Ex-Soviets in Dubai

This article on people from the former Soviet Union in Dubai appeared in the Gulf News over the weekend:

[D]espite their increasing success in a variety of diverse professions, … many Russian speakers still suffer from a negative stereotype in the UAE.

A label perpetuated by the criminal activities of a few, the numerous women fighting poverty through prostitution here (and elsewhere) and a poor understanding by other nationalities about the post soviet region is frustrating, especially for a community trying to re-brand itself and succeed in a highly competitive environment.

“Many people can’t even locate Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or Belarus on a map. They don’t even know what the Commonwealth of Independent states (CIS) is and they think every Russian speaker is Russian,” [says Alexander Orlov, manager of Troyka, Dubai’s most popular Russian nightclub] .

Indeed. People’s knowledge of the former Soviet Union is pretty limited at the best of times, and it is true that the image of Russian speakers in Dubai is generally poor.

However, Marina Golovkova from Kazakhstan seems to understand why:

“Although I haven’t experienced any overt discrimination I think people from the former Soviet Union are partly to blame for any negative stereotype they suffer. We could do more to promote a better image of ourselves,” she says.

Indeed. Russians everywhere, not just in the UAE, put almost no effort into improving or maintaining a positive image of Russia and its people. And this is a shame, because Russians are in my view the most friendly and hospitable people in the world under the right circumstances. There is a reason for this, though:

Marina claims that despite the changes witnessed in Russia and the CIS and the region’s exposure to the rest of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a culture of “not complaining” and “not promoting personal achievements” lingers from a shared communist past. She believes this affects a Russian speaker’s image in the eyes of other nationalities.

She says the post Soviet community in the UAE is having to work extra hard to change their image because in an increasingly competitive and self-promotional world they have to change themselves at the same time.

“Not standing up for ourselves as individuals comes from our cultural background. During the Soviet era we were taught to be modest and humble. We were not supposed to say ?I this’ or ?I that’. We had to wait to be praised for our achievements. In western culture you celebrate your merits,” she says.

Marina’s exposure to the multi-national communities in the UAE has taught her to promote herself and do more to promote understanding about her own culture. She passionately insists this should be the duty of every Russian speaker here.

“I wouldn’t have learnt how to stand up for myself if I hadn’t come to Dubai. I have become more European here and learnt how to say the words ?I deserve’. Russian speakers have to be more assertive if they are to be better understood. I didn’t learn this in Moscow. You have to leave Russia to learn this.”

I might also add that the Russian and CIS governments do practically nothing to improve their image in the UAE though their embassies. Russians often have a hard time here, that much is true, and I really hope that they can work together to help themselves as a community.

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