How Does ‘Hottentot Morality’ By Nikita Mikhalkov, Putin’s Fervent Admirer, Fit In With His Dislike Of Non-Whites? – OpEd


A new issue of Nikita Mikhalkov’s author program, Besogon TV, entitled “All is not gold that glitters” broadcasted on the air of Russia TV channel earlier last week. In it, the Oscar-winning Russian filmmaker who is also known as an ardent supporter of President Putin, turned to the theme of the recent protests in France, which have pulled in large numbers of young people and have been driven by longstanding grievances in the country’s more deprived suburbs.

After having showed footage of the riots in Paris and other French cities, he immediately began an angry commentary on the events in France. In doing so, the Russian filmmaker sprinkled insults in the address of the French governing elites and system of public administration. He called Emmanuel Macron a ‘miniscule president of the great France’. Nikita Mikhalkov expressed his outrage about the fact that the current occupant of the Elysee Palace had not come up with anything other than accusing social media platforms including Snapchat, TikTok and encrypted messenger Telegram of contributing to the riots following the June 27 fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old of North African descent. He said: “No one is coming up with the idea of facing the truth. And the truth is that you are cowards, you give out your helplessness [and lack of ability to cope with your problems] for tolerance and multiculturalism. Watch here, where this leads”

These words by Putin’s ardent supporter are followed by the shots where some young guys are shouting ‘Glory to Marocco!’, and insults against France and at the residents of Nice, as well as the shots where a crying woman says the following: “We are afraid. We face dangers every day! Every minute! They are bursting inward.  They are ready to kill each other. Do something! Somebody, protect us!  They’re already inside our houses! Now we are victims, rather than they are. We want to live as before. They deprive us of this opportunity. We don’t fight, they do. There is a need to get them out of here. It is a city… This is not a place for people like them!”

The author and the leader of the Besogon TV program next uttered the following words: “How else can we explain such a thing so simple and, in my view, so horrible as that” and set about quoting the following comment left by a certain Leo Barca on social media: “Less than a year ago 12-year old Lola Daviet was violently sexually assaulted, killed, stuffed into a suitcase and left in a carpet in a Paris building by an Algerian immigrant, [then] there were no riots for her, no mass protests in the cities and no outrage by politicians, no mention”.

Mikhalkov went on to add that ‘the killing of a little girl, a white-skinned French girl, had not caused any reaction, but once a 17-year old North African guy to get killed’ by police, riots broke out across the country. “This certainly raises the question: Why is that the life of the little French girl should mean nothing and be worthless compared to the life of the young man who resisted the police?!” he then asked indignantly.

Thus the Oscar-winning Russian filmmaker was doing on air of Russia’s main government-controlled TV channel, Russia, what the French Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, had described as ‘demagogy’ and ‘using the coffin of a 12-year-old girl like one uses a footstool’, and what Lola Daviet’s parents had asked others not to do. Here is what else in the way Nikita Mikhalkov handled the topic of the recent disturbances and the issue raised by Leo Barca is worth paying attention to. He described Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old guy of Moroccan and Algerian descent, shot and killed by police in Nanterre, as a North African. But Nahel was born and raised in the French system, just as Lola Daviet was. He was a French citizen by birth. His mother, Mounia, pushes back against the politicization of her tragedy, just as Lola Daviet’s parents do. “I don’t blame the police, I blame one person, the one who took my son’s life”, she told television station France 5 in an on-camera interview.

The top French officials call for patience to allow time for the justice system to run its course and note that there have been attempts to exploit, in one way or another, these two tragedies for inciting strong discords, even large-scale confrontations among different population groups in France based on racial, cultural and religious strife. In the light of such an assessment, the actions (of the kind described above) of ‘well-wishers’ of the type of Nikita Mikhalkov and those with him are hard to perceive other than as hyping from the outside to provocations. Because he and his supporters do the main emphasis on the racial issue, unequivocally considering that it is the indigenous white population in France, as well as in other Western European countries, who have been and are being harassed and physically attacked against by non-white migrants and their descendants, and discriminated against by their own governments. 

In doing so, they are often more radical and aggressive than those Europeans to which they refer. For instance, that same Leo Barca, whose words were quoted by Nikita Mikhalkov, had not said anything about race. The latter, conversely, made in his follow-up comment a special emphasis on ‘the killing of a little girl, a white-skinned French girl’. When Leo Barca had been told by one of the commentators that ‘Fair point, but we should not forget that incidents of state/police violence are perceived as a much bigger threat to society as a whole than one person criminal activity and for a good reason’, he responded: “I agree, my point still stands however”. He next said: “You have a point there. I don’t actually believe in racial division, my aim is more to point out the decadence and hypocrisy”. It seems that Leo Barca definitely does not share the Russian filmmaker’s stance.  

