He is fighting Putin, not Tolstoy

Posted on December 14, 2022 at 12:00 pm

Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko, in an editorial published in the Guardian, called on the international community to boycott Russian productions, a policy already implemented by some Western opera houses and universities. This is the culture of cancellation applied to the geopolitical sphere. Despite our great sympathy and solidarity with Ukraine under attack, we must answer this very clearly: not at all.

Mr. Tkachenko claims that Russia now wants to suppress Ukrainian culture, destroy its heritage or eradicate the language in the occupied regions. It is for this reason that Ukraine, which wants to be the harbinger of liberal democracies, should not use the same logic and the same means as its enemy. A war against an autocrat’s army must not become a war against a people, or even a civilization, its past and its artists.

Difference between criminals and dissidents

The risk of justifying Russian identity goes beyond the cultural sphere. It is disturbing that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk, who heads the Ukrainian civil liberties NGO, refused to be interviewed along with his colleague, the head of “Memorial” (the famous Russian human rights protection organization) Yan Rachinsky. In his speech, he also mentioned the general responsibility of the “Russian people”. If Nobel Peace Prize laureates cannot distinguish between war criminals and dissidents, or tolerate comrades fighting because of their nationality, who will?

Is Solzhenitsyn in the index?

Russian culture deserves less suppression because its authors have often been the most effective critics of political power, from Gogol’s mocking of the tsarist bureaucracy to Solzhenitsyn’s condemnation of Soviet crimes. To understand the sources of the current war, the imperial frenzy as the indoctrination of a part of the population, perhaps it would not be in vain to open “War and Peace”. Tolstoy retraces the French invasion of Russia in romantic form (“Napoleonic epic”, as this bloody madness that killed several hundred thousand people is recorded in history textbooks). It is hard to believe that at that time civilians were not spared and the laws of war were respected. Tolstoy describes the behavior of two French soldiers in Moscow, one of whom stole the boots of an old man, and the other of whom was about to rape a young Armenian. The Russian campaign gives us a mirror of present tragedy, surely polished by history and enriched by literature.

Hotline for fugitives

Tolstoy’s more general reflections on war, especially in the epilogue, are instructive. The novelist becomes a philosopher of history and mocks the grandiose reasons invoked to cover simple conspiracies. “Men are marching from West to East, murdering their peers, and this event is the glory of France, the treachery of England, etc. accompanied by speeches about Tolstoy prioritizes men above all their direct responsibilities. “These justifications, he continues, absolve the men involved in the event from normal responsibility. They smooth the way before the sense of moral responsibility. It is this responsibility that every Russian conscript should take upon himself today, choosing the desert path rather than killing (the Ukrainian army has opened a hotline for this purpose).

A firebrand with 200,000 copies

Modern Russian culture also participates in the resistance of spirits. Despite censorship and reprisals, protest writings still manage to be published by alternative publishers such as Popcorn Books. Summer in Pioneer Clothing, a novel about homosexual love in a Soviet summer camp, has sold more than 200,000 copies since last year. Criticizing the last days of communism and tactfully describing LGBT relations, this book represents a direct attack on the conservative values ​​promoted by the Kremlin. It has become such a social phenomenon that the Duma has just unanimously voted for a law condemning the depiction of “unconventional sex”…

Mr. Tkachenko is right on one point: culture is a weapon. But instead of denying it, it should be turned against the enemy. Considering everything, once MI Le Pen elected President of the Republic, the free world expelled Victor Hugo and Marcel Proust?

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