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Who are the Russians in Australia?

Australia is a country where people from very different cultural, ethnic and national backgrounds live together, build a common future and improve their society. National coherence has become one of the key goals of multiculturalism in Australia.Given this environment, why is it that people from certain ethnic and cultural backgrounds are less represented in mass media than people from other ethnic backgrounds? This state of affairs sometimes raises curiosity about the underrepresented groups, but more often it leads to indifference to their needs, prejudice, and uncertainty about them in the cultural and social sphere.

There are several ethnic groups in Australia which rarely appear in the media. And   among them are Russians in Australia. At the present time there are so many articles and talk shows about Russian international politics, but we never hear voices of everyday people from a Russian background who live on the same street with us, go to the same shops, work and study with us. Why did they come to Australia? Which place in Australian society is occupied by new Australians with Russian roots?

It is important to note that the wave of Russian immigration from the transitional Russia of the 90s, who witnessed the period of crisis and restructuring of the economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, hasve adopted a particular trait to rely only on themselves. It shapes the image of Russians in general as a resilient nation with mentally and physically strong representatives. Such self-sufficiency in making decisions and building one’s own life makes young people from a Russian background, first, devoid of illusions that life is an endless fairy tale where everything is always smooth, and second, the experience of growing up in the new Russia teaches them to rely on their own strength and to look for flexible ways out of difficult or stressful situations.

Many stories of success of Russian immigrants in Australia started with hard work, openness to change and self-belief. Unfortunately, the flip side of this particular mindset is the difficulty in building group relationships between different generations of Russian immigrants and as a result, there is no solid Russian community, which on behalf of the group would help Russian immigrants in Australia to address domestic issues, organise events with Russian cultural flavor and present itself as a group with a common cultural identity.

I talked to three young Russian Australians. Let me shortly introduce our heroes. Bogdan, Natalia and Olga have the same background: they came from the new post-soviet Russia.

Bogdan

Bogdan represents the newest generation of Russian immigrants. He is still in the process of immigration to Australia. In his past Bogdan graduated from the college in England, lived in Russia, England and the Czech Republic and then decided to try Australia, where he was able to study for a Bachelor of Business, Bogdan Management and Finance at Bond University.

Bogdan thinks that business education is very practical and reality-oriented in Australia. Therefore it maintains a high standard and prepares students to start their professional life on a relatively high level right after graduation from the university.

In addition to his studies at Bond University Bogdan periodically participates in different socially-oriented initiatives. For example, as a volunteer, he helped to organisze a charity race at his university to raise funds for the Heart Foundation. This organization funds life-saving heart research, and works to improve heart disease prevention and care for all Australians. Currently Bogdan helps with the creation of business plans for the organisation, which aims to help people with mental illness so that they had the opportunity to start a business.

Thinking about the future, Bogdan, like many young representatives of his generation, who came from Russia to build a better life in Australia, knows exactly what he wants: to gain financial independence and build a career in order to be able to help his loved ones in Russia. Setting goals and striving for success, he does it for the sake of others, and, is willing to work hard and benefit Australia. Like all young people who have left their home country chasing a dream, he has a plan for the future.

Bogdan: “The main goal is, of course, to begin to build a career, because there is a responsibility for the family, responsibility for myself, and responsibility to build a financial fundament for the future of me, my parents and future family. Plus I’m determined to help my family.”

Natalia

Natalia Nataliafirst come to Australia in 2000. Before immigrating, she studied in England. During her life in Australia Natalia transited to the Australian environment, graduated from the university, took part in social initiatives, and found a job. Currently she is the Chief Executive Officer position of a membership-based organisation in the health sector.

Now Natalia feels more Australian than Russian, however, the strength and resilience which formed the core of her personality during the childhood in Russia help her in life here.

Natalia came to Australia to work hard and do well and found out that this really works in Australia. She was very determined to be successful in life and didn’t let herself relax as much as others could. She thinks being from Russia was a real advantage, because of her strict past in the soviet-model school environment where children learn to be street-smart.

