Immigrants get a Russian brush-off
A supposedly friendly guide for migrant workers new to Russia has caused a storm of resentment after portraying them as paint brushes, brooms and other low-skill tools.
The government of Tajikistan has formally urged Russia to remove the book from circulation, and representatives of the Uzbek community voiced their outrage.
Activists see the book, published in St Petersburg, as a reflection of the discrimination against the growing number of impoverished, mostly Muslim, migrants in Russia who are working in construction, cleaning offices, sweeping the streets and collecting the rubbish.
"It's xenophobia pure and clear," said Lev Ponomaryov, a veteran Russian human rights defender. "They show residents of St Petersburg as humans and depict migrants as construction tools."
Even though "A Labour Migrant's Handbook" was promoted on a city government website, authorities denied any connection to the publication when outrage erupted after bloggers discovered it and publicised it online. A non-government organisation that published 10,000 copies of the book in the Russian, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik languages insisted it just wanted to provide useful information about everyday life in Russia.
"We didn't mean to insult anyone with this brochure - on the contrary, we aimed to help labour migrants learn about their rights and avoid getting into trouble in this city," said Gleb Panfilov, deputy head of the Look into the Future group that published the book.
Mr Panfilov said his group had people from the ex-Soviet nations of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan look at the proofs prior to publication and received no complaints. He said he could not understand the public outrage now, many months after its release.
But in a country where dark-complexioned migrants are commonly victims of hate crimes and frequently live in miserable conditions, others are not surprised by the anger.
Alimzhan Khaidarov, the leader of the Uzbek community in St Petersburg, said he was offended by the brochure. "They compared us, representatives of the ancient Uzbek culture, with construction tools. And not only us, but also representatives of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan," he said.
He said rights groups representing migrants from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will consider filing a lawsuit against the publisher.