18 March 2022

Debunking russophilia and russophobia

Miguel A Lopes/EPA
In North America there exists a certain type of conservative (a mostly empty category easily filled with whatever opposes the current progressive narrative) who lionizes the Russian President as a bulwark of Christian morality and the Orthodox Church. Writing for Public Discourse, Casey Chalk argues that American Christians’ Russophilia Must End. The abstract of the article:

Russia is no “Christian powerhouse.” That narrative is little more than an easily falsifiable propaganda campaign by its kleptocratic governing class. Russia struggles not only to preserve its ancient faith tradition—in spite of significant government expenditures to the Orthodox Church—but also to protect and preserve its families in the face of substance abuse, domestic violence, and unmitigated cronyism.

On the other side, Gary Saul Morson, writing for First Things, charges westerners with "cancelling" Russian culture:

Russian Soprano Anna Netrebko observed: “Forcing artists . . . to voice their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland is not right. This should be a free choice. Like many of my colleagues, I am not a political person. . . . I am an artist and my purpose is to unite people across political divides.”

Indeed, Russian culture itself has become a target. Russian artists who lived long before the birth of Putin, or the creation of the Soviet secret police that trained him, have been cancelled. In Italy, writer Paolo Nori’s lectures on Dostoevsky were “postponed.” “This is to avoid any controversy,” explained the email he received, “especially internally, during a time of strong tensions.” Nori responded: “I realize what is happening in Ukraine is horrible, and I feel like crying just thinking about it. But what is happening in Italy is ridiculous. . . . Not only is being a living Russian wrong in Italy, but also being a dead Russian. That an Italian university would ban a course on an author like Dostoevsky is unbelievable.” After a backlash, the university reversed its decision.

I myself have long been a huge admirer of Russian culture, including its remarkable musical, literary, and artistic accomplishments. I puzzle over how such a brilliant people could nurture such a dysfunctional political life. Of course, brilliant achievements in the arts often flow out of suffering, and no one can deny that the Russian people have suffered much over the centuries.

What is especially sad now is that Russian forces in Ukraine appear to be targeting monuments to a shared east Slavic culture. Many Russian nationalists have emphasized the common cultural patrimony binding them to their Ukrainian brethren, and now President Putin seems bent on destroying this, thereby putting the lie to his scarcely credible claim to be defending Russian culture from a decadent west.

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