore Riots Explained: How To Start A Riot

Baltimore Riots – what’s going on? Remember when we reported that people were majorly unhappy about police related deaths of black men in America and were causing riots in protest?  Well, it just got a whole lot worse.


What’s The Story?


Freddie Gray was a 25 year old black American. On 12th April 2015 he was arrested in Baltimore, Maryland. One week after being arrested, he died from serious injuries to his spinal cord. We don’t know what caused these injuries. Now protests over his death have turned violent and Baltimore has declared a state of emergency.

As Scenes of Reason described this is not just happening in Baltimore

Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Oscar Grant III are just some of the many black males killed by white police officers throughout various states across America. Each of their deaths have triggered protests and in some cases, riots.

And it’s happened here in the UK as well. Remember the London riots in 2011?

29 year old Mark Duggan was shot by the cops. A peaceful protest turned riots spread across the city, and looting also occurred in other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.




Riot Step 1: Use excessive force, arrest and or shoot people for an unclear reason


It’s not clear why Freddie Gray was chased by the police, and it’s also NOT KNOWN why he ran away from them.

In South Carolina earlier this year Walter Scott was shot in the back – he was originally pulled over for having a broken headlight on his car. Footage showed he was unarmed and running away.

Cleveland 2014: 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot within two seconds of police arriving. Police were responding to reports of a youth with a gun described as “probably fake”. It was a fake.

New York 2014: Mobile Phone footage captures the moment Eric Garner was put into choke hold by cops. Garner is heard to say “I can’t breathe” repeatedly. He later died in hospital.


Eric Garner is put into a choke-hold leading to protests similar to the Baltimore Riots

The moment Eric Garner was put into a chokehold. Like the Baltimore Riots, the aggression towards black males by the police has sparked protests


Missouri 2014: Despite being unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer.

California 2009: 22 year old Oscar Grant III was shot by a white police officer whilst being restrained by other officers.
Is it just about race? Is the problem the excessive force used by the police? Some people seem to think the two are linked.



Baltimore Riots Step 2: Get caught on camera doing something you shouldn’t


Baltimore Riots: It’s not known how Freddie Gray sustained the spinal injuries which lead to his death. Video footage shows Gray crying out in pain as he is put into the van by police. Investigators are still trying to work out what happened in the 45 minutes between Gray last being seen and his arrest.

In the cases of Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Oscar Grant III footage from mobile phones, CCTV and police dashboard cameras often contradicted the police’s official version of events:

Every time this happens it adds to a sense of growing anger at the authorities who are accused of corruption.



Riot Step 3: Protect your own and shift the blame


Baltimore Riots: 6 police officers HAVE been suspended…… but on full pay. The Police Commissioner Anthony Batts has said he won’t resign over the incident. I guess they don’t feel responsible then…

In the case of Eric Garner and Michael Brown the police officers involved were not charged.

Similarly in 2011 in the UK: the officers involved in the shooting of Mark Duggan (the incident said to have sparked the London riots) were not charged.





Baltimore Riots Step 4: Declare an emergency and mobilize the army

Tear Gas is unleashed on protesters

A protester kneels as tear gas is used on rioters in the Missouri and Baltimore Riots

Baltimore Riots: Over the weekend a protest demanding answers began peacefully then turned ugly. It’s not clear where the violence started but it continued yesterday: 34 people were arrested, and at least 15 police officers have been injured.

Baltimore has now declared a state of emergency. A week-long curfew has been announced and schools will remain closed today.

In the UK, 2011: More than 3,000 people were arrested. At various points the use of water cannons and rubber bullets were discussed.

It’s naive to think that the police aren’t going to enforce law and order. However bringing more troops in and enforcing curfews does tend to rile people.



Riot Step 5: Use the Media to divide people


Newspaper Headline: We'll shoot the looters

A UK newspaper shows how incidents such as the Baltimore Riots are spun by the press

Use newspapers and press conferences to spin your version of events.

Analysis has shown that the amount of coverage given to black suspects on New York TV stations was higher than the amount of black people actually arrested for those crimes.

South Carolina 2015: Before the release of the video showing the killing of Walter Scott the press reports accepted the facts in the police report.

