18 May 2023

Canceling Russia

Dmitri Bykov, interviewed on "To Be Continued" (Youtube).
source; originally used on this post from last July.
Sergey Kurginyan. Screenshot from source.

It is clear that Russia crossed many red lines.... The world will no longer see [in Russia] a place of spirituality, a place of great culture, a place representing victory over fascism.

— Dmitri Bykov, Russian literary critic and commentator.

Russia is the savior of humanity. It is a totally messianic country.

— Sergey Kurginyan, Russian politician and founder of Essence of Time.

A couple of days ago, Masha Gessen resigned as a vice president and trustee of the organization PEN America. The reasons for their resignation have been widely reported:

It may seem to some observers that coverage of this incident is very Russian-centric. What made headlines, after all, was not the Ukrainian participation in the PEN America event, but the response of a prominent Russian American writer. Whether or not that's fair, I see this whole affair as an example of what Dmitri Bykov predicted following the revelations of what happened in Bucha, Ukraine, under Russian occupation. "The world will no longer see [in Russia] a place of spirituality, a place of great culture, a place representing victory over fascism."

The rejection of even long-standing ties with Russia, Russian language, Russian culture, among the people of Ukraine and beyond, has been documented many times over these painful months. It's a complicated rejection; Ukrainians themselves differ on whether it is still possible to relate to "good Russians" when they and their children are under attack by a nation that officially denies Ukraine's right to exist.

I cannot possibly know every nuance of those complications. I've spent 54 years of my life studying Russia, its language, history, culture, and politics. Almost twenty percent of that time I lived in a Russian city with practically no Western expatriate presence. I cannot deny my common humanity with the people among whom I lived and worked, regardless of the powers and principalities and systems that tried to hold us all in bondage.

Postsurgery, a week ago and today.
Now that I am back in the USA, still in frequent contact with many I knew in our Russian home, I find that I cannot withhold my care and friendship in this crisis—especially from those who feel utterly without voice or recourse, as well as those who have made their own stand for peace as clear as they could. However, I also understand the anger and frustration of observers (including many Russians!) who decry the moral captivity and passivity they see. Why does only a small fraction of the population rise up and resist?

This isn't a rhetorical question. There are actual answers. I will not lay down my urgent curiosity about how a nation, any nation, can combine extraordinary achievements of culture and spirituality with a capacity for cruelty on a mass scale, generation after generation. Russia is by no means unique in combining these features; they are part of the variety of the ways we humans cope with our demons, and how we collaborate with and hide from our Creator. In trying to thread through the specific war-related dilemmas facing all those who love Russia and (or) love Ukraine, I'm sure that I'll make awkward mistakes. I hope that I can err on the side of grace, not harsh judgment, whatever the provocation.

And if I can't do anything else, I'll grieve daily for all the relationships ruptured by this cruel war.

A few related posts: To Russia with love; Russia: beautiful future or dead end?; Ukraine and the dilemmas of pacifism.

Public Orthodoxy: Lidiya Lozova writes on the application of nonviolence, as some in the Orthodox Church understand it, to the present war.

However, when the same close-to-pacifist rhetoric of non-violence and peace, with very little attention to the question of defense, is addressed to the reality of Ukraine now, to me (and many Ukrainians) it feels somewhat uncomfortable and even painful—just as it does when people think that Ukrainians should easily find common language with anti-war Russians.

Masha Gessen on the arrests of Zhenya Berkovich and Svetlana Petriychuk:

For the first time in the post-Soviet era, Russia has explicitly arrested people for creating art. They are not charged with high treason, like Kara-Murza, or espionage, like Gershkovich, or “discrediting the armed forces” or “spreading false information about the special military operation”—the charges created to punish journalists for covering the war—or for “hooliganism,” as the protest group Pussy Riot was, but for the content of a play they wrote and staged. And also, of course, in Berkovich’s case, for acting as though she could keep expressing her thoughts and feelings out in the open. On the other hand, even as I write this, I understand that the novelty is subtle, if it exists at all: parsing the distinctions in how the Putin regime eradicates difference is a fool’s errand.

Traitors and Heroes: Nina Belyaeva's protest on
the floor of the Voronezh city council. Screenshot.
I recommend this BBC documentary on life in Russia today: Traitors and Heroes.

Jeremy Morris on cultural activity (theaters, orchestras, and other cultural production) in Russia's regional capitals as activism in today's Russia.

Beth Allison Barr on Hebrews 11:1-12:2 ... and why she almost turned down the opportunity to preach.

Nathan Perrin, the Friendly Mennonite. (With thanks to Martin Kelley for the link.)

Nancy Thomas experiences Mother's Day, and remembers, among other things, the beauty of her mother's hands.

The Blues Preachers with their version of "You're Going to Need Somebody on your Bond."


Anonymous said...

Dear Johan, reading your posts is one of the most significant releases, ways of escaping from suffocating reality, here on this part of Evil.
Let God keep you and Judie and your sons!
Stay well dear American friend of ours!

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, dear friend, and best wishes to your family. Stay well, too. You're in my daily prayers.