December 18 in Russian history


I have never heard before of the events I am about to describe and it was a completely unexpected discovery.

A couple of weeks earlier, the body of Edmondo Asare-Addo, a student of Kalinin Medical Institute from Ghana, was found near Moscow. On 18 December, African students in Moscow organized a rally in memory of Asare-Addo on the Red Square. They were convinced that their mate was stabbed by a Soviet student. The accounts of this rally are extremely scarce. I have found only three sources. One of them is a transcript of a program by RFE/RL, broadcasted on 19 December 1963: Africans March on the Kremlin:

Radio Free Europe/Munich

Non-Target Communist Area Analysis Department

Background Information USSR

19 December 1963


The numbers  involved in yesterday's protest
march  by African  students  to the  Kremlin
suggest  a  high  degree of  solidarity  and
organization on their part in the face of an
parent  miscarriage  of  Soviet justice.  At
present  there are  only about  1400 African
students  in the  USSR, and  since  500 took
part in  the demonstration (New  York Times,
19 December 1963) it  seems that more than a
third  of  all the  Africans  now at  Soviet
universities      believe     first     that
Mr.  Asare-Addo  was  murdered and  secondly
that the  motive was at  least partly racial
prejudice,  Since some of  the demonstrators
came from  points as remote  as Tashkent and
Odessa it is clear that they were protesting
against  discrimination  in  general  rather
than  out of  sympathy for  the dead  man in
particular,  whom they almost  certainly did
not know.

The  degree of organization  involved points
to the  failure of the  long-standing Soviet
policy  of refusal  to  recognize the  Black
African  Students  Union.  This refusal  can
only  be explained on  the grounds  that the
Kremlin   feared    the   emergence   of   a
non-communist, pan-African  body which might
present  unwelcome  political  demands.  The
march  on December  18th shows  that  such a
body, with  a high degree of  cohesion, is a
de  facto  reality  even  if at  present  it
operates without using the name of the BASU.

One  of  the questions  raised  by the  mass
movement  of  African  students  to  Moscow,
naturally    enough,   is    how    it   was
financed. The stipend paid by the Kremlin to
the   Africans  at   Kiev   University,  for
example, is 90 rubles a month. Yet a Russian
student is paid only  24 rubles a month, and
still  manages to  live  tolerably. The  jet
fare from Tashkent  is only about 45 rubles,
and  therefore it  is not  difficult  to see
that the demonstrators could well have flown
to Moscow at Khrushchev's expense.

There have  been signs recently  of a Soviet
intention to  reduce some of  the privileges
granted to foreign students,[l]


[1] See  Izvestia, 27 November  1962, letter
from V. Zorin.

[page 2]

and the aftermath of the protest march seems
likely  to lead  to tighter  restrictions in
the short-term  future. As for  the students
themselves,     their     conviction    that
Mr. Asare-Addo was  murdered and the contest
between  it and  the official  medical claim
that there were  "no signs of violent death"
are  bound to  increase their  doubts  as to
their own physical safety. Already they feel
not only that  the Russian workers are often
hostile  to them, but  also that  the police
turn a  blind eye  in any brawl  rather than
offer  them  adequate  protection.  The  net
result is  likely to be  less enthusiasm for
Soviet higher education in the future.

At  present there  are an  estimated 11,0000
foreign students in  the USSR, compared with
46, 000 in  Britain alone. The adverse ratio
for the USSR is therefore already strikingly
large  when the propaganda  flourishes which
accompanied  the   inauguration  of  Lumumba
University  (the most  segregated university
in  Europe[2] are  recalled.  In March  1963
about one-sixth  of the African  students in
Sofia  left   Bulgaria  in  protest  against
Zhivkov's  efforts to break  the All-African
Students  Union. It  will be  interesting to
note whether a  similar exodus from the USSR
develops  as  a  result  of  "The  death  of
Mr. Addo and the inept efforts of the Soviet
authorities  to break  up the  march  to the

It   is  understandable   that  Khrushchev's
militia should  have been taken  by surprise
in  this   case.  Alter  all   the  MYD  has
remarkably  little experience  of organised,
genuine  political   proteat.  Although  the
major result of December 18th is the loss to
the  Soviet image  in  Africa, an  important
by-product  will be the  increased awareness
of   the  Moscow   population   as  to   how
demonstrations  are  staged  by  independent
political  movements  in  free countries.  A
second  side-effect will  be  greater public
appreciation   of   African  resentment   at
discrimination  in   the  USSR.  Regrettably
racial tension  is rising in  Eastern Europe
as a  result of the events  in Sofia, Prague
and Moscow this year. The lesson to be drawn
is  that the problem  is universal,  and not
confined  to South  Africa  or the  southern
part  of the United  States as  Moscow would
have the world  believe. Higher education in
London or  Leningrad brings social, cultural
and technical benefits  to the students from
the  underdeveloped countries,  but  it does
not of itself  bring political advantages to
the  donor country.  Moscow is  learning its
lesson    in    this    respect    extremely
slowly.  Yesterday's  protest  march on  Red
Square may help to drive it home.



