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Don't Cancel Russian Culture

Refusing to engage with Russian culture will not change President Vladimir Putin’s calculations, let alone impel him to withdraw his forces from Ukraine. It will merely cut off a potential source of information about his objectives and motivations, while seemingly lending credence to his claims that Russia is a "besieged fortress."

NEW YORK – Before he wrote The Brothers Karamazov or Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky was sentenced to death by the czarist government for allegedly participating in revolutionary activities, sent to a Siberian prison camp, and forced to perform military service in exile. Nonetheless, it was after returning from Europe, where he spent years living in freedom, that Dostoevsky wrote in A Writer’s Diary, that “everyone” has “secretly harbored malice against” Russians, that Russians “were followers and slaves.”

With many, if not most, cultural institutions in both Europe and the United States having effectively “canceled” Russian artists and culture, Dostoevsky’s words ring truer than ever. As Ian Buruma recently noted, Russians are now increasingly thinking that the Kremlin might have been right all along: Russia really is a “besieged fortress,” forever misunderstood and undermined by a hostile West.

Of course, there is something of a chicken-or-egg question at play here. The West’s rejection of Russian culture is a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s launching of a brutal “special military operation” in Ukraine. But that operation, Putin claims, was a response to Western hostility – in particular, America’s efforts to turn Ukraine into “anti-Russia.” According to Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya, the goal is not to eliminate Ukraine, “a dear and friendly nation,” but to prevent it from serving America’s “anti-Russian agenda.”

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