'A Gypsy Woman Cannot Be the Face of Russia'

Revealing deep rifts in Russian society, online detractors target the new Miss Russia, an ethnic Tatar, for her exotic looks.

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Elmira Abdrazakova from Mezhdurechensk smiles after winning the "Miss Russia" annual national beauty pageant at the Barvikha Luxury Village Concert Hall, outside Moscow, on March 2, 2013. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Officially Russia prides itself on being a diverse, multicultural country.

So it seemed appropriate when 18-year-old Elmira Abdrazakova -- the daughter of a Russian mother and a Tatar father from frigid Kemerovo Oblast -- was crowned Miss Russia 2013 on March 2.

But the online reaction was enough to wipe the smile off Abdrazakova's face. Within hours of her victory, an avalanche of thousands of hate messages filled with ethnic slurs came in from people espousing Russian nationalist views, forcing Abdrazakova to shut down her social-media pages.

One person wrote that there should be a law barring "Tatar women and also highland and lowland ethnic Shors" from participating in beauty contests.

Another wrote that "a gypsy woman cannot be the face of Russia."

The reaction prompted Abdrazakova to shut down her page on the popular social-networking site Vkontakte.ru "in order to avoid further provocations," as she told the Russian News Service. She said that the comments were motivated by "racism or some kind of nationalism" but added that people in the public spotlight have to expect negative reactions.

She said she expects to put her page back up in the near future.

The reaction against Abdrazakova's victory comes at a time of rising nationalist sentiment in Russia. Nationalist Cossacks recently began patrolling Moscow streets. They have also pledged to guard Orthodox churches after the performance-art group Pussy Riot offended many believers by performing part of an anti-Putin punk song in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

For winning Miss Russia, Abdrazakova received $100,000 and a scholarship. She will represent Russia in the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions.

Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleyev on March 5 presented Abdrazakova with a local medal and the keys to a one-room apartment. He also gave Abdrazakova's mother a medal for "Maternal Valor" and a 50,000 ruble ($1,630) prize.

The second runner-up in the Miss Russia 2013 pageant, Irina Tumanova from the Republic of Kalmykia, has not reported any similar experience.

In 2004, a Tatar named Diana Zaripova won the Miss Russia contest and there did not appear to be any particularly negative reaction.

However, last month a Tatar woman, 21-year-old Dina Garipova, was selected to represent Russia at the Eurovision-2013 competition in Sweden. Although she was not the victim of any outpouring of the kind that Abdrazakova has received, Internet commentators wrote that she doesn't have "the nerve, the mentality, or the appearance" to be a star.

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
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