Caravanserai
Human Rights

Tajik-born 'Russian Woman' singer endures racist, chauvinist taunts online

By Dzhumaguly Annayev and AFP

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Singer Manizha, who will represent Russia at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam, rehearses in Moscow on March 16. Russian investigators March 18 said they would analyse the lyrics of Manizha's song 'Russian Woman' after it angered conservative groups. [Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP]

MOSCOW -- Conservative groups in Russia are not reacting well to their country's choice of a Tajik-born woman to represent Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 in May.

They are clamouring for an investigation of "Russian Woman", the song composed and performed by 29-year-old Manizha Sangin.

"Russian Woman" praises the strength of Russian women, urging them to be more independent and to resist sexist views on beauty, age and child-bearing.

The Investigative Committee (SK), which probes major crimes in Russia, on March 18 said it had received a request from a civic group to investigate the song for "possible illegal statements".

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Manizha is shown in a YouTube screenshot from her March 8 performance of 'Russian Woman', for which she won the right to represent Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 in an online poll. Immediately after, the Tajik-born singer was flooded with hateful and bigoted messages.

The committee will examine the request in accordance with the law, SK spokesperson Svetlana Petrenko told RIA Novosti.

Investigating 'Russian Woman'

The request came from a site devoted to war veterans, "Veteranskie Vesti", which March 16 published an open letter to SK chairman Alexander Bastrykin asking him to initiate criminal proceedings into the song.

The organisation describes itself as independent but partners with Russia's Interior and Defence ministries and the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Manizha's tune "aims to grossly insult and humiliate the human dignity of Russian women", said the group. It called the song "a lasting crime" that incites ethnic conflict.

Another complaint comes from the Union of Orthodox Women, which in an open letter March 18 called for a ban on Manizha's music video and on her participation at Eurovision.

Her lyrics incite "hatred towards men, which undermines the foundations of a traditional family", said the letter.

On March 8, performing "Russian Woman", Manizha won the right to represent Russia at Eurovision, defeating two other contenders by a wide margin in an online Russian poll.

Immediately after her selection, hate-filled posts and articles surged on Russian social networks and in the tabloids.

Some social media users accused Manizha of being a Tajik and a non-Russian feminist who demeaned Russian women.

"When I read the first wave of hateful comments, I sincerely did not understand what I had done to anybody," she said in a March 15 interview with Ksenia Sobchak on Russia's Channel One.

Being a Tajik in Russia

Manizha was born in Dushanbe, but with Tajikistan in the midst of a civil war, her parents fled with their three-year-old daughter to Russia in 1994.

All her adult life, Manizha has heard insults from Russians based on ethnicity, skin colour, hair colour, eye shape and other physical traits, she told Sobchak.

"The first word that I learned in Russia was black-assed," the singer said on TV.

Racial taunts and other forms of ugliness always have been present in her life because of her ethnicity, she said. "But not as many as last week."

Such remarks online include "Where did she come from?" and "In all of Russia, isn't there a Russian performer to represent the country at Eurovision?"

Others, which invoke Nazi and racist tropes, are too obscene to reprint.

The negative comments hurt her, Manizha said.

Many of her supporters and fans were outraged to see racist slurs coming from prominent, highly educated figures.

Singer Yuri Loza, journalist Mikhail Shakhnazarov, State Duma member Vitaly Milonov, Liberal Democratic Party leader and State Duma member Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and hundreds of other well-known Russians have all denounced Manizha.

Milonov lobbed another insult at the singer on Komsomolskaya Pravda radio Wednesday (March 24).

"I don't see the need to import people to sing in place of Russians," he told programme host Diana Kadi, referring to Manizha.

Russian chauvinism, hypocrisy on display

The majority of Russian society aggressively opposes anyone who looks different, said Karim Shermatov, an ethnic Tajik living in the Urals, who like Manizha fled the Tajik civil war.

Every day in Russia, thousands of migrant workers from Central Asia suffer humiliations and mockery because of their ethnicity, he said on Skype.

Manizha is one of those thousands, Shermatov said.

She faces ethnic hostility on social networks, but other Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Turkmens -- who wait tables and wash dishes in restaurants and bars, who collect garbage, and clear snow from the streets -- experience this hostility in person, he added.

"Even completely swearing off alcohol becomes a pretext for others to try to criticise or insult you," Shermatov said, meaning that Russians find fault with Central Asians no matter what they do.

A number of racial slurs toward Central Asians, which Shermatov recited for Caravanserai, are routine vocabulary for many Russians.

Shermatov said he is happy for his compatriot Manizha, but he does not understand why Russians, who voted for her to represent them at Eurovision, are taunting her on social networks.

"This reveals not only their chauvinism but also their hypocrisy," he said.

Russian hypocrisy will manifest itself in its full glory if Manizha wins the contest in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, he said.

"You will see for yourself how they [Russians] will then speak differently about our Tajik girl."

Eurovision, with performers from 41 European countries, will take place May 18-22 in Rotterdam.

The event will be held in person but with smaller national delegations and fewer journalists as a measure against COVID-19, say the organisers.

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26 Comment(s)

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The Russian people must remember that many of your people were hospitably received and looked after by folks from Central Asia during the war with the Germans.

