Slurping – the sound that suck calves make when you’re weaning them, or pigs at the trough, or Russians drinking hot tea. It isn’t racism from me, they don’t want to let the tea cool, or be ‘civilized’ and add milk.
I was on a platzkart train from Voronezh to Moscow and my neighbours were all having breakfast and slurping tea.
I’d fallen asleep just before midnight cheesed off. In the four bunk kupe next to mine a group of relatively well-heeled men and women in their mid-20’s were drinking tea and talking politics.
They were liberal and very anti-Putin. Any other time I’d have an interest in their conversation, though when they kept commenting about a family from Tajikistan in the next kupe, I spoke out.
The family – father, mother and four kids all under ten, were traveling back to Moscow from Sochi where the parents had been working in a Hotel for December and January. They were polite, funny and very kind.
The four right-on liberals routinely called them, “chorny zhope” or “black asses”, the derogatory term for people from ex-Soviet Asia and sometimes the Caucasus. After two hours of them punctuating commentary on the financial crisis and how Putin robs the country with sneers at the neighbours, I snapped.
“Do you feel good when you talk shit about other people?” They looked at me, trying to figure out my problem. “I hope none of you ever have to emigrate for work and have people speak the same about you. Because none of you have the class, education or intelligence to survive one day in another country before getting shafted by some native.”
For shafted I used the Russian equivalent of fecked. They went quiet and I went to sleep.
I arrived at the apartment 6.30 and reminded myself to finish part-2 of the article I did months ago on racism in Russian football. Here goes:
A cafe in Taganka, close to the RFS offices. October 2015. An Irishman, an Ivorian, a Nigerian and a Senegalese all sat down to have coffee/tea. We had prelims about family, life in Russia, football; then we got onto racism:
Me: Why did you not settle in Italy?
SD: It was not an easy time, it was difficult.
Me: Why was it difficult?
SD: Different tactics, mentality.
SD: Yes (looks at his tea) the people. In Russia it’s okay on the street, shops, in Italy, people looked at me, even though there are more Africans. It was like in Japan, though there the people were nice.
Me: Did you experience racism?
SD: Yes. Not just from fans, I know this. From players, this is not correct. We’re all the same. We’re footballers, not different, it is not sport.
AM: Here in Russia players are better, I only heard bad things from some, maybe….South Americans. But fans, I hear sometimes, only once I heard it from our fans to me, but was not bad. They were being nice, I think. (Laughs)
BON: I never had problems here, not bad, or in my last club. Other clubs fans shout and make noise, but they thing it makes me weak.
AM: Yes, here too, but less in Russia.
Me: Are you saying there’s no racism because we’re sitting in Russia? (They all laugh)
AM: No, it is okay here. In the streets I see people look at me, but they look at all foreigners, and I don’t mind. I play, get my money and I do my job.
Me: Why do they chant bad things, do you all think?
SD: Alan it is not so bad like you think, it is very rare. It is much worse in other countries, Spain, Italy…
BON: Turkey and Albania.
SD: Yes, others, even England. Fans do this because they think it will help their team and they all shout at once when somebody starts. Then in the street they want your autograph and have their picture taken and tell you good things.
Me: In Croatia I asked our fans (in Hajduk) why make monkey noises at the African player on the other team, we’ve a coloured player.
AM: Because he’s your coloured player. (I nod). This is stupid, but normal. It’s not a big issue. I see more bad, hear more bad when we play teams from the Kavkaz, against their fans and players. There they respect us, usually, they are good. But the fans in Moscow (whistles).
BON: Yes, this is very bad. And in some small cities here, other guys told me, the fans are very bad. But like S. said, they all want to shake your hand. And players here don’t try bad things.
Me: I won’t ask what’s the worst things you’ve heard, or been said to you, though what do you think should change so that it disappears.
SD: Nothing, it’s nature.
Me: You think it’s natural just to get an advantage?
BON: Maybe, and the people are not so bad, not to us.
Me: But you’re glad you’re not from the Kavkaz!
For another 30 minutes we spoke about a wide range of topics from illegal migrants to the price of children’s shoes. We spoke about alcohol, match fixing, doping and rugby.
I brought up the story of Max Brito as I had heard that some members of the National Football Team gave some money to him after winning the African Nations Cup last year. The support Brito received has made him view life differently from nine years ago.
It took me a fair while to fall asleep last night and slurping their tea, my liberal neighbours were wary of me. I came into the office earlier and copy-pasted in the most important section of the interview.
It doesn’t matter that racism is worse in other countries, nor that it’s not as bad as heralded in Western media. Gobshites in the stands who are trying to impress “father figures” are still gobshites.
Under-educated, pseudo-liberals who sneer at immigrant workers are the same as the gobshites. Yet somehow it all seems ironic. Slurping tea on a platzkart train, or getting tanked up to go be a hard man from the cheap seats, won’t stop the educated and hard-working who have a goal in mind.
Whether it’s working long hours in hotels and restaurants to give their children a better education and start in life, or professional athletes who carry themselves with class and courage, earning more in a month than many of the gobshites earn in a year.
When the effect of the gobshites begins to wear thinner, when the crowds begin to control themselves, when Russia gets rid of the nanny state, “everyone hates us and we’re not responsible” bullshit, racism will disappear to the dark corners where it festers.
Less and less will we see this type of stupidity, and Russia will be better for it.