Church and Peace is a European ecumenical peace church network of communities, training centres, peace organisations and peace service agencies.
On 1 September the Britain and Ireland region of Church and Peace hosted an online event to discuss the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and why racism must become a priority for peace churches and peace groups.
Our Friend Natasha was one of the speakers. Others taking part were from the UK (Anglican and Quaker), Germany (Quaker), Belgium (Roman Catholic) and Switzerland (Mennonite).
Natasha Zhuravenkova is a Russian Quaker and works at the office of Friends House in Moscow, a Church and Peace member organisation. She pointed out the complex nature of national and racial issues in the contemporary Russian Federation.
Historically Russia was always multi-national but the power structures were mainly based on the ethnic Russians who made up more than 70% of the population. Other nationalities and religions apart from the Russian Orthodox Church were treated as subordinate.
The 1917 Revolution brought in religious tolerance but then any religious ideas quickly became forbidden. While proclaiming internationalism, the Russian authorities persecuted whole nationalities. Many Soviet citizens, however, were internationalists.
After the fall of the Soviet Union tensions between different nationalities became apparent, with numerous outbreaks of violence and military conflicts. Refugees, e.g. from Chechnya, fled to other cities, mostly in the European part of Russia. Quakers had experience of relief work in Russia in the early 20th century, so when Friends House Moscow was founded in the 1990s, it was natural to turn to supporting marginalised groups.
One of first projects was a refugee school for children in Moscow whose parents had no official status. After the end of Chechen wars, the refugee school became a centre for refugee and migrant children, “Kids are Kids”. It is mainly supported by Quakers and helps families from the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, as well as from other countries such as Nigeria, Congo, Philippines, Cuba, Syria, Afghanistan, Tajikistan. The Centre helps with Russian language and other subjects, life skills, humanitarian support, expenses for school attendance and cultural activities.
Because of the pandemic, the situation is different so lessons are now given online. Hundreds of lessons are given by volunteers. In response to a question, Natasha confirmed that devices such as laptops and smartphones are donated by other organisations and distributed by the Centre.
In answer to the question about whether the women and children suffer racial harassment on streets of Moscow, Natasha told us that it is difficult to feel safe – although Moscow is a multi-national city, there are groups with very diverse views which can make the lives of minorities dangerous.