Journeys of Hope: African Diaspora and the Soviet Society
Journeys of Hope: African Diaspora and the Soviet Society, March 2008
Maxim Matusevich, Ph.D.
Department of History
African presence in Russia predated the Bolshevik takeover in 1917. The arrival of the new Communist rule with its attendant vociferous anti-racist and anti-colonial propaganda campaigns enhanced the earlier perceptions of Russia as a society relatively free of racial bias, a place of multiethnic coexistence. As a result dozens of black, mostly Afro-Caribbean and African-American, travellers flocked to the “Red Mecca” during the first two decades of its existence. Some of those arrivals were driven by the ideology; however, the majority of them were simply searching for a place of racial equality, free of Western racism. To an extent their euphoric expectations would be realized as the black visitors to Soviet Russia were usually accorded a warm welcome and granted the opportunities for professional and personal fulfi llment that were manifestly
absent in their countries of origin. Th e second wave of black migration to the Soviet Union was quantitatively and qualitatively diff erent from the early pre-war arrivals. It also took place in the context of the new geopolitical reality of the Cold War. After the 1957 Youth Festival in Moscow, the Soviet Union under Khrushchev opened its doors to hundreds, and eventually to thousands, of students from the Th ird World, many of them from Africa. By extending generous educational scholarships to young Africans, the Soviet Union sought to reaffirm its internationalist credentials and also curry favor with the newly independent African states. The members of this new diasporic community hailed predominantly from the African continent. If the Soviets had hoped for a major propaganda coup, their hopes were not entirely realised. As a propaganda
weapon African students tended to jam and even to backfi re. Instead of becoming the symbols of Soviet internationalist eff ort, they came to symbolise Westernization and “foreign influences.