I come from a multicultural background. I was born and raised in a rather small city located in western Ukraine, at the border of Slovakia, and not too far from the borders of Hungary, Romania, and Poland. Therefore although most of the population of my birth city consisted of Ukrainians, there were also a lot of Russians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Czechs and Romanian people in its demographics. There was also a rather big percentage of the Jewish and Gypsy population. My parents were also from different ethnic background. Growing up in a multinational diverse community and international family I never fully understood why some people hated representatives of other nations, races or religions. Christian Ortodox, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant religions managed to peacefully coexist in our city. However, I have to admit that institutional racism, as well as personally mediated racism, did exist. Jews, Gypsies, and Chukchi (people living in Russia near the Bering Sea) were among the most oppressed minorities. The latter ones were also subjects of numerous jokes.
In general, the attitude towards other races in the former Soviet Union was mostly positive. Big cities, especially Moscow and Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) always welcomed students from Africa, Asia and South America. Usually, foreign students were treated with respect and sometimes even with admiration. Students from over 170 countries had an opportunity to receive free public education here; many of them also received their Doctorates. The famous Peoples' Friendship University of Russia where many African and South American students studied was ranked number three among all of the Soviet colleges.
However, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union, and even more Jews were the victims of anti-Jewish rioting before the revolution. I grew up in an atheist family and therefore as a child didn’t really care if the local synagogue was nationalized by the Soviet authorities. However, it was a very painful childhood experience when one of my classmates whom I considered to be my best friend started to tell everybody in the class that he didn’t want to be my friend anymore because I had Jewish roots. We used to be friends and had a really good time together until discrimination and prejudice went over his conscious.
Another friend of mine never betrayed me, but his anti-Semitic father didn’t like our friendship and didn’t appreciate my presence. It caused a lot of pain for both of us because it was hard for my friend to understand why I was not welcome into his house, but at the same time he had to obey his father.
Because my adopted father was Jewish he never was a member of the communist party and therefore couldn’t enjoy certain economic and social privileges, such as higher social position, higher salary and some other benefits to which members of the communist party were entitled. This was despite the fact that he was an active and enthusiastic member of the local community and contributed more to the cultural and educational development of our city than many communist party members. Still, he was a well-respected person in our city and never complained about oppression.
I started to feel national discrimination more sharply when I was in the Army. People from all 15 former Soviet republics used to serve in the Russian military. Sometimes there were situations when among the majority of Russians there were some other nationalities who spoke with an Asian or Caucasian (for example Georgian, Chechen or Ingush) accent. In this case they would sometimes become objects of jokes, assaults and harassment. However, in some other divisions the situations were the opposite, and in this case Russians would become objects of the “reverse discrimination”.
As for socioeconomic groups, there were no classes in the former Soviet Union. People were “equal” as they taught us, although,…