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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

Thursday, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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