But who are those with whom Nikita Mikhalkov, Putin’s fervent admirer, and the Kremlin’s main TV network which gives airtime to him, stand shoulder to shoulder in this case? Should you begin to search for answers to that question, you will be surprised how similar to the so-called Western right-wing radicals they are in doing so. Judge yourself, here is what (Domestic and transnational threat monitor), wrote about the latter ones in that regard: “Following news of Daviet’s death, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in France and around the world, in Australia, Greece, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States took to social media. Extremists expressed their outrage over the girl’s death, claiming it was an “anti-white hate crime [and] a result of immigration”. They blamed immigration, stating Daviet’s death was a “result… of a multiracial society” and that “immigration kills”.

How come Nikita Mikhalkov, a world-renowned Russian cultural figure, in this case has found himself on the same side as those whom described as ‘neo-Nazis’ and ‘white supremacists’? The answer to this question becomes clearer when looking closely at Russian context with regard to the attitude of the Russian authorities and society towards non-Whites not only in Russia itself, but all over the world. Here are a few examples to illustrate the point.

In February 2004, Khursheda Sultonova, a 9-year-old Tajik girl was murdered in St. Petersburg by a group of young guys armed with baseball bats, chains and knives, shouting the slogans ‘Get out of Russia!’ and ‘Beat the Blacks!’. She died after being severely beaten and stabbed 11 times in the face and neck. Amnesty International considered the murder of Khursheda Sultonova to be one of the worst racially motivated crimes in Russia. Yet the eight teenagers who had been brought to court, were accused of hooliganism and cleared by the Russian court of the motive of racial murder. Since the early 2000s, there were many murders and crimes of aggression motivated by racism in Russia. Yet the Russian authorities have never admitted this. It has long been established practice there to record those criminal actions as hooliganism, domestic crimes or, in extreme cases, as actions motivated by national hostility rather than qualifying them as such.

In his above-mentioned televised appearance, Mikhalkov compared the situations in the NYC and the Russian capital subway system and, addressing the TV audience, said: “And yet, let us try to see around us something of which we can be proud [as Russians]”. What he didn’t mention then is that people of non-Slavic appearance are on average 21 times more likely to be stopped and asked for their documents than individuals of Slavic appearance, and that people of non-White appearance are at very high risk of becoming victims of verbal abuses or murderous attacks when travelling on the Moscow subway or being someplace close to it. In these latter cases, the Russian authorities, judging by facts, often either take the side of Slavic white supremacists or, in extreme cases, do everything possible to soften punishments for the perpetrators. 

When Sergey Nikolaev, a Russian International master in chess of Yakut ethnicity, had been brutally murdered near the subway station Yugo Zapadnaya in Moscow his murderers from ‘a gang of racist youths’, who committed this crime were ‘charged with murder motivated by ethnic discord’. After an intense police investigation and much public and media interest, the trial took place. Here is how it was assessed by Boruch Gorin, head the public relations department of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia: “If such a [serious] crime, with so many aggravating circumstances, entails such a light penalty, then an outside observer may deem that murder on the basis of national and racial hatred can serve as a mitigating factor at court sentencing [in Russia]. Both society and the criminals themselves perceive it this way”.

“Everything would have been different if the court punished [the perpetrators] to the fullest extent of the law. If it were, the defendants would hardly have dared to [gleefully] shout ‘Sieg Heil’ after pronouncement of the sentence”, – Borukh Gorin said.

It is quite different when an ethnic Russian comes under attack by non-Slavs on that Moscow subway. On October 4, 2021, in a Moscow subway train, on the stretch between Izmailovskaya and Pervomayskaya stations, Roman Kovalev, a white ethnic Russian guy, had been beaten by three natives of Dagestan. The incident agitated the entire Russian power and community. It remained a major discussion issue on the Russian TV political talks show for a number of days. Aleksander Bastrykin, Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee, took the case under personal supervision and awarded Valor and Courage medal to Roman Kovalev. In March 2023, his assailants were sentenced to between 8.5 and 12 years’ imprisonment. For comparison: those Russian neo-Nazis who had killed Sergey Nikolaev, a non-White Russian citizen, were sentenced to between 3 and 10 years’ imprisonment.

On April 8, 2016, in a Moscow subway train, on the stretch between Novye Cheryomushky and Kaluzhskaya stations, Sergey Tsarev, a white ethnic Russian, several times shot from a traumatic pistol at the head and stomach of Sulaimon Saidov, also a Tajik, the difference being that he is a man, not a child. Before opening fire, the Russian white supremacist called Saidov’s nephew, Muhammadjon, a ‘black ass’, and said that ‘this is a carriage reserved for Russian [White] people’. S.Tsarev next said directly, “In three minutes, you will no longer be here: I am going to kill you”. Doctors managed to save the Saidov’s life. But he got disability as a result of injury, he can’t work and support his family – his wife and four children. S.Tsarev was convicted. But S.Saidov has remained dissatisfied with the complete disregard demonstrated by the Russian authorities for the motive of racial and ethnic hatred despite the witness statements, motions and complaints of the aggrieved party. 

According to Saidov’s lawyer, the recognition of racial and ethnic hatred as motivation [for the crime in this case] by the State represented by law enforcement agencies is important for both his client and Russian society. Disregard of the qualifying feature by the court when rendering a decision on a crime against ethnic minorities creates an atmosphere of impunity in the society. The victims do not go to police thinking that it is useless, and nationalistic and radical circles strengthen their position. Without keeping record of hate crimes neither the authorities nor the civil society has real statistics on such crimes, and therefore, a clear vision on the extent of the problem in the country.

