A country’s political leaders aren’t necessarily a reflection of its people and culture. So why do we treat it as such?
A Diego Rivera painting, a pair of Prada shoes, and a baseball cap were among items seized from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska last October. The raids at Deripaska’s mansion and townhouse predate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but mark the beginning of the US’s crackdown on Russia, and all things Russian. The inquiry is now part of the US Department of Justice’s task force called KleptoCapture. “As Russia and its aggression continues, we have our eyes on every piece of art and real estate purchased with dirty money,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco at a news conference. In the case of Deripaska and other ultra-rich individuals suspected of laundering money and hiding assets to finance Valdmir Putin’s regime, such actions make sense. But anti-Russian sentiment has spiraled into a complete blackout of all things Russian which fails to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of the country.
The violent images and stories that have emerged from Ukraine have inspired visceral reactions from outsiders, and reasonably so. But blindly confronting the world’s demons by rejecting an entire culture seems antithetical to a lesson humanity has forced itself to relearn too many times already. Canceling every event and boycotting every person associated with a Russian name means also shutting out those within who are dissenting. Those who have denounced the leadership of their country should not be further subjected to the consequences of that leadership’s actions. Many Russians have ties to Ukraine, many feel paralyzed by fear of their own country, many are confused amid a flood of misinformation promoted by their government, and many are victims to Putin’s regime. Shutting out those brave enough to express their dissent does nothing to further the situation.
Russian culture is not defined by Russian politics. Evil runs rampant throughout political history, and there are smart ways beyond war and universal repression to combat it. If every American had been silenced and boycotted for every demonic leader at its helm, it’s hard to imagine it evolving in its culture, ideology, and capacity for sympathy. Go after the Russian oligarchs, pull your support for those who support evil, but be careful not to tread into nationalist thinking. There are Russians who envision a better version of their country, and now more than ever, it’s important to not hinder their progress in making that a reality.