Irina Rodnina, who posted the doctored image on Twitter. Photograph: Mihail Mokrushin/RIA Novosti
The subject of racism has become the focus of a public discussion inRussia after an MP from the Duma caused outrage by posting an image of Barack Obama on Twitter that was photoshopped to include a banana.
Irina Rodnina, an MP from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and a triple Olympic champion figure-skater, posted the picture on her personal Twitter account.
The image features Obama chewing, while a hand in the foreground waves a banana at him.
Rodnina insisted that there was nothing wrong with the photograph, and said she had been sent it by friends in America. “Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, and you should answer for your own hang-ups,” she wrote.
The doctored photograph of the US president looking at a banana that was posted on Twitter. Photograph: www.propagandes.info
The US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, wrote on Twitter that Rodnina was guilty of “outrageous behaviour, which only brings shame to her parliament and country”. A spokesperson for the US embassy quoted Thomas Jefferson in response to the tweet: “Bigotry is the disease of ignorance.”
Racism is rife in Russia, and black football players often face racial abuse involving bananas. In 2011, the Brazilian Roberto Carlos, playing for Russian team Anzhi Makhachkala, left the pitch in anger after a banana was thrown at him from the stands. In a separate incident, the club Zenit St Petersburg was fined the equivalent of about £6,300 when a fan offered Carlos a banana before a match.
Rodnina, who lived in the US for many years, deleted the photograph but has not apologised and remains unfazed by accusations of racism. Instead, she suggested that the wave of criticism she prompted from liberal journalists and other Russians was a conspiracy.
She implied on Twitter that the criticism was a campaign ordered by opposition politician Alexei Navalny. “Are there still some of you who haven’t had their say on Daddy Navalny’s orders?”
Navalny is a stringent Kremlin critic who earlier this month won 27% of the vote in Moscow mayoral elections, and who has himself been accused of racist statements.
The incident was widely discussed in the Russian press, with many commentators coming to the defence of the MP and figure skater.
“What Irina Konstantinovna put on Twitter is her business; it is her own personal space,” wrote the pro-Kremlin television presenter Vladimir Soloviev in a Moscow freesheet on Monday. “This is not a big scandal.”
He claimed that the reaction was oversensitive and that the photograph was not racist.
“I advise everyone who attacked her that the next time they go out for a coffee, they should not call it a black coffee but an African-American coffee.”
– The Guardian