*Editor’s Note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
Since Russia began its military operation in Ukraine, native Russians living in Western countries have become ostracized.
“There is increasing animosity toward Russians in Western countries,” said Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It is very dangerous. Our fellow citizens must be on the alert and exercise caution. Of course, we hope that the leaders of every country will stop sowing these seeds of hatred and Russophobia with their statements.”
Vitaly Tretyakov, a journalist, political analyst and dean of the School of TV at Lomonosov Moscow State University, said, “I was also surprised by this surge in Russophobia, even though I’ve already seen the treatment of Russians in the West. I traveled the world and have been to both Europe and the U.S. There was also some sympathy — especially in the 1990s, when Russia was on the path to becoming a democracy and a market economy. They were still afraid of Russia, though. For example, even in the ‘90s, there were myths about the all-powerful Russian mafia. Ordinary uneducated citizens looked at every Russian they met with apprehension. We found it funny back then. Many thought this was just like the other cute misconceptions, like Russia being a country of bears and balalaika. But none of us then could’ve imagined the extent that this Russophobia would reach.
The Roots of Racism
Actually, this is not unusual in the slightest. Racism has been inherent in Euro-Atlantic civilizations for centuries. In fact, the words “racism” and “chauvinism” came from the West. Chauvinism, as you know, came from the semi-mythical Nicolas Chauvin, who served in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and adored him. Chauvin often preached about France’s superiority. And where, if not in Europe, did the racist Nazi theories originate? Our people know very well what Hitlerite Nazism is. The objects of their hatred were not only Jews and gypsies [Romani], but also Slavic peoples, who were considered inferior by the Third Reich in contrast to the Aryan race.
Meanwhile, racism was an ideology even earlier. It served the colonial aspirations of the Western European powers, such as France, Spain, Holland, etc. All of these countries were large colonial empires at one time and needed a theoretical justification for their predatory policies. How can you justify robbing the inhabitants of the colonies if you treat them the same as the inhabitants of your own countries and consider them equals? After all, at that time, humanistic ideas began to spread in Europe, demanding the same respect for all citizens, regardless of their skin color, the shape of their eyes, etc.
It was simple to solve the moral contradiction. In order to rob and drive out those who are weaker than you with impunity and a clear conscience, you must divide people into two categories — superior and inferior. The latter generally weren’t even considered human, they were considered to be highly developed animals. You didn’t have to be gentle with them or feel bad about what you did. Colonial genocide was not just acceptable, but it was almost considered a noble occupation. The Europeans even named their missions the “white man’s burden” and saw it as their duty to develop “savage” territories. The violence was justified by claiming there was no other way to civilize the local tribes.
To reiterate, all of these ideas were developed in Europe and deeply penetrated European culture. Some researchers believe that German Romanticism, for example, created the cult of the “superman,” a man from the future. This was most vividly reflected in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. The ideology seeped into the educational system and poisoned the minds of the youth at that time.
The Black Lives Matter movement is in vogue in the West today. In the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe, it was customary to export savages from somewhere in Africa or Polynesia and put them in zoos, like monkeys or crocodiles. Note that in Russia, which was also an empire, there were never human zoos. The racism I’m referring to is separate than the slavery and systemic racism in America.
They Attack Indiscriminately
Today’s Russia, like the Soviet Union in its time, has no wish to conform to the political dogma and decrees of the West. Russia needed to be punished, and the issue in Ukraine was just a convenient excuse. But at the same time, it is necessary to find a way to explain to everyday Western citizens why they will live poorer, pay more for gasoline and electricity, etc. And racism comes to the rescue again. It’s a time-tested approach, to create an enemy out of anyone who does not conform to one’s own will.
However, the surge of Russophobia that we are witnessing cannot only be explained by the geopolitical struggle of the West with Russia. After all, Russians who have been living in Western countries for a long time, moved there at one time quite consciously, deciding that life there would be calmer, safer and more comfortable. They showed loyalty to these countries and preferred their values.
It would seem that the West should encourage and welcome these Russians. They aren’t even participating in the fight in Ukraine and are often critical of Putin and his policies. But the current Russophobia is irrational; it targets everyone indiscriminately. The racism of the past has been inherited by today’s Europeans and Americans. Yes, Russians are just as white. Yes, they are also Europeans in their culture and traditions. And of course, the respect for minorities that the West always preaches should extend to the Russians who live there … but that approach does not apply here. One can see how anything related to Russia and Russians is being attacked in the U.S. today.
Why Punish Tchaikovsky?
I have acquaintances who have lived in the West for a long time. They even emigrated with their entire families. They write to me that they have never faced such negative attitudes toward Russian people before. And it might be acceptable for adults, but children are also suffering. What are they guilty of? Regardless of whether Russia attacked Ukraine, Russia’s actions are no excuse for such treatment. How many times have the U.S. and its allies attacked other countries? It’s not America’s place to teach us about tolerance. Perhaps its guilt over centuries of slavery and humiliation has transferred its old racism from Black people to someone new? Americans say that they no longer have the right to discriminate against Blacks, but they must dislike someone. The Russians have become the perfect target — even if it’s the Russian girl sitting next to you in class.
Even Russian culture has fallen victim to this purge. Artists and musicians are expected to publicly condemn Putin — otherwise, their concert and performance contracts are being canceled. But why are punishing the late Peter Tchaikovsky?! Some orchestras in the West have already withdrawn his work from their repertoire. And it would be fine if it were only the solemn “1812 Overture,” a brilliant piece dedicated to the victory of Russian arms over Napoleon. But even “The Nutcracker” has suffered — the music that has played on every station in America and Europe at Christmas. The ballet has also been removed from the repertoire, allegedly due to the fact that it somehow shows either Chinese or Arabic dance. This is absurd, a real psychopathy! It is also absurd to punish Russian culture in the person of maestro Valery Gergiev — Ossetian by nationality, by the way.
Perhaps they will sober up and come to their senses soon. The conflict in Ukraine will end one way or another, and Tchaikovsky, obviously, will be rehabilitated, along with Shostakovich, Gergiev and other great talents. And the West will treat Russian ballets and the Russian people well once again. I would like to believe that this insanity will not last forever.