Throwing vodka, banning Dostoyevsky: some anti-Russian demonstrations are empty gestures | life and style

VLadimir Putin’s invasion Ukraine inspired an unprecedented global response. Governments have provided aid and arms to Ukrainians and mounted tough sanctions on the Russian economy, hoping to pressure the Kremlin to back down.

Ordinary people around the world are finding their own ways to resist Russian aggression. The desire to do something, anything, while civilians are being slaughtered is part of what makes us human. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of so much violence, so even small acts of protest can have meaning.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked Americans to stop buying companies that have continued to do business with Russia — including the parent companies of Dunkin’ Donuts, Reebok and Subway — so it’s understandable that people don’t want to end up on the wrong side of efforts to help Ukraine.

But that does not mean that everything is useful. Since the beginning of the invasion, we have seen reactions that amount less to solidarity than to meaningless symbolism, even outright xenophobia.

food fights

Earlier this month, a group of small town New York officials assembled news crews to watch throw vodka bottles on the pavement. This follows the ban on the sale of Russian vodka by at least 11 US statesand the protests of bar owners across the country, including Bob Quay of Bob’s Bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which ceased to serve Stolichnaya last month after learning of US sanctions on Russia and deciding it would “impose sanctions as well.”

The reality is that less than 1% of US vodka imports are actually made in Russia. Stolichnaya – who renamed Stoli this month – is produced in Latvia and was founded by a Putin critic exiled from Russia in 2000. Svedka? Made in Sweden. Smirnoff? Made in the USA. As a liquor store wrote in a note to its customers recently: “No need to throw them anywhere but in your glass.”

Vodka is not the only “Russian” product targeted, regardless of its actual Russianness. Rick Anderson, a caterer from North Carolina, made securities last week, when he renamed the Russian dressing “Ukrainian dressing”, which he said “tastes the same as our old dressing, without the noticeable hints of genocide”. It should be assured that, just like French dressing and Italian dressing, Russian dressing was created in the United States – sauce historians believe so. originally from New Hampshire.

Some restorers went to extreme lengths to avoid any association with warfare. Le Roy Jucep, a Quebec restaurant that claims to have invented the famous Canadian poutine, announced earlier this month that it would no longer use the name, fearing it sounded too much like the Russian leader’s name in French. Instead, he calls the poutine “fries-cheese-gravy.”

The restaurant wrote on Facebook: “Tonight, the Jucep team has decided to temporarily remove the word P**tine from its brand in order to express, in its own way, its deep dismay at the situation in Ukraine”, before deleting the post soon after. .

Poutine – or as it is now called in a Quebec restaurant, fries-cheese-sauce. Photography: Megapress/Alamy

But others have shown they are aware that protesting against Russian food can do little. Last week, the National Mustard Museum of Wisconsin replaced his Russian mustard with a sign promising the return of the condiment “once the invasion of Ukraine is over and Russia recognizes and respects the sovereign nation of Ukraine.” After the sign went viral online, the museum reversed course.

“We don’t believe for a minute that the makers of the Russian mustards on display at the National Mustard Museum should be held responsible for the war in Ukraine,” museum founder Barry Levenson told the Guardian. “That’s why we’re returning them to public display with a sign asking people to donate to IRCa non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees.

The curator of condiments added: ‘I tasted so-called Russian-style mustards – sweet and tangy. I love them.”

Some of the most famous Russians in history have been shunned, despite being dead for generations. In early March, a university in Milan deleted a course about 19th-century novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky after administrators deemed the writer disturbingly Russian. The institution said in a press release that it wanted to “avoid any controversy, at a time of high tension”.

The school backtracked after an uproar as Dostoevsky’s defenders pointed out that the author was sentenced to a Siberian penal labor camp for discussing books banned under Russia’s tsarist regime, and died for 141 years.

Gielgud on his knees, hands raised in a pleading position
John Gielgud as Raskolnikov in a theatrical adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1946. Photography: Denis De Marney/Getty Images

There have been debate as well as whether we should listen to the work of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, particularly the composer’s 1812 Overture, written to mark Russia’s defense against Napoleon’s invading forces more than two centuries ago. A performance of the work was canceled by the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra. One director claimed it had “nothing to do with Tchaikovsky being Russian” but “more to do with us having decided it was inappropriate at the current time.”

On Saturday, an American non-profit space defense organization renamed a fundraiser which had been dedicated to Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin – the first human to enter space, who died during a training flight in 1968. The annual gala, known as ‘Yuri’s Night’ for seven consecutive years, is now called “A Celebration of Space: Find Out What’s Next.” According to a now-deleted note, organizers explained the change was made “in light of current world events” but “the purpose of this fundraising event remains the same”.

This month the video game studio Electronic Arts has retired the Russian national team of its Fifa video game franchise, “in solidarity with the Ukrainian people”.

Even Russian animals feel the heat. The American Kennel Club announcement that he would ban dog registrations from his Russian counterpart, “in solidarity with the Ukrainian people”. This follows a decision earlier this month by the International Cat Federation, the self-proclaimed ‘United Nations of Cat Federations’, which barred in Russian cats in his competitions, saying in a statement that he could not “witness these atrocities and do nothing”.

Harass the Russians

By far the most unnecessary protests have been those directed against ordinary Russians. In countries where New Zealand, Germany, Canada and the United States, Russian immigrants of all ages said they were harassed and threatened, on public transport, in shops and at their jobs. Vandals targeted Russian-themed restaurants and shops in new York and Washington and Russian Community centers and churches in Canada, although all of these places publicly oppose the Ukrainian invasion and often have Ukrainians on staff.

This Russophobia does not exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a long and horrific pattern of xenophobic and nationalistic hatred that erupts in international conflicts and targets people simply because they seem ‘too foreign’. It works by the same creepy logic of relatively dumber acts like pouring vodka. And that ends up undermining solidarity rather than creating it.

For most of us, the best way to make a tangible difference right now is to give resources to the victims of war. Examples of valid organizations include People in need and the International Rescue Committeewho are on the ground helping Ukrainian residents and refugees (others are listed here). Ukrainian media need help to keep reporting. And OVD-Infoa legal aid group in Russia, is accepting donations to help anti-war protesters who have been arrested by Putin’s government.

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