Yet the Russian political, intellectual and media elites, apparently, have got a completely different opinion on this matter. It is very much convenient for them to take it that there are no racists in Russia. They seemingly feel quite comfortable in the environment where, on the one hand, one can easily hurt people whom he sees as non-Whites and, on the other, the authorities do not officially recognize the existence of racism and racial discrimination in the country. Meanwhile, among the majority of ethnic Russians, expression of contempt or disgust to even the most prominent members of other racial groups is perceived as an act to be proud of. Here it would be enough to simply cite as an example the case of Irina Rodnina, an MP from the Kremlin’s United Russia party and a triple Olympic champion figure-skater, who posted an image of Barack Obama on Twitter that was photoshopped to include a banana.

So it’s no surprise that the model of racial contempt to non-Whites in other countries (such as Kazakhstan), as well as to the Russian Federation’s ethnic minorities of [East] Asian origin, is often being shaped by leading Russian politicians and Moscow television celebrities in front of millions-strong audience across the national TV networks and multiple digital and social media. So, Boris Korchevnikov, a host on the state-owned television channel Rossiya-1, and Anfisa Chekhova, a famous Russian socialite, TV host and model, publicly insulted, accordingly, the Kalmyk and Buryat people on racial grounds. And nothing – these people remained in the same place to serve. What wonder there if the Russian authorities are taking under their protection those white ethnic Russians who have been brought to responsibility for insults of a racist nature in other countries. Maxim Yakovchenko, a native of West Kazakhstan province, had publicly called the Kazakhs ‘monkeys’. He then was charged under Kazakhstan’s Penal Code, sections 174 (‘inciting hatred’) and 180 (‘separatism’). Maxim Yakovchenko left for Russia. As reported by the press, Maxim Yakovchenko has been granted refugee status in Russia and can’t be extradited.

In light of this reality, the above-quoted statements by Nikita Mikhalkov, who is eager to defend the white people living far away from him and, at the same time, completely ignores the deplorable fate of her fellow citizens encountering both racial hatred and racial persecution just for their non-White identity, sounds a lot like a variation of the slogan ‘White Lives Matter’, a slogan, often used to derail calls for racial justice, originated from the imagined white victimhood and upholding of white supremacy. It would seem that everything is clear and obvious. Nevertheless, one question remains: does Nikita Mikhalkov honestly hold the above attitudes, or is he merely playing along with official Moscow’s strategic support for Western nationalist and Christian fundamentalist movements? Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, once said about him the following: ‘Mikhalkov always has one ambition – to have direct access to the Czar’. In 1992, when Russia was embracing capitalism under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, Nikita Mikhalkov published an article in the Moscow media in which the new Russian leadership was subjected to devastating criticism. At the 1996 presidential elections, he already was a confidant to Yeltsin and, according to Naina Yeltsina, quite differently evaluated the basic reforms and privatization of the 1990s and the contribution made by ‘Yeltsin’s team’ to the building of a new Russia. In 2002, famous Russian film director Alexey German said the following: “Nikita Sergeevich [Mikhalkov] apparently able to [easily] adapt to all authority. I can easily imagine him dancing on a square in North Korea before the Great leader”. He next added: “He [Mikhalkov] has no political belief. Actually he had and still has [just] high patrons”. According to Lev Shlosberg, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, ‘Mikhalkov’s only real goal is to faithfully serve the ruling regime and earn the huge material and moral dividends through this’.

In that, there seems to be something like following the norms of the so-called Hottentot morality. “Bad is when someone steals my cow; good is when I steal his cow” – this moral rule was attributed by European racists to the Hottentots, indigenous nomadic pastoralists of South Africa. So one of them allegedly once upon the time responded when asked the question, “What do you consider to be good, and what do you consider to be bad?” 

Nikita Mikhalkov must feel much like that when he is facing the question of who of the country’s leaders should be considered as worthy of veneration and who not. The crucial factor here appears to be whether they remain helpful to him or not at the moment.

Be that as it may, it’s hard not to be reminded of underlying reason of the so-called Hottentot morality when you listen to what the famous Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov has been and is talking now about Russia’s past and present rulers. It’s not enough for the latter ones to just be in power to be considered by Nikita Mikhalkov deserving of not only honor and respect, but also thanks on behalf of ‘our nation’ and many praises from his lips. What is also important is the degree of favor from the current occupant of the Kremlin he enjoys.

At one time Nikita Mikhalkov praised Boris Yeltsin, later he called on to try Yeltzin along with Gorbachev for their political crimes. Today he talks about his love to Putin. But the question is who will Mikhalkov fall in love for and what beliefs will he have tomorrow?! No one knows for sure, it remains a guess. The more relevant question is how does ‘Hottentot morality’ by Nikita Mikhalkov, Putin’s fervent admirer, fit in with his dislike of non-Whites?

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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