London, 2011: The Media played a large part in the events of 2011. Duggan was initially reported to be armed, and involved in drug dealing and gang related violence. All these claims are now disputed.


Then when the riots broke the press went to town: “Rule of the Mob” (The Daily Telegraph), “Mob Rule” (The Independent), “Mobs rule as police surrenders the streets” (The Times) were some of the headlines. Very helpful…

Whilst it’s not cool to use someone’s death as an excuse to nick a TV it’s been argued that media coverage made the situations like the Baltimore Riots a whole lot worse.



Riot Step 6: Use technology to organise


Mobile phones have played a part in the Baltimore Riots

Phones and Social Media were used to record events which led to the riots in Baltimore and London

In many cases the use of cameras in mobile phones has been key to challenging the authorities version of events. In Missouri 2014, Social media was used to display anger. Many people filmed the police as an act of defiance.



Social Media is now becoming the norm when it comes to organising events. And riots are no different.



London 2011: The original peaceful protest over Mark Duggan’s death was organised via Facebook. Then the Hackney Carnival was cancelled after posts on Twitter indicated there would be violence.
But most importantly Blackberry Messenger was used to co-ordinate the riots. A post on Messenger shown to The Guardian newspaper encouraged people to start looting shops.



So there you have it: Six steps to cause a riot. We don’t think rioting is cool, but people are obviously unhappy about something…

How do we stop this from happening? It’s a question becoming more and more urgent. Scenes of Reason hopes the next post we get to write is “How to prevent a riot (peacefully)”


Things we still want to know:


What is the ratio of white /black men killed in the USA?

It is reported that the US has had the most ethnic minority riots historically. Why?


Let us know what you think below.



Fight, Flight or Film – Are American Police Officers Racist?

Selfie sticks, video blogs, photo-bombs – is it now our first instinct to pick up a camera in every situation?  

Like it or not, this filming trend is very much the only way we can tell fact from fiction and has even had an effect on a recent murder case in the U.S… and may suggest that some American police officers are racist.



South Carolina, USA. Police Officer Michael Slager shoots a black man called Walter Scott.
Slager claims: Scott had tried to grab his taser weapon, and that he felt threatened.

The Issue: This isn’t the first time a black man has been shot by police in suspicious circumstances. Is America’s police force racist?




A video was then released, showing a whole different story. Scott is seen running away, unarmed, before being shot in the back by Slager.

The video appears to show Slager dropping an item by the dead body – and some are saying that the taser was planted near the body to suit the police’s version of events…

RIGHT NOW:  Michael Slager has been charged with the murder of Walter Scott.
A second video has been released, showing Scott being pulled over by Slager, for a broken headlight on his car and then fleeing the scene.




Oakland, California – 22 year old Oscar Grant III shot by white Police officer Johannes Mehserle as he lay defenceless on the ground. Many videos show Grant was already restrained by other officers when he was shot. Mehserle was charged with manslaughter, not murder, and was released in 2011.


Ferguson, Missouri – Unarmed black teenager Michael Brown shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson.  Wilson was not charged with murder and no video was taken to tell if this action was justified.

New York – Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by a New York cop. A video shows him saying “I can’t breathe”. The police officer was not charged.

Cleveland, Ohio – Tamir Rice, aged only 12, is shot by police responding to reports of a youth waving around a “probably fake” weapon. The weapon did indeed turn out to be fake. CCTV shows the shots being fired within seconds of the police’s arrival. The verdict is yet to be revealed.



These events and the many other similar killings of black people by white police officers all add to the ongoing debate about whether America’s justice system and police officers are racist. Cue: public outrage, riots, protest marches and campaigns for justice.

Increase in CCTV cameras and video technology in mobile phones: the public has been able to compare the police’s version of events to what they see in the videos. And they don’t like what they are seeing.



Michael Brown’s parents have campaigned for a law to make police officers wear body cameras, filming their actions and as a result of Walter Scott’s death many others support this move.

Some body cam studies suggest that they reduce police misconduct.

Due to the fact America is made up of different states, policed by 18,000 separate police agencies its unlikely police cameras will be rolled out throughout the whole country any time soon.


Is America’s police force racist?

Very hard to tell. What we do know is that several people are protesting across various states in America over what they see as racist behaviour.