Natalia: “When you experience moving from one country to another one, you need all your smarts to adjust in the place you are. When you first come and don’t know anyone you are trying to meet people and to understand what to do. That makes you very strong, but also quite flexible. You don’t have to be a rock, you become like a river. And you learn quickly under pressure, you just flow over obstacles.”

Natalia also believes that it is important to contribute to the society in which she lives. For 6 years she was on the Management Committee for NSW at Australians of Native Title and Reconciliation. This is a civic organization that supports the rights of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders within Australian society. Natalia organised a Parliamentary Greeting Event for Aboriginal people in the New South Wales Parliament and hoeld responsibilities of a treasurer for this organisation.

Natalia: “I believe that issues experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia are severe and unjust. I think as an immigrant to this country I don’t have to be blinded by some episodes of the history by which some Australians have been blinded. Because of growing up in this country they cannot see the injustice that is still faced by Aboriginal people. But I didn’t grow up with it and these problems are obvious to me. I think that it is important to volunteer on issues that are close to your heart if you are going to contribute to the country in which you live. And for me it’s a social injustice and issues of human rights.”

Olga

Olga moved to Australia 5 years ago charmed by this unique and distant country during her studieOlgas in English

school. Coming through different stages of immigration, Olga has realized the uniqueness of her Russian cultural identity and opened “IZBA Russian Treats” which is a Russian-flavored bakery located in Sydney. Through theis business Olga opened the channel to Russian cuisine and culture for Australians who wants to try something new and start discovering a distant Russia.

Olga believes that all barriers are in your mind. If you really want to achieve something, all is in your hands. Australia contains a lot of opportunities and it is very important to step across your fears and start trying something.

Olga: “Our generation grew up in the country where life wasn’t easy at that time. We came through the disintegration of the Soviet Union, crisis in all spheres of life in 90s, restructuring of Russia…It is fair enough to say that we’ve seen a lot of restless times. And I think that this gave us a more realistic view of life. We can easier adjust to different situations. I mean, we are able to respond more flexibly to certain things, to get used to any kind of situations. Maybe, because of this side of Russian mentality we are stronger in difficulties. Additionally, Russian culture exists for many centuries and that influences our perceptions of reality, that gives us a bigger perspective. I feel that all expats from Russia and former Soviet Union have this advantage of great and long-standing Russian culture which gives them a specific perspective of life.”

Relying on themselves and inspiring others by their own example, the founders of “IZBA Russian Treats” help schools in their business district, act actively as representatives of small businesses on different professional forums and promote Russian culture supporting such cultural initiatives like Russian Film Festival.

Being Russian as well, I personally share the idea of our heroes that we have to be persistent and goal-oriented in our work, be open to new ideas and cultures and help the society where we live to become a better place. As one of my interlocutors noticed, from whatever background a person is, there are always some strengths  from the culture that you have. Only through acceptance of yourself and your background, acceptance and understanding of other cultures, do you have a chance to live harmoniously in multicultural Australia.

Interview with L-Fresh the Lion

All Together Now was lucky enough to catch up with one of our ambassadors, L-Fresh the Lion, who has been a trailblazer for social justice in the hip-hop music scene. Natalia spoke to L-Fresh not only about how he got into the hip-hop industry in the first place, but how he embraced his culture as a practicing Sikh into his music, and what his thoughts were on diversity in the entertainment industry in Australia.

 

TRANSCRIPT:

All Together Now: How do you express your cultural and ethnic identity through hip-hop? Do you think that music and hip-hop, particularly, is a universal platform that may be understood by everyone regardless of their cultural background or religion?

L-Fresh the Lion: Hip-hop music and hip-hop culture in general, I think, is one of those beautiful things which goes beyond the barriers of race, class, gender, politics and any type of inequality, and becomes a force that brings people together in a positive way. In terms of my cultural identity, I think that this is an inevitable part of me that comes across everything that I do without having me to think about it. This is so much a part of who I am from the formation of my values to more notably in my appearance as I am a practicing Sikh. So, you know, culture is there in everything that I do.

All Together Now: Are you keen to express your views on racism in your lyrics? What motivates you to speak up?

