Criticism on Fridays: One Year of War

And It Is Time to Stop the War (Between Us)

By Polina Lyapustina

Am I repeating myself?

Time heals, it is often said. But I cannot imagine how much time the Ukrainian people, as well as many Russians, will need to heal the wounds inflicted by the vile, criminal actions and decisions of one regime. 

But time is also sobering. And after this year, it still hurts a lot, but I’m not afraid to speak anymore. 

My sober head puts more questions on the table once I observe that which was done by bad people and by good people, too. Time paints it all grey. And it often questions: how long can one be as white as an angel’s feather while they mark it all black around them? 

On this sad and mournful day, marking one year since the beginning of this terrible war, I want to commemorate all the victims and celebrate the strength and will of people fighting for their freedom, their lives, and their country today. And I’m sure these feelings will remain with us and in our prayers for a long time, even when the war ends. 

But now, it’s time not only to feel but to think and act based on humanity and common sense, not emotions.

And the first thing we should do is to stop the war between us because Putin’s regime highly benefits from this.

The bipolar world serves Putin.
The anti-Russian culture talks and bans serve Putin.
The Ukrainian people against the Russian people serve Putin.
“Choose your side” serves Putin because the existence of two sides serves Putin.
The hatred and fears of ordinary people serve Putin. 

And while Putin continues to encroach on independence of the neighboring country, he is actually way more successful in re-subjugating and suppressing the Russian people, depriving the country of freedom, information, and education while at the same time showing how terrible and hateful the western world is. “You think life in Russia is bad? Well, go to Europe and see how they’ll treat you if they ban even Tchaikovsky and Pushkin.” 

There’s a lot of rhetoric about that. But after a year, I could not stand it anymore. How could the Ukrainian Minister of Culture, Oleksandr Tkachenko, be hooked on such terrible nonsense that the Russian regime threw at him? Manipulating him to declare a knowingly losing war against the culture will only create more arguments and never make him any friends.

“…let’s pause performances of Kremlin-favoured works?”

How much power does Tkachenko give Putin if one word of the criminal Russian president is enough to steal culture from the rest of the world? Putin likes Tchaikovsky, so we give it to him and ban it? What if Putin likes Gogol?

There’s a lot to refer to in the history of Russian culture, especially that of the 19th century, which explains why the country repeatedly returns to such wretched rulers that suppress their people and cannot give up the imperial ideas of the past, and so can be partly quoted by the Russian government.

And yet, we admit that the special attention of the authors to the so-called “Russian soul” often critically refers to the lack of education and international integration for Russian people. It gives the keys to understanding and integration, never actually praising the state—though quite romantic from the perspective of arts—where Russia seems to be stuck for over two centuries, no matter the revolution, wars, and new regimes.

Putin stirred up a war within the arts, and for us, it looks like the most losing part.

We are all disconnected, rejecting each other, hanging labels, and refusing to perform together. We have good guys asking to ban Prokofiev and Chekhov. We have angry people in Vilnius, deprived of seeing the performances they were waiting for half of the year. We have Elīna Garanča criticized for singing her amazing Amneris alongside Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Netrebko.

Consider Ukrainian soprano Anna Bondarenko, who cannot publicly celebrate her triumph in the same “Aida” because, in the eyes of her president, she shared the stage with the enemy. The police for Netrebko’s concert cordoned the entire quarter around the theater in Arezzo off while Italian ladies protested the ban of Netrebko around the theatre. 

Arguments. Shame. Protests. Bans. Political gestures. Resignations. 

Where is peace? Where is art?

What would be bad if Ukrainian artists shared the stage with Anna Netrebko? After this year, I would only accuse her of vanity and the desire to be close to those in power, be it Vladimir Putin or Peter Gelb.

What if they dialogued? What if Pussy Riot was there too? Could Anna Netrebko keep silent? That would be the time of truth and a failure of Putin and his ideas to disconnect us all.

What if Ukranian people were invited to concerts and performances where their sorrows would be openly remembered, understood, and reflected by the international cast that included Russian singers? Such an open-hearted event would show we are all different, and yet we are so alike. 

Don’t tell me Ukrainians would feel bad about the presence of Russians. Don’t tell me that. No matter how long I have lived abroad, I am Russian. And this year, I spoke to dozens of Ukrainian people and never hid my origin.

I was open; I was with them, trying to understand their pain as much as I could. I always saw how they felt my pain and fears, too. Never in my tough yet heartwarming experience, in hundreds of hours of dialogue in a dozen of cities across Europe, did the Russian and Ukrainian people fight.

There are criminals in this world, and unfortunately, with the world population surpassing eight billion, they are many. But even more terrible is the fact that there are absolute villains who organize those bad people to serve their terrible needs. Together, they became the horrifying and dreadful superpower nobody in the world knows how to stop.

But we must understand that only together we can stop it, and as long as there’s a war between us, they become stronger, and we become weaker. 

We can send more guns, or we can do more handshakes. We can do more hugs and more music, which is even more sincere. We can do what’s kind to each other and not be afraid. We can be kind to Russians. You cannot imagine how hard it is for us, too. We can talk and cry together. We can be no-nonsense and not play by the rules Putin has set, which we, unfortunately, continue to do. We can take OUR WORLD CULTURE back from Putin; it was never his.

We can stop the war between us.