The Congress of Russian Americans (CRA), a San Francisco-based NGO with the mission of preserving and promoting Russian culture, language and spiritual heritage and combatting Russophobia, has asked Manhattan Mini Storage to remove a "provocative" banner that it says discriminates against Russian-speaking Americans.
Natalie Sabelnik, the organisation’s president, told Sputnik that the company’s sign on the Westside Highway in Manhattan reading “Vote Because Russian lessons are expensive” is blatant discrimination.
Vote because Russian lessons are expensive.— Aissatou 🇸🇳🇺🇸🇮🇩🇲🇦 (@SlutandSassy) September 6, 2020
This election is wild 😂😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/4ICzO4ORKn
“I do not expect an answer to the letter [sent by CRA] but if they do, it probably won’t be immediately. I’m certain they will consult with their lawyers first,” Sabelnik said.
Last week, Alexey Tarasov, a lawyer and CRA board member sent Manhattan Mini Storage a letter urging them to remove the banner.
“The meaning of your message is unequivocal: your basic premise is that the Russians will undermine elections in this country and that Americans need to fight against that. The ‘Russian lessons’ is a thinly veiled reference to the election of 2016, which led to an investigation of the Russian Government’s purported collusion with the Trump campaign,” Tarasov wrote.
“The display you put up for the public to see is grossly offensive, insasmuch as it disparages all people of Russian origin and all people that speak the Russian language,” the attorney continued. “We call on you to remove the banner and never to display such messages in the future.”
Tarasov recalled that as many as 600,000 Russian-Americans live in New York City, with a million more residing in the New York Tri-State area.
“Imagine inserting any other nationality, ethnicity or race into your message. How would the public feel if you wrote ‘Vote because Jewish lessons are expensive’ or ‘because Black lessons are expensive?’” the lawyer asked.
In addition to asking the company to take down the banner and make a commitment not to display any more signs with “ethnically-offensive” messages, Tarasov urged Manhattan Mini Storage to institute written “Anti-Discrimination/Implicit Bias policies” and train staff on the matter of “diversity and anti-discrimination (to include national origin discrimination.”
Wave of Online Anger
Manhattan Mini Storage’s sign sparked a wave of angry comments on its Facebook page, many of them by Russian-speakers.
“Are you seriously suggesting that Russia is about to invade Manhattan? If so, rest assured that 600,000 Russian Speaking New Yorkers can translate for you. By the way, that’s how many people you have offended by this. Did people run out of reasons to vote for Biden and that’s the best you could think of? Remove this xenophobic garbage!” a user named Lyudmila wrote.
“It’s a pure hate speech. You guys vote for equality and bullying people for their Nation. It isn’t funny. It isn’t smart. This campaign should be sued,” Nick added.
“Disgusting xenophobic Cold War message. Let’s discriminate against Russians in a time when there’s already so much division,” a user named Mar said.
“This is offensive and dumb at the same time. Are they implying that Trump is supported by Russia, or that Socialist/Democrats will remake USA into USSR?” Leon asked.
“Why are you spreading hatred?” Margaret Kimberley chimed in.
“I Am Russian-American. U r offending me. Can give some lessons for half a price if you wish,” a user named Elena joked.
“Lovely way to get rid of clients. Please keep going – which language lessons do you think will be cheaper?” Irina added.
“So to follow your logic, Trump is backed up by Russians, then you do not need to vote, Russians will do the magic again,” Julia wrote.
“Russophobia at its stupidest,” a user named Ruth quipped.
Russian Election Meddling Claims Won’t Die
Nevertheless, despite the lack of evidence of wrongdoing, Washington introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russian individuals and the Russian government, including the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in late 2016, and a package of sanctions and secondary restrictions in 2017 known as the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’. In August 2020, an exasperated Acting Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf, said that Washington had actually “run out of” Russians to sanction over the meddling claims.