The Russian-Speaking Community and the Trump Presidency

Tuesday, September 17, 2019
6:00pm
Rennert Hall, Kraft Center (606 West 115th Street, lower level)

Please join us for a panel discussion featuring Steven Kaplan, host of the radio and TV show "Tolkovishche with Seva Kaplan" and Rafael Shimunov, an artist an activist from Queens, moderated by Professor Anna Katsnelson.

The majority of Russian-speaking immigrants in the U.S. are Republican-leaning. According to U.S. News and World Report, 70% to 75% of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants voted for Republican candidates in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. While Brooklyn, New York, leans blue overall, in the 2016 election Trump received up to 81% of the vote in some precincts of the Russian-speaking enclaves of Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

Russian speakers in the U.S. are divided intergenerationally, with many older voters preferring Republicans for their historically tough stance on Russia while younger voters are becoming more actively involved in protesting Trump. Trump, however, has not maintained the Republicans' traditionally tough stance on Russia, and he uses his office as a bully pulpit fostering anti-immigrant language during a time of mass shootings targeting ethnic minorities, including one at a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg that welcomed many Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants in the 70s, 80s, 90s. The assailant chose that synagogue for its support of HIAS, an organization that has brought many Russian-speaking immigrants to the U.S. Despite these seeming contradictions to their values, the older Russian-speaking community continues to support Trump.

Panelists will discuss this disconnect in the Russian-speaking community.

Rafael Shimunov is an artist and activist from Queens, NYC who arrived to the U.S. as a HIAS child refugee from Russian-dominated Uzbekistan. His narrative livestream from JFK airport during the first implementation of Trump’s Muslim Ban garnered 16 million viewers and helped spark airport protests across the country, later landing him on CNN. He has recently installed an unauthorized exhibit at the Whitney Museum to protest the (now former) co-chair’s manufacturing of tear gas and chemical explosives used by Border Patrol on families seeking asylum, and helped successfully organize Queens residents against building an Amazon headquarters because of the company's ties to ICE, police militarization, and labor abuse. Rafael is an executive board member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), is the co-founder of The Jewish Vote, and helped grow IfNotNow as an early organizer. He has worked with Michael Moore, The Center for Constitutional Rights, The Working Families Party and is a team-recipient of a Cannes award for digital agency work. He helped launch the largest national bail fund in history.

Steven Kaplan has hosted the radio and TV show "Tolkovishche with Seva Kaplan" since 1993, and played a foundational role in Russian radio in America. He has been featured in the New York Times, NY Daily News and i24news.tv. Born in Moscow to a family of musicians, Kaplan was educated by the "Enemies of the People": Samizdat, BBC, Radio Liberty, VOA, and others. He has served in the Soviet Army; worked as a bear hunter; held a position in the psychology department at Moscow State University; and was a refusenik and dissident. From 1989 to 1993, after having escaped fromt he USSR to the U.S., he worked as a producer/director for the NY office of Radio Liberty.