Staunton, February 27 -- Many in the West view ethnic Russian diasporas as working hand in glove with Russian embassies abroad to promote Moscow’s interests, but in fact, there are serious tensions between them – and many Russians living outside of Russia resent the overbearing approach of Russian diplomats.
The latest clash between members of the Russian diaspora and a Russian embassy, one that has attracted attention throughout the Russian communities of Europe and in Moscow as well has occurred in Spain where activists infuriated at Russian embassy interference have published an open letter of complaint (ehorussia.com/new/node/12123 and dw.com/p/1I2wS).
Because they say there are no “independent” Russian-language media outlets in Spain, the group, which calls itself the Independent Observers Council, on February 14 published its open letter in the Netherlands on the independent Russian-language portal NewsRu.nl. The letter has been picked up and discussed on many Russian sites in the emigration.
The letter complained in particular about what it called “the unprecedented pressure” imposed on the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots of Spain, an umbrella group of more than 70 émigré organizations in which the roughly 65,000 ethnic Russians living there participate, by the Russian embassy in Madrid.
“More than 80 percent” of the Russian diaspora in Spain is female and consists either of Russians who have married Spaniards and moved to Spain or those who have come to Spain for work, typically as household servants. There are other groups as well, but “the ‘feminine character’ of the diaspora to a certain extend defines the main directions” of émigré actions there.
What has outraged the Russian expats in Spain has been the effort of the embassy to politicize the group and force it to adopt declarations against Ukraine, even though many of the Russian émigré groups regularly attract Ukrainian expats to their meetings and activities, and for the Kremlin even if the Russians in Spain do not feel so inclined.
Moreover, the Russian embassy handlers of the emigration have become increasingly heavy-handed, shifting from “recommendations” as in the past to direct orders and demands for the expulsion of Russian expats who are not sufficiently loyal to Moscow from groups which receive Russian government funding.
And these demands from the embassy are coming at a time when Russian diplomats are cutting back their funding of émigré activities. “Financial help was always limited,” one diaspora member says; but now it “has become minimal.” As a result, the emigres pay for most of their own activities and thus believe that they have the right to make decisions about them.
An embassy spokesman denied there were any problems and said that the expats’ letter reflected the mistaken and “slanderous” views of a tiny minority. He said that many emigres have praised the embassy and its offers for their support, something they would not do if any of the authors of the letter were correct.
But the Russian emigres themselves say that the protest letter reflects a sad reality. One from St. Petersburg said that she “doesn’t need to be taught how to love the motherland.” And another from Moscow declared that “those who love freedom should say away as far as possible from Russia and its embassy.”