As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, many in Western countries are expressing their opposition to the war by becoming hostile to Russian culture. Nina Khrushcheva argues that Russian music, films, books and art are not the right targets for antiwar activism in her latest article, “Don’t Cancel Russian Culture.” If Russians feel that the West is inhibiting Russian culture, “they will blame the West more than they blame the oppressive regime that is there in Russia,” says Khrushcheva, professor at The New School and great-granddaughter of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Meanwhile, Russia is cracking down on cultural producers who dare to oppose the invasion.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to look at the war in Ukraine, we’re joined by Nina Khrushchev, professor of international affairs at The New School, great-granddaughter of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, recently wrote a piece for Project Syndicate headlined “Don’t Cancel Russian Culture.” Explain, Professor Khrushcheva.
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Hi. Thank you.
Well, it kind of goes, I think, with a theme of this program, is that Russia outside of Russia and Russia inside of Russia — I think we spoke on this program about this even earlier, that if there is an onslaught on Russians indiscriminately, if there is a demand to have collective responsibility, if there is a cancellation of concerts or — now it seems to be getting better, but taking off Tolstoy’s books or other Russian writers’ books from the shelves — Ukrainian authorities are now canceling all Russian culture, including their own Ukrainian-born Nikolai Gogol, who was a great Russian writer of the Ukrainian descent and quite — and, in fact, was quite critical, or very critical, of the Russian imperial system and corruption and so on, so would be useful to read, in fact, for the Ukrainians.
And so, when there is all this cultural, humanitarian onslaught and canceling athletes and sportsmen and others on Russia, it actually legitimizes Putin’s regime, because it does feel and it does appear that what he does, saying, “I am trying to protect us from the others who want to cancel us,” in fact, it gives it validity. And therefore, my argument is don’t cancel Russian culture, because it plays into Putin’s hands and punishes Russians collectively, and they will be the victim of that, and then they will also blame the West more than they blame the oppressive regime that is there in Russia — or here in Russia, because I am in Moscow right now.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Nina, what about the fact there have been several reports of Russia itself canceling Russian culture? In other words, there are theater directors in Moscow, multiple theater directors, who have been fired, other artists and musicians who have been forced to flee the country, not able to perform. What are you hearing about that?
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Absolutely, and I think that goes hand in hand. So, when Russians are being canceled by Russians — your previous guest was talking about this — it’s just that whatever semblance of opposition — it’s not even opposition that all these theater directors that are now being fired. In fact, a lot of theater directors who created the theaters that they’re being fired from, which is — even during the great times of the Cold War after Stalin, not during Stalin, but during Khrushchev, for example, even the oppositional theater was allowed to exist. I mean, they’ve been critics. They’ve been screened by Khrushchev himself. But they allowed to continue to do their work.
And so, now it’s all disappeared. So, for the Russians who stayed, it is problematic, because they’re being oppressed heavily by the state, by the KGB state, that is now in full bloom, basically, the repressive machine, that is — probably even pairs with being compared to — could be compared to the Soviet days, and also being canceled elsewhere, which, by the way, was not the case during the Cold War. Then Russian culture was welcome, because it was understood that it could be used as a tool against the Soviet regime.
So, absolutely. And it’s — you know, one of the cynicism and sort of this horrible doublespeak of the authorities of the Kremlin is that, for example, the Jewish repatriation agency, Sokhnut, is now having difficulties and issues because they spoke against the war in Ukraine. And now they’re being liquidated, or called to be liquidated, in Russia. And yet, one of the reasons is because they’re supposedly responsible for the brain drain. So, Russia kicks out, pushes out everybody who is the best and the brightest and the most great thinkers, and at the same time it blames others for this kind of repressions. So, it is a double whammy. It’s, you know, between the rock and the hard place that Russians are now finding themselves in.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Nina Khrushcheva, you’re in an unusual position. You’re often in New York, because you teach at The New School, but you’re in Moscow now. And, of course, you’re Russian and the great-granddaughter and adopted granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev. What has most surprised you that we don’t get here, that you’re understanding, as you spend time in Moscow, of people’s attitudes, including this latest astounding figure of the U.S. saying 75,000 Russians have died in Ukraine?
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I am not often in New York; I’m often in Moscow. I actually live in New York. So, that’s important. And unlike others, I actually decided I’m going to go the other way. I’m going to come to Russia and see indeed what’s happening, because we read a lot of how it is and how people are afraid. And, you know, as Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said, well, we’ll see whether we will, you know, now reach out to the West, because there are all these other options. And you spoke about it with previous guests, his trip to Africa and other places. So I wanted to see.
And what I found really remarkable is that this pivot to not the West, or whatever Russia is pivoting towards, is really the Kremlin idea, but it’s not the Russians’ idea. And I haven’t seen any pivot, because I’ve been walking around looking for some Sino cafe or Sino restaurant or something, China something, something, and it just continues to be all these Western formulas that is part of Russian history, in museums and everywhere. So, it is a very strange reality, is that Russia withdraws itself from its European history, and at the same time it is part of the European history.
The bizarre experience, which I thought I would see, but not to the extent that I actually did see it, is this. The war is going on. People cite the war as the most reason for their depression and their — over 50% are being depressed, and, you know, all these troops are dying. At the same time, there is some idea of — they try to keep the idea of semblance of normalcy, the semblance of normalcy, so they go to restaurants. But the mood is of such despair. I’ve never, ever in my life — and I grew up in the Soviet Union — I’ve never in my life felt that there’s just a dark cloud falling over Russia. And all these great, patriotic stories that come out on Russian TV, sort of the happy and wonderful and “We’re just going to defeat all the enemies” — I lived in doublespeak world. I live in this kind of Orwellian 1984. But I never experienced — do feel like I am in dystopian fiction myself, and I just pinch myself every day, thinking that I need to wake up because it can’t be real.
AMY GOODMAN: Nina Khrushcheva, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of international affairs at The New School, great-granddaughter of the former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. We’ll link to your piece in Project Syndicate, “Don’t Cancel Russian Culture.”
And also, a clarification: The U.S. is estimating more than 75,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured in Ukraine.