'Friendship' students learn to hate Russia

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BLACK STUDENTS at the Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University, once the Marxist- Leninist seat of learning for future leaders of underdeveloped countries in the sphere of Soviet influence, increasingly find themselves victims of slurs and physical attacks as Russians' deep-seated racism boils over.

They complain they are often referred to as 'monkeys' by Russians in the street, and that they are routinely mugged with gas bombs. They say Russians raid their dormitories at night and steal their money.

This week, scores of students clashed with police on the campus off Leninsky Prospect after a Zimbabwean history student had been killed by a bullet fired by a Moscow policeman. The campus was quiet yesterday after two days of disturbances, but students complained bitterly that the police were not listening to their side of the story, and that Moscow newspapers had too readily accepted the police version.

Reports in the papers referred to the students as 'hooligans' and said the policeman fired the shot in self-defence. One paper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, said the policeman had been assaulted by a group of Africans after he had reprimanded them for unseemly behaviour. The newspaper compared the incident with last spring's riots in South Central Los Angeles.

The official police version of the shooting began with a group of drunk black students on the campus using bad language and behaving in an aggressive way to a passer-by who was walking his dog. He asked the policeman, Andrei Firdovsky, to defend him. Mr Firdovsky tried to calm down the student, but was hit on the head with a beer bottle. In his own self- defence the policeman shot the student, Gideon Chimusoro, in the neck and he died before the ambulance arrived.

According to the students, they were celebrating Zimbabwe Heroes Day, drinking beer and vodka at one of the picnic tables on the campus, when they were attacked by a dog. One of the students tried to kick the dog, and its owner and a policeman, who were sitting nearby, started arguing with the students. The policeman hit one of the students, then kicked him and took out his gun. The student ran away.

The policeman then told the group that was left to be quiet: anyone who spoke would be shot. Gideon Chimusoro spoke up and was promptly shot in the neck. The policeman has been charged with a crime under Article 171, which forbids the abuse of power.

The Zimbabwean embassy said the incident appeared to have been an accident, but a spokesman, Martin Chiketa, said the embassy had 'not been short of its problems' with regard to the students and racist attacks, and that it appeared to be the result of Russians 'venting frustrations about their own lives'.

The university, which in its heyday had several thousand students, is now a much run-down place. Those attending have mostly been there for some years, having been the last to obtain a free education. Now, students have to pay. The courses usually last five or six years.

For some time, the students have been reporting filthy conditions and bad food, apart from the racist attacks. The number of suicides among the black students has been disproportionately high, according to diplomatic sources.