Activists around the world have been calling for a boycott of Russian culture for months, as punishment for Vladimir Putin’s relentless aggression in his war on Ukraine. But it seems there will be no need for any radical measures soon: Russia is destroying its art and cultural projects all on its own.
Since the start of the war, state censors and so-called hurrah-patriots have rallied for bans against popular Russian theater, art, and films they deem “pro-Western.”
In a video posted to YouTube this week, the head of Moscow’s department of culture, Aleksandr Kibovsky, declared that a recent decree signed by Vladimir Putin “to strengthen Russian traditional, spiritual and moral values” gives Russian authorities the green light to cleanse the country’s cultural scene from all “Western influence.”
“The presidential decree gives us, the culture authorities, guidelines to provide state support only to projects that obey the requirements,” Kibovsky said on Monday. “We now feel a hangover from all that mash the [the West] had been feeding us with for many many years… It’s sad that we needed the regime of the special operation to come to this.” Addressing the West, Kibovsky added: “We are not your monkeys any longer.”
Citizens across Russia have already taken measures to avoid the wrath of Russian authorities under the new policy.
“Some libraries and bookshops are running ahead of the train of state censorship and taking books off the shelves that have not even been banned yet,” Alexandra Vakhrusheva, the former director of the Turgenev library in Moscow, told The Daily Beast. “Names of banned theater directors are taken off theatrical billboards, and schools have received ‘recommendation letters’ from ministries of culture and education advising children to wear costumes of Russian fairy tales, and not of Western animation characters.”
Earlier this month, the Fathers’ Council—a Russian children’s rights group in Khabarovsk—purchased all copies of Summer in a Pioneer Tie, a book about a romantic relationship between two Soviet boys, so they would not end up in Russian homes.
One of the Father’s Council members posted a video of himself tearing the books apart. “I am glad to be a part of saving our youth, our Russian civilization from Western pseudo-values of horror and darkness,” he said, while ripping pages from the book into pieces. “We are not the West, we are a state with a 1,000-year-long history.”
Russian children traditionally go to “Elochka” carnivals during the holidays, but the guidelines for this year’s events are different for some families. The Russian city of Chita has resorted to censoring children’s costumes for the carnivals, telling parents to dress their kids only in the “style of Russian culture.”
“This is the end of culture as we know it.”
One of the costumes they have taken issue with is the teddy bear character Huggy Wuggy, from the American survival horror game “Poppy Playtime.” “The Huggie Waggie character influences negatively on children’s perception of the outside world,” Chita’s education committee said in a statement.
Until recently, Russian cultural freedom was protected by law. The fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago saw a creative boom in Russian ballet, film, and literature. New formats, fresh ideas, and international artists were welcomed, with Russian art sweeping through the world’s leading exhibits and winning international awards.
Legislation adopted in 1992 obliged authorities to help finance artistic and cultural projects throughout the country. But today, officials insist that a malicious Western infiltration is at play. “Western neo-colonialism did not have to occupy us, they influenced us to create a pro-Western native elite,” Kibovsky insisted in his video.
So, what alternative can the Kremlin offer to strengthen traditional values?
The chairman of Russia’s Federation Council, Valentina Motviyenko, suggested that authorities should purchase traditional musical instruments, like the Russian balalaika, and distribute them around regional clubs and houses of culture in Russia. “Let’s calculate how much that is going to cost, so the program could be realized in 2 to 3 years,” Motviyenko said.
The push for a more “traditional” Russia has left many across the country fuming.
“Kibovsky is now talking about ‘art councils’ that are going to decide what play to put on stage or what film to allow in movie theaters—the councils will include members of military patriotic societies,” Ksenia Larina, one of Russia’s leading cultural critics, told The Daily Beast. “This is the end of culture as we know it, since culture cannot be divided into pro or anti-Western.”