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Folks, I don't agree with those who bully Manizha. It's not Russia as a whole; it's a handful of right-wingers and other radicals. Don't fall for these articles. The girl is great; the song is peculiar but right on. There's no discrimination against women in this song. On the contrary, she sings that a woman must be strong because life is not always a bowl of cherries; it's necessary to know how to survive and be self-sufficient - to not rely on someone else's help. Men go downhill at trying times. There are more of us women than men; therefore, we need to know how to live independently. Good luck at the contest, Manizha. The song fits the current situation in Europe, where women do not depend on men. It reflects the current European mentality, so there's a good chance to win. Europe will be voting for her, not Russia. It doesn't matter; she's Tajik. She's been living in Russia since childhood, and she has a Russian woman' mentality, and her mother is a Soviet woman, so now it sounds Russian. Manizha, don't worry; success is waiting. You are a brave and strong Russian woman.

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"I believe in a lucid mind and I believe, it will remain bright"

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Here's the end of the fairy-tale by numerous Russian Andersens and Grimms about the "great", "good-natured", Russian nation, etc., seen in the public figure's example. They blame Central Asians for shouting "Railway station, suitcase, Russia", although it's outright lies. The Russians themselves screamed that Central Asians were "extra mouths" for the USSR that Russians fed. That's why the Russians proclaimed themselves "independent!!!" They thought that getting rid of the USSR and 10-12 republics (the Baltic states and Georgia de facto seceded from the USSR) would make them live in clover. As a matter of fact, the Russians were rabid nationalists; the case of Manizha is telltale

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After all the humiliations Russia has heard and lived through, was it worth it singing a song about Russians, glorifying her oppressors? Aren't there enough topics to sing about and not feel insulted yet again? Bast shoes [stupid people] will always remain bast shoes.

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No matter what you are singing about, boneheads and idiots like you will always find a reason to nitpick.. Go kick yourself and envy her silently!

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Dilafruz Khonikboeva, born in Tajikistan, took an oath as a Senior Political, Planning and Educational Advisor at USAID.

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Disregard envious comments... Full speed ahead!!!

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Stay strong, Manizha. But should you move, choose a civilized country, but not Palka at all.

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Tajik girl Manizha, have you jumped right into the Middle Ages; a primitive communal system, or been climbing palm trees? It is the 21st century today. Think of the 20th century when we - the Soviet Union - were a superpower; the whole world respected us, and was afraid of our might. Today's chauvinism is so old-fashioned, obsolete, and, most of all, destructive - it's a crippling path to nowhere. We, the "national fringes", will be sorry should Russia disappear off the face of the Earth because of its imperial "grandeur" and humiliating its citizens - also Russians, but with a different skin color!

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I read the piece on taunting Manizha, the winner of the national Eurovision contest. I am not thrilled about her song, but I'm so upset, ashamed of all the fuss surrounding this girl who will defend the honor of a multi-ethnic Russia. I felt the urge to share my thoughts on Facebook. Russia, and the Russians' authority, is steeped in the glorious 70-year Soviet history when Russia united all the peoples and showed the diverse country's power and greatness. On the contrary, today's chauvinism, humiliation, and abuse of migrants all shows weakness, primitivism, and narrow-mindedness, and is lead to Russia's erosion from the inside. But take a look: Joe Biden appointed a Kazakh girl born in Kazakhstan as his Chief of Protocol. That's a thousand times greater than this chintzy two-day song contest if you remember the previous Eurovision winners: Conchita Wurst, a bearded woman, or Lordi, the Finnish band, performing in scary masks and monster costumes - not for the faint-hearted! Russia treated these travesties calmly and emotionlessly. Ukraine sent Jamala, a Tatar girl, to represent the country at the Eurovision; no Ukrainian expressed this kind of imperial chauvinism, and she brought victory and glory to her country! No one thought of taunting and insult the Kazakh woman who has ascended to the highest summit of power. The Russians, who ganged up against

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It's not a Kazakh but a Tajik woman in Biden's administration; you mixed them up.

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Google it: it is indeed a Kazakh woman in the US administration, not a Tajik woman

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Asel Tolenova, born in Kazakhstan, works as a Deputy Chief of Protocol of the United States

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And who is objecting? Shakhnazarov is Armenian, Loza is Polish, Milonov is a German with an adopted Uzbek daughter, Zhirinovsky is a Jew. It's funny, dear non-Russian gentlemen!

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And Putin?

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His mother's [surname] is Shalomova; judge for yourself who is Putler... [Putin Hitler=Putler]

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Well, that was expected! No need to say anything; you will show your true colors on your own!!!!! Everything comes back around in circles in this life! As your president said, be well!.........

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I think they are objecting to the lyrics of the song, not Manija herself.

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If she sings better, who would the Russians blame it on?

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Yes, Russia has always been notorious for that

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Russian fascism existed in some way during USSR. Paradox. People who suffered from fascism is fascist themselves

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What do you think in 1980-90's Moscow population comprised of who and what were they busy with? Fascism exists in every nation. Especially it is evident in some individuals who are aware of their own weakness, at the same time they like to shed their anger by torturing others. And it does not matter how that anger started. It does not matter if it is done by system or the government.

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Ethnicity was always at the forefront of the USSR ideology(regardless of what few might claim), the whiter the better, in the Soviet passports there was a section on it.

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There are many Nazis in Russia.

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That's exactly what non-Russians say about Russians. Russian people themselves are kind, sympathetic, and openhearted. Pity that it's always like that in Russia. That's why one must go to their own country and speak on behalf of it!

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