As first reported on social networks yesterday and then later picked up by local online media outlets Fontanka.ru and The Village, Petersburg city hall has recently been involved in the publication and distribution of a “Manual for Migrant Workers” in which the migrant workers, presumably from the former Central Asian Soviet republics, are depicted as a paint roller, a whisk, a spatula and a paint brush.
The manual is available in four languages—Russian, Tajik, Uzbek and Kyrgyz—and can be downloaded as a .pdf file from the web site of Petersburg city hall’s “Tolerance” program, where it was apparently posted on August 30 of this year.
An accompanying text explains that the brochure was published by the “regional public organization Future Outlook” with support from the Petersburg and Leningrad Regional office of the Federal Migration Service and the [Petersburg] Municipal Center for the Prevention and Monitoring of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases. Its stated aim is to promote “social adaptation and HIV/AIDS prevention among migrant workers from Central Asia.” To this end, the brochure has, allegedly, been made available at several locations around Petersburg and distributed at “training sessions” for migrants, also conducted by by Future Outlook.
While the Central Asian migrant workers are depicted throughout the manual as tools typically used in building renovation and maintenance, fields in which such workers are employed in large numbers in Russia’s major cities, the Russian law enforcement, immigration and health officials “welcoming” them to Russia, along with ordinary Russians encountered by the migrant workers during their stay, are depicted as human beings.
“Arrival in Russia”
“HIV Prevention: ‘Remember, You’re Expected to Arrive Home Healthy!’”
The Central Asian anthropomorphic “tools” are also given “useful advice” and “simple rules” for “feeling comfortable” in “Russia’s cultural capital.” Among other things, they are advised not to “wear ethnic clothing at all times and everywhere,” because it attracts “unwanted attention”; not to “wear sweatsuits constantly, especially with classic dress shoes”; not to “go outside in a housecoat”; not to “squat on [their] haunches in public”; and not to “spit and litter.”
Despite the fact that Central Asian migrant workers (along with other foreigners and members of Russia’s numerous ethnic minorities) have been frequent targets of neo-Nazi violence in recent years (the Moscow-based Sova Center has recorded 490 such assaults and murders in Petersburg during the period from 2004 to late September 2012) and are routinely exploited, conned and abused by Russian employers and government officials, the manual’s authors discourage them from “judging the city as a whole by one or even several unpleasant incidents that have happened to [them] or to people [they] know.”
And indeed, the manual’s final cartoon shows the Russian officials and a stereotypical Russian babuskha giving the Central Asian tools a warm farewell at the airport. The babushka comments, “What a good job you did with the renovations.”
According to an article published earlier today on news web site Newsru.com, spokespeople for Petersburg city hall have denied that it has anything to do with the brochure—even though it remains posted on the web site for the city’s “Tolerance” program as of this writing. In the same article, Gleb Panfilov, identified as the “head” of Future Outlook, the brochure’s publisher, is quoted as claiming that the illustrations provoked no “questions” or “negative emotions” among the migrant workers his organization had worked with, including a “focus group.”
“Generally speaking, when choosing these pictures of construction instruments, we had in mind not migrant workers, but simply helpers. They are helpful illustrations, characters in the booklet, like Clippy in the [Microsoft Office] computer program. And not a single migrant complained to us about this. [...] We wanted our project to show that [migrant workers] should be treated as people, not as a labor force,” said Panfilov.
One aspect of the scandal that has so far gone unnoticed by Petersburg media is that the manual was, apparently, published with financial assistance from the Danish NGO DanChurchAid, as indicated by the acknowledgements in the manual’s colophon.
According to a statement on its web site, DanChurchAid’s mission is to “help and be advocates of oppressed, neglected and marginalised groups in poor countries and to strengthen their possibilities of a life in dignity.” Among its programs is one focused on providing relief to “poor migrant workers” from Central Asia and the “fight against HIV/AIDS” amongst such workers.
Is DanChurchAid aware of the content of the “Manual for Migrant Workers,” apparently published with its financial support? If it is aware of this content, does it believe that depicting “poor migrant workers” as construction tools is consistent with own mission?
We urge our readers to contact DanChurchAid for answers to these questions:
DK-1165 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3315 2800
Fax: +45 3318 7816
Central Asia Regional Representative
UPDATE. A reader has alerted us to the fact that the .pdf files of the manual have subsequently been removed from the Petersburg city hall web site. Here they are, in all four language versions, for downloading.