D.he Tajik pop singer Manizha, who represented Russia at the Eurovision competition with the song “Russian Woman”, aroused hostility for this, but also became a symbol of a new self-confidence among non-Slavic Russians and those with a migration background. Thirty-year-old Manizha, who mixes folklore with soul and hip-hop and sings in Russian, English and Tajik, works as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for refugees and migrants from Islamic countries. We reach her by video call at a folklore festival in the capital of Bashkortostan, Ufa, where she performs multi-ethnic music and of course “Russian Woman”. Manizha speaks with warmth, often laughs.
You received a lot of applause in Russia for your song “Russian Woman”, but there was also a hate campaign online. Have the attacks subsided in the meantime?
At least I don’t get any more threats. The support is increasing. After the competition I drove to the Taimyr polar region, where I met a woman with a reindeer from the small Nganasans on the road. She asked if I was Manizha who sang at Eurovision. When I said yes, she solemnly lit a pipe and thanked me for singing about Russian women like no one before. Russia is multiethnic, which is often overlooked, it is a descendant of fraternal Soviet society.
They then performed the song in a children’s home in Moscow.
On June 1st, Child Protection Day, the First Channel of State Television organizes gifts for children’s homes. The children of this home wanted Manizha to come and sing “Russian Woman” with them. It says that children grow up without a dad, that broken families don’t break you. But the orphans hear from the adults that two parents are normal, which unsettles them. There are so many broken families, I missed my father. None of my co-workers has a full family. That is normal.
You talk a lot with teenagers like you do now in Ufa. What moves the youngsters?
They ask how to become a strong woman, how to gain confidence, how to love yourself. Whether to go to a psychologist. You are constantly being judged on social networks through likes and comments. They are fighting against a depression and against the opinion of the traditional patriarchal society, which does not accept them for what they are.
What is your advice to young people?
That they shouldn’t be afraid. That you will make a lot of mistakes and that you will have to accept that. That they shouldn’t stop believing in the craziest ideas. Because only children and adolescents can do that, even creative people rarely retain this ability in adulthood.
You are committed to the LGBT community and women’s rights, but have said you are not a feminist.
There’s an old joke: what’s worse for a woman in an oriental society to be a prostitute or a feminist? The answer is: feminist is worse. I come from a traditional family and have retained many traditional values. Women in the Caucasus and Central Asia do not trust feminism, it is too radical for them. Convincing them of the value of a free life is difficult because they are afraid of aggressive feminism and then simply close themselves off.
You and your mother found a non-governmental organization to help women with traditional mentalities, from the Caucasus, from Central Asia or refugees in Russia. Why is it necessary?