Volgograd Forum, March 1, 2002

WANTED: MORE TOLERANCE!

Unexpectedly, the past Winter Olympics have again revived an anti-American sentiment, which we almost started to forget over the last half-year. Never since the NATO intervention in former Yugoslavia have I heard so much Cold War rhetoric as in the course of the last two weeks.

Two years ago, though, NATO air raids over Serbia were discussed mostly by those interested in international politics. Now TV coverage of the Olympics drew a much larger audience, so its ups and downs became the talk of the streets and had far wider repercussions.

Remarkably, though critical arrows in most individual cases were aimed at to my mind, deservedly the multi-national IOC, the comments in the mass media and in the streets somehow transformed into anti-American thrusts.

Emotions ran high. A popular Russian satirist crossed with the red pen the multiple US entrance visa in his passport in front of TV cameras, saying he would never go to the United States again.

Judging by what I read in the Internet sites of US and other countries' mass media such attitude was not confined to Russia alone.

I find this disturbing. It would be too simple to wave such manifestations away, ascribing them to the extreme nationalism or the envy of America. 

I agree with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post who writes "Americans are kidding themselves if they don't pay attention to that message, and the larger meaning of it, that some allies and rivals alike feel bullied." ("Peaceful Games, Cold War Sentiment", washingtonpost.com, Monday, February 25, 2002).

I guess the US Administration starts to understand this as it considers seriously to open new offices in Pentagon and the State Department intended to influence public opinion and policy makers overseas and create a more positive image of America.

Unfortunately, competition between individual athletes at Olympic Games turned into rivalry among nation states. As a national Russian newspaper put in a headline paraphrasing the words of the Olympic anthem, "O Sport, You Are War". 

I do not know what to do about it but as long as such order remains there will be incidents like that.

Meanwhile at the last FSF meeting, which was held on February 28, we also dealt with inter-ethnic hatred and manifestations of it in the Russian mass media.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the turmoil in a not-far-away Chechnya ethnic non-Slavic communities in Volgograd started to grow quickly. We have now large Azerbaijani, Chechen, Armenian and other ethnic communities. As their number grew, ethnic strives between Russians and non-Russians became more often. In some cases they were instigated by some local media outlets, which published biased stories about newcomers. To address such issues the Volgograd Governor established some months ago a Committee on Ethnic Affairs. Its head called me recently saying that leaders of Volgograd ethnic minorities would like to organize a panel discussion between them and editors of local media outlets where the former could air their grievances against the latter. 

It was pleasant for us, of course, that the FS Forum was again selected as the platform for discussion of an important public issue, so we agreed. It took place on February 28 at the office of the Volgograd Writers' Union.

It was an interesting, though at times, heated panel which lasted and it has been a record so far for two and a half hours. I simply could not stop the discussion because each side wanted to add one more argument. The panelists were Deputy Head of the Committee on Ethnic Affairs Alexei Suslov, Chairperson of the Volgograd Union of Journalists Tatiana Davydova, leaders of the local Armenian, German, Gypsy and Jewish minorities.

The discussion skipped from whether it was appropriate to write that the arrested drug trafficker was a Gypsy to a more serious accusation why a local anti-Semitic newspaper was not banned by a court order.

A footage on the Forum was already shown on local TV and I expect more comments in the printed media.

 I am glad that we organized that discussion for the first time in this city. Volgograd is becoming multi-ethnic and it is important to educate its citizens in the spirit of tolerance.

Alexander Yevreinov
Director, Volgograd Free Speech Forum
 

 


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