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Marina KimMarina Kim is Kazakhstan-born journalist now living and working in London. Her website is www.marinakim.co.uk and she is on Twitter as @MarinaKim_

Hello, I am Russian. Now, tell me honestly what is going through your mind when you hear that (apart from “why is she writing for ConHome”)? Would you introduce me to your mother? Would you invite me to your shooting weekend? Would you go for sushi with me?

There's a lot of focus on racism and anti-Muslim prejudice. But there is a new era of racism that is flourishing unnoticed because its victims look just like you. We are white.

Prejudice against Eastern Europeans is on all levels of British society – from taxi-drivers to members of elite clubs (I have been a victim of both). I’ve stopped counting the times I've been called a hooker. It used seriously to upset me when I was new to this city, and desperate to make friends. I suppose, a positive thing about it was that they always added: “A high-end one”.


That is certainly not the only stereotype that was thrown at me. My ex-boyfriend’s father, a former MP and a genuinely lovely man, said to him before he even met me: “You should be careful. She might be after your passport, or perhaps she is a spy?” It didn’t put my ex* off though. Well, we know how to please a man. They trained us well in the KGB!

Bias spreads across various areas of our lives, defining even what to wear. I go without being judged in my black leather trousers or lacy racy dresses when I am with my posh British friends. However, if I am dressed like that in a very English place when I am out with my Russian girlfriends, we’re more often than not subjected to distrustful glanced and even hurtful words.

It is not only Russians, who are getting a wrong end of the stick. I know a Polish girl who introduces herself as Swiss. She says she does it to avoid being labelled. It’s all well and good for Poles to be considered “a good workforce” but she wants a chance to express her personality. “People lose interest in me before we even start speaking when I say I am Polish,” she says. 

Do not judge a book by its cover. A simple truth but too often forgotten. You can be conned by a Russian or assaulted by a Romanian. A Russian businesswoman told me how a well-spoken English man with a signet ring, in brown suede shoes and a velvet jacket talked the talk and cheated her company out of a substantial amount of money. It’s not all gold that glisters.

But it is gold that everyone wants. On one hand, Abramovich and the army of oligarchs, who have chosen London as their second home, did a huge service to the Russians. Now we are, so to speak, the elite of the Eastern European scum. We are scum, but rich scum. We are whores, but whores to the oligarchs. We are mafia, but we can intimidate you with the luxury holidays we have while you backpack in Spain.

On the other hand, it is frustrating that everyone assumes you are rich. Everyone is trying to find out if you know the above-mentioned oligarch, or what your other connections in Russian circles are. It has become a criterion of success with the end goal: how to get our money.

For those who haven’t yet figured that out, anti-Eastern European moods are particularly strong now with the fear of the arrival of Bulgarians and Romanians en masse next year. People on low incomes are understandably scared of the influx of cheap labour. This reckless immigration politics, dictated by the EU, only increases prejudice towards all Eastern Europeans.

Media silence about this matter would have been better than running articles, like those by the Daily Mail called “Jobs dry up, but Poles stay to reap the benefits”, or “Invasion of the Russian golddiggers.” It was only a couple of days ago that I came across a piece in the Telegraph titled “Are the Russians finally learning some manners?” Imagine the outrage if the title were: “Are the blacks finally dropping their knife crime habits?” or “Are the Pakistanis no longer grooming young girls for sex?”

Normal people have to live with the consequences of articles like this. They fuel stereotypes and enhance racism. If the educated elite is biased, it makes it OK for everyone else to be rude to and about Eastern Europeans in day-to-day situations.

In the words of a Hungarian girl I know: “I suspect there were many law suits against tabloids for discriminating against black minorities. Muslims are very vocal, too. Eastern Europeans are a safe target as it is really difficult to prove racial discrimination to a population of white immigrants.” Nine out of ten Eastern Europeans I ask agree with this view.

To make tolerating Eastern Europeans easier for you, think about the money. Between 2004 and 2009, 1.5 million people from Eastern Europe came to the UK and around 700,000 of them stayed. During the same period Britain's GDP grew by £98bn, and a NIESR study says that a 5% share of that £98bn can be put down to migrants. That is around a £4.9bn input.

Russians who are permanently resident in the UK contribute to the economy as workers or students. There were no Russians on the list of top 20 non-UK benefit claimants (DWP data, Feb 2011), while there were nationals of Poland, Portugal, France, Ireland and even Germany “reaping the benefits” with Pakistan and Somalia topping the list. Moreover, many Russians pay their way into being in the UK. Visas, that require investment of £1m into the UK economy and are a route to permanent residency, are popular with Moscow millionaires.

If this country, that I love deeply, has had enough, then leave the EU, close the borders, restrict the visas and don't hand out benefits. But why punish people who are already here trying to build a better life for themselves. Oh, and you should definitely encourage your son or daughter to marry a Russian. With a 13% flat tax rate that enticed Gerard Depardieu and a vast amount of oil, gas and other mineral resources, it is their passport that is not such a bad one to have.

People are naturally tribal. It is ok, I suppose, to judge and not to be friends with someone not of your tribe. However, for the peaceful co-existence of multiple tribes in a multicultural society, it is important to keep your mouth shut if you judge them. It is not their fault you do not like them. And it’s too late. They are already here. Help them integrate.

*Please note: he became my ex for different reasons.

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