Ukraine bans some Russian music and books

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, May 30, 2024


Ukraine bans some Russian music and books
The National Gallery in London has renamed Edgar Degas’ “Russian Dancers” as “Ukrainian dancers,” a salvo against the Russification of Ukrainian culture.

by Dan Bilefsky



NEW YORK, NY.- As brutal battles rage in Ukraine, a parallel culture war is underway.

Ukraine’s parliament on Sunday voted to ban the distribution of Russian books and the playing or performance of Russian music by post-Soviet-era artists.

The National Gallery in London has renamed Edgar Degas’ “Russian Dancers” as “Ukrainian dancers,” a salvo against the Russification of Ukrainian culture.

And in Canada, performances by 20-year-old Russian pianist prodigy Alexander Malofeev, who has publicly condemned the invasion, were canceled in Vancouver and Montreal.

To some, the moves to cancel Russia culture, both high and low, are a fitting show of solidarity with Ukraine. But others counter that Russian artists should not be blamed for an invasion beyond their control and that ostracizing them only stokes nationalist sentiment in Russia.

“It is profoundly ironic that those who react to the war in Ukraine by aggressively or indiscriminately canceling or restricting artists and artistic works simply for being Russian are reflecting the same kind of nationalist thinking driving the Russian invasion in the first place,” Kevin M.F. Platt, a professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a recent opinion essay in The New York Times.

Russian art, music, painting and film, he argued, do not belong to the Kremlin, and Russian artists at home and abroad have long played an important role of resistance in the face of state repression.

In Ukraine, the government has sought to promote the Ukrainian language over Russian and to suppress various forms of Russian artistic expression. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine must still sign the bills passed Sunday into law, but they have broad support across the political spectrum.




The proposed laws will not ban all Russian media. They only block work by artists who held Russian citizenship after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. One prohibits playing Russian-language music in public, on television and on the radio. It also increases national quotas for Ukrainian-language music and speech on television and radio.

Another bill bans the publishing of books by Russian citizens, unless the authors become citizens of Ukraine. It also blocks books printed in Russia, Belarus or occupied Ukrainian territory from being distributed.

The issue of language is especially sensitive in Ukraine, where researchers estimate about 1 in every 3 Ukrainians speaks Russian at home, a legacy of centuries of being dominated by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

In 2019, the government made Ukrainian the mandatory language used in most aspects of public life, including schools. Russia pointed to this law before its invasion to argue that Russian speakers in Ukraine were under attack.

After that law passed, human rights organizations called on Ukraine to protect the rights of minority language speakers. They were again alarmed in January when, under Zelenskyy, the government began requiring that print media outlets publish in Ukrainian.

Since the war began, many Russian-speaking Ukrainians — outraged by the brutal invasion — have been switching to Ukrainian in a show of defiance.

Russian cultural and sporting events in Europe and North America also have been canceled and boycotted as part of the global protest against the invasion. Russia was recently banned, for instance, from the Eurovision Song Contest, the wildly popular singing event that helped launch Celine Dion and Abba.

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal removed Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev from its program. And The International Chess Federation, the game’s global governing body, has canceled events in Russia and Belarus.

At the same time, some in the art world have argued that it is imperative to elevate Ukrainian culture at a time when Putin has tried to justify the invasion by claiming Ukraine and Russia “are one people.” A wartime effort to quickly translate work by Ukrainian novelists, poets and historians is underway to highlight the country’s distinct literary and linguistic heritage.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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