She is a feminist, defends minorities in Russia and has become famous through social media. With her feminist song Russian Woman, she praises the power of Russian women and encourages them to be more independent. With her lyrics, she resists all sorts of stereotypes: “Youre already thirty, hello, where are your children? You are beautiful, but you have to lose weight.”
Singer Manizja, born in Tajikistan, represents Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam next month. She won the preliminaries with a majority of the votes. But her participation now evokes a great deal of anger in Russia. Anger about her lyrics, but also about her origins. She gets a daily storm of hate messages and death threats.
Correspondent Iris de Graaf visited her in her studio in Moscow:
Manizya came to Russia as a little girl. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a bloody war broke out in Tajikistan, and her parents fled with her to Moscow. “My mother left all her dreams for the future, to give us a better life. She had five jobs so I could study music,” Manizja remembers her childhood.
From the age of 15, Manizja started writing songs and performing. But she became really known through Instagram, where she shared her music and video clips. Participating in the Song Contest is a dream of hers that is now coming true. Though that dream is overshadowed by a wave of xenophobia and misogyny by conservative Russians.
“ Youre a gypsy with kebab on your head. Youre dirty. Go back to your own country, even though Russia is just my country,” says Manizja, reading some comments from her phone. “Some people even wish me death. Theyre hoping my plane to Rotterdam crashes next month. That really goes beyond all limits.”
Shes storing her phone. “You know, I dont want to read too many of these messages. By doing so, I give those reactions too much power. Im trying to focus on the people who are behind me. My team, my friends, my fans.”
Insult of the woman
Apart from the messages Manizja receives on social media, official agencies in Russia are also turning against her. The Russian Union of Orthodox Women called for a ban on the song. The song would be an insult to the woman and a threat to traditional values in Russia.
At a higher level, her participation is now questioned. Valentina Matvijenko, the President of the Russian Federation Council, demanded a review of the selection process at a parliament session last week.
Manizja admits shes worried. “When I read all these messages, all I wanted to do was sit in a corner crying. But thats exactly what they want.”
Example for young girls
Manizja wants to show her fans that it is important to show that she does not succumb to the pressure, she says. Despite the hate messages, official investigations and threats, she wants to go to the Song Contest at all costs. “I wont let you break me. I can see the young girls watching the Song Contest all over the world. For them I do it, I want to be an example for them”.
She sees it as a great opportunity to talk to the world about topics that are important to her, and to break stereotypes on both sides. “I am Tajik, but Russia has accepted and raised me. I want the world to see our country as I know it: generous, with lots of loving, strong and smart people. Were much more alike than we think.”