‘Highly insensitive and disrespectful’: Miss Russia NZ pageant organizers urged to cancel or change

The Miss Russia NZ election is scheduled to take place on July 30 in Alexandra Park. Photo / Provided

A former Miss Russia NZ head judge wants the event canceled or used as a voice for women in Ukraine.

Organizers confirmed that the pageant celebrating Russian culture will take place as planned on July 30 at Auckland’s Alexandra Park Raceway.

But anti-war academic Elena Nikiforova, 48, said public events celebrating Russian culture are inappropriate at the moment given the war in Ukraine.

Though organizers said the pageant was “neutral” on the war, former Chief Justice Colin Mathura-Jeffree said he saw “there’s an air of political bias in these shows.”

“It’s important not to be neutral, but to stand up for the causes of justice and freedom for all that these pageants speak of so casually but directly,” Mathura-Jeffree said.

Former Miss Russia NZ chief judge Colin Mathura-Jeffree.  photo / file
Former Miss Russia NZ chief judge Colin Mathura-Jeffree. photo / file

“You have a platform and an opportunity to speak up for the victims of this conflict by being honest.

He said that if the event has to take place, he hopes it will be used as a platform for the benefit of Ukraine and will speak directly to the Russian people.

“If you must have your pageant to celebrate your cultural identity, then show the world that you are on the right side of history by not supporting such a monstrous war,” Mathura-Jeffree said.

“You just can’t smile and say you want to ‘save the children’ when you know Ukrainian babies are being killed.

“If you must have your pageant then be the voice of the women in Ukraine who are being silenced by guns and Russian bullets. Make a difference.”

Organizer Olga Ovsyannikova says Miss Russia NZ celebrates Russian culture and is neutral on the war.  photo / file
Organizer Olga Ovsyannikova says Miss Russia NZ celebrates Russian culture and is neutral on the war. photo / file

Organizer Olga Ovsyannikova refused to answer Mathura-Jeffree, saying “that’s his problem, not mine” and that he was no longer a judge on the pageant.

Ovsyannikova told the Herald she was neutral on the war in Ukraine and believed that political leaders know best what to do for their countries.

She has been organizing Miss Russia NZ since 2015 and said the pageant focused on introducing Russian culture to New Zealand and celebrating Russia’s cultural diversity.

“Our beauty pageant opens up unlimited opportunities for all Russian speaking women 18+ across the country and…the modeling, catwalking, posing, essential acting, fitness, inspirational workouts and the opportunity to make, experience and learn a difference in our community through Charity and volunteer work,” said Ovsyannikova.

“Our aspiration is to help all women feel beautiful, confident and strong, to be a role model for the Russian community and to learn about modeling and fashion.”

Elena Nikiforova, a linguist and research program coordinator at the University of Auckland, said she doesn't think Miss Russia NZ is appropriate at the moment.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Elena Nikiforova, a linguist and research program coordinator at the University of Auckland, said she doesn’t think Miss Russia NZ is appropriate at the moment. Photo / Dean Purcell

The event is believed to be the only Russian community event to come after a series of concert and show cancellations following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

Members of the Russian community in Auckland have reported seeing increased hostilities here since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Ovsyannikova said she received anti-Russian comments on her social media feed and on the organization’s Facebook page. She said the comments made her and those involved in the pageant feel unsafe and unwanted.

About half of the 20 Miss Russia NZ finalists are not Russian, she said.

Nikiforova, a linguist and research program coordinator at the University of Auckland, said she does not consider public entertainment events using the flag of the Russian Federation or other national symbols and attributes to be appropriate at this time.

“The war is still going on and people are being killed by the army that carries this flag and these state symbols,” Nikiforova said.

“That would be highly insensitive and highly disrespectful to the victims of the war and the people of Ukraine.”

She said any events emphasizing Russian national symbols would “look extremely arrogant” at the moment.

“Such events would only cause extreme harm to the Russian community as a whole, provoke public outrage and reflect badly on the entire Russian nation,” Nikiforova said.

“I sincerely hope that the organizers of Miss Russia NZ will take into account the current war and reconsider their desire to continue this event.”

Nikiforova suggested turning the event into an international beauty pageant and turning it into a fundraiser in support of Ukraine.

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