Protestants gathered Jan. 15 in Moscow for what is thought to be the first celebration of Martin Luther King Day in Russia.
About 70 mostly young people attended the service led by Moscow City Church and the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy aimed at drawing attention to Russian racism.
Vitaly Vlasenko, director of external church relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and one of MCC’s pastors attending the celebration, said many Russians view racism as “a distant and foreign issue,” according to a report by the Russian Evangelical Alliance.
Daniel Ekat, a citizen of Cameroon, made clear that such a view can only be held by the white residents of Russia. The engineer told participants he has been beaten up twice during his 10-year stay in Russia.
“My friends are often afraid to go out into the street,” he reported. “When a person covered with blood is brought into our dormitory, it leaves many of my friends aghast and uncertain as to whether they should continue their studies or return home immediately.”
The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, established in 1962 and supported by U.S. sponsors including American Baptist International Ministries, conducted a study in 2009 of racially motivated attacks and harassment against people of color in and around Moscow.
More than half of 209 mostly black Africans living in Russia said they avoid public transportation at certain times, 40 percent shy away from crowds and 31 percent said they avoid certain neighborhoods.
Three fourths said they been verbally attacked while living in Russia, and nearly six in 10 reported being physically attacked.
Seventy percent of those who filed reports with police said no action was taken against their attackers. A majority reported receiving either verbal abuse, frequent document checks or requests for bribes from police.
The Moscow City Church expressed hope that Martin Luther King Day will become a traditional, annual event in many Russian churches. They are considering the creation of an annual Martin Luther King Award, to be presented to a person active in the fostering of human rights for all.
Vlasenko said his church is committed to serving Moscow’s people by “helping to change their way of thinking on moral issues.”
"This historic cooperation from Russian Baptists -- and using the MLK Jr. service -- was seen as a good opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges of racism in Russia, and to broaden the discussion in Russian society and faith communions,” commented Charles Jones, International Ministries area director for Africa, Europe and the Middle East. “We commend and support the efforts of these two of our partners."