[2] There are 2600 colored students and only
400 Soviet citizens at the University.

The second article was published in Time magazine on 27 December 1963:"We Too Are People". Here are some excerpts:

Not since the Trotskyite riots in the 1920s had Moscow seen anything like it. While crowds of Russians watched with amazement, more than 400 African students last week battled Red cops in the streets, inside Red Square itself, right past Nikita Khrushchev's own office window. "Moscow — A Second Alabama," said one crudely lettered sign, in Russian and in English. "Stop Killing Africans," warned another placard.

Mourning Bands. The race riot was touched off by the mysterious death of Edmond Asare-Addo, 29, a second-year medical student from Ghana who was studying at Kalinin Institute, about 100 miles northwest of the capital. On the eve of his marriage to a Russian girl, the student's body was discovered near the railroad tracks of a suburban Moscow station. The Soviet police claimed that Asare-Addo, drunk, had fallen down in the 11°-below-zero weather and frozen to death. But Ghanaians, who knew that the marriage was fiercely opposed by the girl's Russian friends, insisted that the youth was stabbed below the chin and tossed into the snow.

Prague has erupted in two race riots within two years. Last February in Sofia, Bulgarian militiamen wielded clubs against 200 Ghanaians who were marching down the main street demanding nothing more than their own campus organization. In Moscow, Africans have been smoldering for years over thinly disguised racial discrimination. Except for a token number of Russian students, the dining rooms and dormitories of Lumumba U. (which Africans sardonically call "Apartheid U.") are segregated. Africans find it difficult to date a Russian girl. Students squirm at the stares they get in public and object to poor service they often receive in restaurants. Despite professions of brotherhood, many Russians still think Africans are half-civilized strangers who have just emerged from the jungle.

Pravda commented (in Russian):

The reactionary circles in the West, who oppose the education of the specialists from the young countries of Africa and Asia, spread absurd information about the allegedly "unfriendly attitude" of the Soviet people towards the African students who study in the USSR. This time a sad accident which led to the death of a student from Ghana became an occasion for a new campaign of slander.

Since the information of such events was not available from the official Soviet sources, I assume that these two articles were based mostly on the direct information from the rebelling students and, in part, on rumors. Considering the amount of mutual slander in the years of the Cold War, we could doubt the objectivity of this information. So, the report of the Soviet police is indirectly confirmed by the known fact of a mass celebration of Kenya's independence which took place on the night when Asare-Addo was killed. Another thing worth to be mentioned is that someone invited the students to the embassy of Ghana to receive the Christmas gifts. There were no gifts in the embassy and the indignant students demanded that the embassy provides them with financial support. When the embassy refused, they went to the Red Square. Let's not forget also that the opposition to Kwame Nkruma was gaining strength in these years and they might provoke the events, trying to raise the discontent among the students. And one more point. From my purely subjective POV, the prevailing attitude of the Soviet citizens to the black people in 1960s was very positive. Perhaps, it might be apprehended as a "positive racism" — in spite of the warm feelings, the distinction between the white and the black was still drawn clearly. Of course, this does not exclude possibility of racial crimes, but the last quoted paragraph of the article in Time ("In Moscow, Africans have been smoldering for years over thinly disguised racial discrimination") was by no means true.


Soviet dissident and human rights activist, Vladimir Bukovsky, who had been imprisoned in the USSR, was exchanged in Zurich for former leader of the Chilean Communist Party Luis Corvalán. 21 years later, Vladimir Bukovsky plans to become a candidate on the Russian presidential elections of 2008 — probably, the only honest candidate. See the article in Wikipedia about Vladimir Bukovsky for more information about this outstanding man.


TOR Hershman said...

You may enjoy this wee YouTube film, starring Ovid



Anonymous said...

Hi Dmitri - I recently found an old newspaper in my basement from 1963. The top headline was "African Students Storm Kremlin in Racial Riot". I found this interesting and did a Google search, which led me to this posting. If you are interested, I can scan it in and send it to you. You can email me at my Yahoo account: chs_bambui.
- Mark