Observers are alarmed that anti-Russian sentiment gripping Western cultural institutions has manifested in the collective punishment of Russians for the actions of their government.

The conflict in Eastern Europe has seen the world come down hard on Russia, with a punishing wave of financial sanctions, an oil embargo and the pull out of multinational corporations from the country after its incursion into Ukraine on February 24.

While the raft of sanctions is having a negative effect on ordinary Russians, the measures are routinely defended on the grounds that it’s being aimed at the government.

But in concert with that has been a gradual cancellation in the Western world of anything that might be of Russian origin, particularly in the cultural sphere.

Russian films have been barred from festivals in Toronto and Glasgow, while Hollywood films from Disney, Warner Brothers and Sony are skipping their Russian release.

London’s Royal Opera House went ahead and cancelled a planned residency by Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. New York’s Carnegie Hall called off scheduled performances of star orchestral conductor Valery Gergiev and pianist Denis Matsuev. Renowned opera singer Anna Netrebko was axed from performing as well.

While Gergiev (who was also fired from the Munich and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestras) and Netrebko are prominent supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin and declined to publicly criticise him, even apolitical artists have faced the axe from Western cultural institutions.

One of them, conductor Tugan Sokhiev, resigned from prominent positions at an orchestra in Toulouse and the Bolshoi opera after being pressured to condemn Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Even the deceased have not been spared. The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra made the decision to remove renowned composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture from its programme, a move that was then echoed by Japan’s Chubu Philharmonic Orchestra.

In Italy, a university course on Fyodor Dostoevsky – the 19th century novelist who spent years in exile for defying the Russian state – was withdrawn before being reinstated after backlash.

Netflix, which pulled all its projects out of Russia, had to put on hold four Russian television series that included an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina.

A bit more mysterious is the sudden removal of films by revered director Andrei Tarkovsky from IMDB’s top 250 list as of this month. Two of his most noteworthy films, Stalker and Solaris, have seen a noticeable number of downvotes.

Meanwhile, Russian athletes have been suspended from competition by FIFA, the International Skating Union, and the Paralympics. Even the gaming world hasn’t been immune, with EA Sports removing Russian teams from its FIFA video game series.

Anti-Russia frenzy has expressed itself beyond high-profile cancellations, too.

In the US, American-owned Russian restaurants in New York are reeling from cancelled reservations and Yelp bombs. Russia House, a dining lounge and bar in Washington DC, had to temporarily close after its windows were broken.

Further north in Canada, the Russian Community Centre was vandalised, and the Moscow Tea Room received hateful emails and phone calls. Online harassment of Russian Canadians has also experienced an uptick, with some being classified as potential hate crimes.

Freelance service platform Fiverr also joined the fray and suspended its business in Russia, leaving countless Russian users out to dry.

Then there’s the performative means of dissent that manifested when US liquor stores discarded any Russian vodka from public display, and in one instance, quite literally poured a bottle of Stoli vodka – which is Latvian, not Russian – down the drain.

Even innocent animals are being reprimanded: The International Cat Federation has instituted a ban on felines with Russian breeders from all its competitions.

It then becomes necessary to ask: who is supposed to be the target of this rash of cancellation? Is it the Russian government – and Putin – or is it the very idea of Russia and its people?

The need to impose guilt by association on Russian artists, athletes and cat owners being carried out in hopes of inspiring mass resistance against the Russian government in some ways harkens back to the ugly history of McCarthyism – the anti-communist hysteria whipped up in the US during the 1950s.

As Tyler Cowen, an American economist and professor at George Mason University asks in his Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column: “Is there any clear evidence that boycotting Russian performers outside of Russia is going to help Ukraine?”

For Joseph Massad, professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, these “Russophobic acts reveal that the juvenile nature of US or Western European political culture under fascism or liberalism is not so different when it comes to heaping racist scorn and fabricated fantasies on chosen enemies.”

“Boycotting Russia at the official level could be an important political act, including cancelling state visits, joint military exercises…however, boycotting Dostoevsky, Vodka, and Russian musicians is not,” he writes in Middle East Eye.

Massad also noted the parallels with how anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria engulfed the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and how the current fever of anti-Russian sentiment sweeping the West is driven by the same ignorant impulse that saw the racialised targeting of anyone who “looked Muslim”, whether they were Muslim or not.

Writing in UnHerd, Kat Rosenfield argues that the emotion animating the slew of boycotts in many ways reflects the modus operandi of call-out culture online, where people believe they can make a difference thousands of miles away from a Ukrainian battlefield by fighting a common enemy with the weapon of cancellation.

“These days, your good standing in polite society (not to mention the continued operation of your business) requires your vocal participation in the cause du jour,” Rosenfield says.

As she sees it, punishing Russian cultural figures for Putin’s warmongering is the “emptiest of endeavours, like painting half of your face blue and booing your favourite football team’s rivals from the safety of your living room.”

“It is the culture of ‘Do something,’ even if the something is stupid and wrong, that causes the cancellation of Russian artists and ultimately the threatening phone calls to restaurants,” columnist Karol Markowicz writes in NY Post.

“We don’t always need to act to virtue signal how deeply we care and to display our commitment to cancelling the bad people.”

Source: TRT World