By Nick Strogov
St. Petersburg, a city known for hosting numerous international delegations, was the venue for the Russia-Africa Forum summit. Amidst the event, propagandists sought to demonstrate that Moscow was not as isolated as commonly believed. President Vladimir Putin made efforts to persuade the new partners that Russia takes an anti-colonial stance, setting itself apart from Western nations.
However, not only the ultra-conservatives but also many Russian oppositionists resorted to sarcasm, drawing inappropriate comparisons between the levels of backwardness of African residents and Russian officials. This behavior contrasts with their claim to uphold liberal values and be the hope for saving Russia from dictatorship and colonialism.
The second summit of the Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum took place in St. Petersburg on July 27-28, 2023, with official delegations from 48 countries in attendance. The forum’s slogan centered on “peace,” “security,” and “development,” highlighting these three components as essential for any country’s successful future, according to the organizers.
The official declaration issued after the summit emphasized the historically established friendly ties between Russia and African countries. It also addressed the fight against neo-colonialism, double standards, and neo-fascism, while underscoring Russia’s commitment to a fair world order and respect for sovereignty. The Russian authorities have been explaining the link between these postulates and the so-called special military operation in Ukraine for a year and a half. Once again, President Vladimir Putin reiterated this idea, expressing concerns about Western countries.
“The heart of the [Russian-Ukrainian] conflict lies in creating threats to Russia’s security from the United States and NATO. They, once again, refuse to negotiate on ensuring equal security for all, including Russia. Ukraine itself, or rather the current Ukrainian regime, also refuses to negotiate,” stated the president.
The most discussed aspects of the forum could center around the attempts of African leaders to convince Vladimir Putin to stop the conflict or at least resume the grain deal. Social media jokes may arise due to the president’s efforts to portray Russia’s new anti-colonial role and commitment to sovereignty, though the reality revealed a different perspective.
Of notable interest were the news surrounding the potential visit of the recent rebel, the head of Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, to the summit, as well as the verbal reservations expressed by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who mistakenly addressed the president as “Vladimir Vasilyevich” instead of “Vladimir Vladimirovich.” However, the primary subject of discussion remained focused on the guests’ skin color, outfits, and the standard of living of African inhabitants. Some members of the liberal elite also participated in verbal aggression.
Lack of Civilization
“In St. Petersburg, there is a grandiose meeting of African tribes. Russia is now a full participant in this celebration. The city is covered with proud slogans ‘Russia is Africa’,” noted the eminent reporter, publicist Alexander Nevzorov, who moved to Israel in 2022 and subsequently became a defendant in a criminal case in Russia due to criticism of the authorities. “Apparently, the search for a ‘peculiar’ geopolitical path of the Russian tribe is over. It has found its place in the company of real cannibals, voodoo fanatics, and lovers of raw cow blood.”
Alexander Nevzorov, a flamboyant oppositionist, is renowned for his forthright remarks. His eloquence as a journalist captivates a vast audience, who often overlook the occasional touch of sarcasm and anger, as they have become his signature style.
“The most conscientious civil servants of St. Petersburg sew plates into their lower lip. The National Guard battalion is learning the Maasai ‘dance of the jumping warriors’. The party nomenclature of the [ruling party] United Russia does not crawl out of the solariums, hoping to turn black in order to feel ‘at home’ at the all-African get-together… Putin, yearning for international life, wants to ‘push a speech’ before the tribes,” Alexander Nevzorov said. Later, however, he added that African leaders, following the results of the summit, nevertheless “showed a ‘civilization index’ significantly higher than that of the host sides.”
On social networks, users also pointed out alleged absences of certain Western features of civilization (apparently Western). The internet was flooded with memes featuring newfound black friends with inscriptions like “Wakanda forever.” Bloggers posted photos from the summit, showcasing individuals with gold teeth, copper rings around their necks, and dressed in long folk costumes, encouraging commentators to playfully mock the forum guests.
The economic situation on the continent was not spared from sarcasm either.
“Africa is a bottomless barrel: throw something into it – then say goodbye forever… It will be the same now. Billions [of money] will be sent to these wild African dictatorships, which will be immediately stolen there. And they will ask for more. And they will give more. Just so that Putin can talk about ‘friendly Africa’,” wrote Rustem Adagamov, one of the most famous Russian bloggers from the heyday of LiveJournal.
In the realm of liberal media and Telegram channels, particular attention was devoted to whether Russia would “feed Africa,” and to which leaders of African countries bore the nickname “Crocodile” or offered to ingest their political opponents.
Salvation of Russia
In the contemporary Russian discourse, little consideration appears to be given to the diversity of political regimes and income levels across African countries. Instead, local traditions are subjected to ridicule, and the relationship between Russia and Africa is often portrayed as a form of benevolent sexism, where the stronger entity is expected to support the weaker one.
Research on racism and colonialism in Russia remains limited, although studies on attitudes towards migrants have received more attention. Many believe that the suppression experienced at all levels of society serves as a diversion from the country’s underlying socio-economic issues. However, this point is just one aspect of the issue.
“Experiencing racism is part of everyday life for migrants living in Russia. Whether this is in interactions with the state, fear of persecution on the street by the police or in the workplace, it is a constant factor… A fundamental cause of attitude theses is the post-colonial relationships Russia has with other former members of the USSR,” researchers Irina Kuznetsova and John Round wrote back in 2019.
The majority of Russians were entrenched in a system that disregarded individuals with different skin colors, traditions, and values. This may explain why racism and the colonial mindset persist in today’s democratic environment, even among those who champion equality and human rights. Some believe that liberals will rescue Russia from dictatorship, but before that can happen, they must confront and eliminate the vestiges of colonialism within their own beliefs and attitudes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com.