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Experts Puzzled by UNESCO Tolerance Prize for City

Published: October 27, 2009 (Issue # 1521)


The citys human rights community had a mixed reaction to the news that St. Petersburg has been awarded the UNESCO Tolerance Prize for what the United Nations cultural wing regards as a major achievement in promoting tolerance.

The UNESCO decision came as an even bigger surprise than the news about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, said Alexander Vinnikov, St. Petersburg coordinator of the Russia Without Racism movement. Neither winners have done anything to deserve the prize, which means the awards were given for political reasons, unfortunately.

Koichiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO, said the St. Petersburg government program on tolerance had been honored for its constructive efforts to inculcate mutual respect and tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and to prevent and eradicate all forms of discrimination.

St. Petersburg was officially nominated for the prize by Russias Foreign Affairs Ministry. The most visible evidence of the government program has been the distribution on the St. Petersburg metro of flyers with quotations on the theme of tolerance from Russias greatest writers and cultural luminaries.

UNESCOs decision has left people across the political spectrum perplexed. Liberals and nationalists alike spoke about the award with surprise bordering on astonishment.

I have not noticed any breakthrough in terms of tolerance, Vinnikov said. On the contrary, the level of xenophobia in the city remains exceptionally high, which is most alarming.

Human rights advocates say that many people in government agencies across Russia are xenophobic in various ways and manifest their xenophobia in the course of their official duties. For example, the Police University in St. Petersburg approved and adopted an explicitly anti-semitic textbook of contemporary Russian history. The textbook was banned from classrooms after a high-profile scandal necessitating intervention by President Dmitry Medvedev.

In March this year, the 15-day Xenophobii.NET (No to Xenophobia) campaign ended in arrests when viewers leaving a screening at Rodina film theater in the center of St. Petersburg were dispersed by the police. A group of film-goers, mostly anarchists and members of the antifascist movement, were heading to a metro station after watching the film when the police attacked the group, detained around 20 of them and drove them to a police station, while the rest managed to escape.

In an interview with the BaltInfo news agency, Andrei Kuznetsov, a public relations coordinator for the St. Petersburg branch of the ultra right wing Movement Against Illegal Migration (DPNI), said UNESCOs experts had made a superficial judgment.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Dec. 20


The citys Babushkina Park on Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony will be invaded by dozens of rocking-and-rolling Santa Clauses during todays Santa Claus Parade. Not only will they parade through the park but there will also be competitions amongst the festively-clad participants and a musical master class. There will also be a prize for the best-dressed Santa Claus.


Add to your record collection during the Vinyl Christmas Sale at the KL10TCH bar on Konyushennaya Ploshchad today. Spend the afternoon perusing the records for sale while listening the classic, clean sound of records spinning out hits from a variety of musical genres and time periods.



Sunday, Dec. 21


The Zenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the clubs website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.


Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts made from a plethora of sweet treats. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.



Monday, Dec. 22


Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.



Tuesday, Dec. 23


Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBAs and Capital Legal Services event Arctic Expedition this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email office@spiba.ru by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.



Wednesday, Dec. 24


The Anglican Church of St. Petersburg we will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. led by Rev Wm. Shepley Curtis of the Episcopal Church. The service will be held at the Swedish Church at 1/3 Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa.



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