Russian ‘whites only’ party in Sri Lanka sparks diplomatic tensions

Tourists walk by the coast in Galle, Sri Lanka (AFP/Getty)
Tourists walk by the coast in Galle, Sri Lanka (AFP/Getty)

A Russian business owner in Sri Lanka has apologised after a “white only” party coinciding with the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked diplomatic tensions with Moscow.

Sarayka Lounge, a Russian restaurant bar in southern Sri Lanka’s Unawatuna, said it cancelled the party and disavowed any support for racist ideology.

The event, on 24 February, was advertised as the “White Opening Party” with specific face control and dress code requirements in the southern coastal town. The invitation specified a dress code of white attire and included the instruction, “Face control: White”.

Face control practice is commonly employed by clubs to selectively admit patrons based on their appearance, demeanour and social status.

The party invite went viral on social media and led to a massive backlash, with many Sri Lankans calling on the government to take action.

“We apologise! The party planned for Saturday will not take place. We have urgently cancelled this event. Also, we have severed ties with the organisers who planned this party at our venue,” Sarayka Lounge said in a statement ahead of the event.

It said they “did not conduct a thorough enough check” and added: “We have never supported and will never support various racist statements or organisations.”

A translation of the announcement was posted in both Russian and English.

The controversy escalated on Sunday after the immigration office of Sri Lanka told hundreds of thousands of Russians staying in the country to escape the war to leave in the next two weeks. But the country’s president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, later launched an investigation into the order and said the decision was taken without cabinet approval.

The Russian embassy in Colombo on the same day condemned “all forms of racial discrimination and nationalism”, calling on the Russians in the island nation to follow local laws and customs.

The Tass news agency reported that the Sarayka Lounge was run by immigrants from the Russian Federation.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians and Ukrainians came on 30-day tourist visas to the country before and during the war, and many have remained on extended visas. Some of them have set up businesses in the coastal towns and some of these are being illegally run, according to reports.

Over 288,000 Russians and nearly 20,000 Ukrainians have travelled to Sri Lanka in the last two years since the war began, according to official data.

Many people on social media reacted with disgust and pointed out that the party coincided with the second anniversary of the Russian-Ukraine war.

“We need to ban this s***. We get discriminated in embassies, passport queues, the whole lot; last thing we need is people coming to Sri Lanka and hosting whites-only parties,” a user said.

"I know not all expats are like this... but this sort of thing should be stopped fast and stopped hard,” said one local restaurant owner.