No excuse for being Russian

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
18 March, 2022

There is no excuse for being Russian these days, not even if you are a cat.

The Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) reacted swiftly to Putin’s war against Ukraine.

We “cannot just witness these atrocities and do nothing,” the federation of cat registries said in a statement. And so, to underline its seriousness, it banned Russian-bred cats from registration and participation in cat shows.

The removal from friendly feline society would have shocked the Kremlin. Putin probably feared he would soon lose his European oil and gas customers as well.

But no, it got worse.

Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra decided to drop the works of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky from its repertoire.

Tchaikovsky had nothing to say in his defence, which might be related to his having died in 1893.

The Welsh orchestra responded to public criticism by saying it was not about Tchaikovsky being Russian. No, it was simply about one of his pieces being “military themed” and coming “with the sound of cannon fire.”

Putin will be relieved that the noise of his bombardment of Ukraine will not have to compete with the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra.

The University of Milano-Bicocca’s U-turn will also lift a weight off Putin’s shoulders. The university had planned to cancel a course on the famous 19th century author Fyodor Dostoevsky. After an outcry from the public, the university reversed its decision, grudgingly.

Nobody wants to be Russian these days. And nobody even wants to be mistaken for being Russian. So, the world’s most popular vodka brands do not miss an opportunity to say they are Swedish, American – well, anything but Russian.

Targeting Putin and his supporters makes much sense, of course. But demonising Russian culture more broadly is stupid, not least because it pushes Russians into line with the dictator.

And so, as Russophobia grows, it might be worth listening to Billy Joel, the quintessential American singer-songwriter.

Towards the end of the (first) Cold War, Joel released his album Storm Front. It contained the most beautiful antidote to confusing the people of a country with the politics of that country. The song was called Leningrad.

Leningrad is about the confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union. The fear and despair it had created on both sides subsides the moment Joel and his daughter meet Russian clown Viktor Razinov: “We never knew what friends we had until we came to Leningrad.”

For the opening of Leningrad, Joel adapted a theme from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Let’s hope that does not get him cancelled now.

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