Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Don't make this about hating Russians

I've been thinking about where the line is between Russian sanctions, and bigoted backlash against Russian people. Sanctions usually just target a foreign government, its leaders, and that foreign government's economy. While the rhetoric around sanctions is that they are not intended to hurt ordinary citizens of the foreign nation, the reality is if you target a country's economy, you are hurting a lot of people.

Russia is also a particularly weird case because Russia's leaders, include a bunch of people referred to as "Oligarchs", wealthy Russians who are connected to Putin. While on paper many do not have a formal government position, they are often directly profiting off of the Russian state and their support for Putin is what keeps him in charge. They seem like a valid target for sanctions.

But that creates a slippery slope that pushes towards targeting a lot of people just because they are Russian citizens. Anti-Russian sentiment is going to grow as their war drags on, made worse by the fact that many Russians in Russia support the war, possible because they are not fully informed about it, or perhaps from the Russian nationalism that Putin has actively pushed in Russian society for the past two decades. When the rest of the world concludes that attacking Ukraine is an unprovoked and indefensible evil, and then encounters people defending it, it is a short hop to dismiss those people as evil too.

And yet, blaming ordinary Russians for the actions of their bad leader is wrong. It is also really unproductive. If the goal is to get the Russian invasion to stop, and given that the Ukrainians are unlikely to be able to completely expel Russians from the entirety of Ukraine, the only realistic way to get to the end of the war is to get the Russians to stop invading and occpying Ukraine. The scenarios where the Russians stop the war are either (a) Putin is removed from power and replaced with someone who will stop it, or (b)the Russian military simply can't maintain its war any more. Option (b) could happen if Russian soldiers refuse to fight/defect en masse, or if Russia can't afford to continue to fight, or if Russian domestic opposition to the war makes it impossible for the Russian government to continue. Allof those scenarios will take the help of Russian people to one extent or another. Plus, whenever this is over, the West does not need the Russians to remember this as an anti-Russian war. It has to be an anti-invasion-of-Ukraine or maybe anti-Putin war. Otherwise, what kind of a Russia will we be left with when the dust settles?

In any case, wherever the line is between sanctions and anti-Russian bigotry, the decision to not play Tchaikovsky has pretty clearly crossed the line into clear bigotry. This is not a sanction that will lead to an end of the war at all. The composer is deemed "inappropriate at this time" just because he is Russian. I think, symphonies around the world should all be playing Russian music that celebrates the defeat and retreat of an invading foreign army. Make a statement that Russianness is not the problem here.

ADDING (3/10/22): What Dan Kois said.