L-Fresh the Lion: I’ve been thinking about it since the first time I wrote my lyrics, when I was a 14-years-old teenager in high school. The first thing I ever wrote was called ‘World of Discrimination’, talking about my experience with racism. So, it started from the very beginning. I think it was one of the core things that brought me to a space where I felt like I needed to write music. Again, it’s one of those things that influenced me in that I was raised by my parents and by those around me to be a vocal and active member of society, to be someone who is interested in not only uplifting those around me in the community, but also to be a positive force in a world. I feel that it’s my duty to use this platform, to be able to develop life through the music, and positively contribute to the world around me. Moreover, one of those things that I am obviously talking about is my experience with racism. And I think it is still here, because this is a very prominent issue in our society today.

All Together Now: Why did you join All Together Now? What led you here?

L-Fresh the Lion: All Together Now is the only organization existing in a 24/7 basis in Australia, which calls to address racism in a positive way. One of the important things I’ve seen All Together Now do is work with young people, while taking innovative approach to tackling racism. All Together Now makes people feel like they are active participants in creating a better society. That was important for me not only personally, but also because regardless of what I was doing, or speaking about, I was always trying to find a way to address this problem. When I found All Together Now operating in that space and I heard about their projects, I wanted to be involved and be able to help them and to make contributions.

All Together Now: How much is the spirit of multiculturalism felt in the underground hip-hop community? Is this community open to everyone who is willing to join it?

L-Fresh the Lion: Hip-hop since its inception is in America, but also in Australia has been very multicultural. Some of the first people who operated in the space of hip-hop in Australia came from all worlds of life. From the perspective of the present, contemporary hip-hop is on the level where you have people from diverse backgrounds, operating in this space. This is because, like I mentioned earlier, hip-hop erases all those barriers that tend to differentiate us as human beings. So, it’s a very multicultural space that often doesn’t get reflected in mainstream media. That’s because we have issues in the entertainment industry as a whole, which haven’t been spoken about quite extensively. Most recently it was discussed, I think on Sunrise, there was debate about the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry and, more specifically, on TV. Lack of diversity is something that is prevalent in all entertainment industries in Australia. But the roots of this problem are on a community level. That is what people don’t see unless they are active participants in hip-hop. Hip-hop is very, very diverse.

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All Together Now: Do you have a big dream? What is that?

L-Fresh the Lion: Wow (laughing), I have lots of dreams. I suppose, it depends on context, you know, because I have dreams in a variety of different aspects in my life. If we are talk about dreams on my personal level, I have dreams in terms of what family I would like to build, or dreams about music. But I also have dreams about what I would like to see in politics, or what I would like to see in the world. I think, those things are important, and I want to share these dreams with people. I would like to see a country that could be an example of a space of values. I’d love to see the dominant culture in Australia becomes one of welcome, one of love and compassion, and one of valuing all human lives equally, and not some more than others.

I would like to see these dreams not just be reflected on a theoretical level, but enforced on a practical level. To ensure that inequality is addressed, we firstly have to begin with the inequality gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the community, as well as looking at the gender inequality between Australian men and women. The discussion of inequality is also raised when we are talking about the way we treat asylum seekers and refugees, and migrants in general in the context of race. I think these are all things that come down to the culture we live in, especially when we don’t have a dominant culture that consists of positive values. I would like to see Australia leading in that space of positive values. It is a dream that I have to speak out about, because Australia could be a leading example of positive racial culture and show this to the rest of the world, so that they can follow.

All Together Now: What do you consider makes a person a ‘Real Australian’?

L-Fresh the Lion: I think the answer to this question is something that I have been looking for my whole life. Been born in Australia, in South-West Sydney, and growing up here for a long period of time, and even to this day at some point, I’ve been made to question myself. People have questioned how Australian I am, because I don’t look like what people would consider an average Australian to look like. I look culturally different. So, I’ve been looking for that answer for a long, long time, because at what point can we collectively determine who is and who isn’t an Australian?

You know, I think, that the answer is obvious when you ask does the person have an Australian passport, or is that person an Australian citizen. But when you enter the term ‘Real Australian’ that makes things much, much more complicated. ‘Real’ becomes a question mark. How can we determine it? I think some important questions come with this word and we need to think about it. I don’t think that I have as an individual the sole pow