Nicole, a Moscow State Linguistics University journalism student, showed up for dinner Sunday night, a bundle of energy, ready to interview me for her thesis. I was more interested in what she had to say, so I asked if anyone had approached her on the 10 minute walk from Kievskaya metro station to the Georgian restaurant.
Although bundled up like a winter fur ball — coat, hat, scarf, mittens, boots — Nicole said she walked the usual gauntlet of leers and sexual invitations from young men from the Caucasus who hang around the metro exits. In fact, she said, it has become so common that she had not even thought about it, until I asked her specifically.
I had been pondering something very strange that I noticed Friday at the rally in Moscow of 7,000 Russian nationalists.
There was a total absence of signs denouncing the USA or NATO.
Instead, the Nationalists were entirely focused inward, largely on the Caucasus.
“Stop Feeding the Caucasus,” seemed to be the most a popular slogan, objecting to the billions of dollars funneled south to pacify Russia’s heavily Muslim southern border region. Another was: “Stop Stealing from Russian Regions.”
If you want to draw a nationalist crowd in Moscow this season, don’t waste your energy hyperventilating about Kosovo, missile defense, or even Georgia.
Instead, appeal to the sexual politics of the city’s streets.
Margarita Simonyan, a Russian journalist of Armenian descent, is editor-in-chief of RT, the Kremlin-supported television channel formerly known as Russia Today. Shielded by these impeccable establishment credentials, she broke a mainstream media taboo last week, by writing an essay that was aired on Dozhd TV and then published in The Moscow Times.
Under the headline, “Why We Hate Each Other,” she wrote:
“Last weekend, I happened to be at the Kazansky Station where I witnessed a disgusting scene: Three young men from the Caucasus were taunting female train conductors standing on the platform. ‘Hey babes, are all women in Moscow as beautiful as you are?’ they jeered. Then they joined hands and began yelling, ‘We are from the Caucasus!’”
Russians love the phrase double standard – “dvoinoi standart.”
For decades, it has been directed outward, to the West.
But now, more and more Russians are directing the double standard critique inward, to their heavily Muslim South.
They object to the fact that some young men come from the Caucasus to Moscow under the impression that they have just won a ticket to a sexual Disneyland. If you just proposition 10 – 20 – 50 girls on the street, the thinking goes, eventually, you will get lucky.
Earlier this year, I was down in Chechnya and its sister republic Ingushetia on reporting trips. Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, but now it lives under virtual Sharia law. Last week, a Reuters friend reported from Chechnya that security men are invading beauty salons and tearing down pictures of women modeling hairstyles. Apparently hair dressers can no longer display photos of hair styles. It sounds like Monty Python, but that is Grozny today.
Ms. Simonyan is a well-traveled, multi-lingual, 31-year-old executive, whose family roots go back to the southern Caucasus. She blames the problem on parents sending the wrong signals to their sons: “Why do some from the Caucasus behave this way in Moscow? Do they behave in the same way in their native regions? Of course not. They respect their countrymen. But they have no respect for Muscovites — or Russians in general. If those young men at the Moscow train station had dared to taunt “their own” in such a crude manner in the Caucasus, somebody certainly would have broken their jaws.”
Next month, my three sons, all American university students, will visit Moscow for the holidays with two college buddies. I will explain to all five, very clearly, in plain English, that their health insurance policies do not, in any way, cover the consequences of harassing girls on the streets of Moscow.