In defence of redheads

Yesterday, right on the street, a guy with red hair nicked my bike. They’re getting totally brazen, these people, in broad daylight!  If you see a redheaded guy on a bike, please dial the police on 02 immediately.

This week at a managerial meeting in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Minister Yury Lutsenko criticized subordinates for granting what he deems too many residence permits to foreign nationals from the "far abroad". This term is clumsy in translation and should be no less clear in the original, yet everybody knows who is meant (and who not). It is regrettable that Ukrainian officials are adopting Russian terminology, not to mention the accompanying attitude. 

Having asked rhetorically whether Ukraine doesn’t have enough workers, Mr Lutsenko is reported to have said: "You can consider me a racist however I won’t allow them to make Kyiv into yet another Kharkiv or Odessa. The position is that we issue a permit if he’s married to one of ours".

The Minister did not realize his words would become public knowledge, and it is possible his audience understood the allusions without further explanation.  Since such remarks from a Minister cannot but arouse concern, it would be good to have a public statement from him concerning his position reflects that of the government, and especially how this complies with the latter’s plans for European integration. That statement, incidentally, should be translated at least into English since it would doubtless be of interest to the Council of Europe, international structures, and to the authorities of the many countries where Ukrainians are presently working.

 It might also go someway towards rectifying the worrying impression made by the Kyiv Police Department’s attempts to "explain" the Minister’s words.  These stated that the Minister was concerned that foreigners had committed three times more crimes against Kyiv residents and guests to the capital, than vice versa.  The statement refers to a particular geographical area and states that "it is specifically this category which is carrying out flat burglaries and robberies. The Minister, aware of this statistic, was speaking out in defence of our citizens."

I am sure that any red-headed reader knows exactly why I prefer not to explain which particular ethnic groups have been lumped together in the police communiqué.  It is unfortunate that representatives of the MIA which created its own anti-racism department some nine months ago do not understand. 

There doubtless are groups of people united by their ethnic origin committing crimes in Kyiv and / or Ukraine in general.  There are also groups and individuals united by the same ethnic origin doing nothing of the kind.

The message being spread among police officers is as primitively simplistic as the above suggestion for finding my bike.  It leads to people of certain ethnic groups (or hair colour!) being "checked" in the metro, on the streets.  I suspect that stopping people to check their documents does not help identify those planning to commit or committing crimes. As far as I can see, it actually contributes to another type of crime, that of bribe-taking.

Such behaviour is just part of the general message to the public:  watch out for those red-heads (or others …).  We should watch out for criminals, not for people of a certain race.  The law enforcement agencies undoubtedly have a tough and complicated task, however primitive methods only generate new problems and contribute to a rise in racism and xenophobia.

We should bear in mind one other undesirable message. I would in no way underestimate the problems for Ukraine in connection with its agreement with the EU on readmission, and in all European countries immigration is a controversial subject made use of by many political forces.  Nonetheless most countries in Europe have become multicultural and diverse. A closed fortress policy can only harm Ukraine’s reputation and as a result narrow all our options.  Whose interests is that serving?

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

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