“We are now part of a culture that is contaminated with blood,” says Alisa Ganieva, Russian author and part of LitFestBergen’s advisory board.
Russian author Alisa Ganieva was part of LitFestBergen’s programme in 2019 and has since joined the festival’s international advisory board. She is an outspoken critic of Putin and has now left Russia, as arrest became an immediate threat. She talked to festival director Teresa Grøtan on the issue of cultural boycott of Russian artists:
“I feel it myself and I know it from my friends: notwithstanding our long-term anti-regime activity we are still a part of the culture that is now contaminated with blood and for many of us it seems impossible to find words for our Ukrainian friends other than "we are terribly sorry", Ganieva says from her refuge in Tallin, Estonia.
Ganieva left Moscow 6 March and is now hoping to be joined by her husband, who was arrested recently for his anti-war protest. She is absolutely sure that a boycott of all Russian artists would be detrimental to the re-building of a new Russia.
“It's crucial to understand that today one has to differentiate among various categories of Russian artists and tune one's attitude according to these artists' stand on what's happening in Ukraine. I would mark at least these four categories, Ganieva says:
The first group of artists
“The first one is those artists who've been a part of Russia's shrinking civil society indomitably battling and opposing their country's black deeds on the internal and external political scenes. They protested the annexation of Crimea, against politically motivated imprisonments, against Russian aggression towards Crimean Tatars, Ingushs, Ukranians, and other ethnic minorities severely suppressed and incarcerated in Russia.
“We are all sunk in shame and guilt”
“I talked to many of my peers from this group of artists and many of them claim that they would voluntarily cancel their events, giving way to their Ukrainian colleagues. Now we are all sunk in shame and guilt and I'm sure each of us would abstain from performing or promoting our creative work at least for some period of time. You can easily distinguish these artists because they had been criticizing the regime long before the full-fledged war against Ukraine was launched.
“I am sure that it is still very-very important to involve these artists in panel discussions and round tables and publications around the world and not to sever them off, especially those who are remaining in Russia and risking their freedom.
“The isolation of Russia will be growing not only from the outside but from the inside, political repressions are already escalating, and the world shouldn't abandon these artists in a peril. We must maintain communication links in any circumstances!
The second group of artists
“The second group of artists are also shocked and are also condemning the war, but who never uttered a word on current matters before February the 24th because they were not comfortable with politics and were too busy with their art. In a democratic society, there wouldn't be any fault in not being interested in politics but in a dictatorship, you must be interested otherwise politics will sooner or later become interested in you. And what is happening in Russia right now, is waking this group of artists up, making them change their attitude towards their artistic strategies, making them repent their hiding from the environment they have been working in, making them feel a pang of burning guilt for their silence.
“In a democratic society, there wouldn't be any fault in not being interested in politics but in a dictatorship, you must be interested otherwise politics will sooner or later become interested in you.”
The third group of artists
“And then there are others. Some artists have also posted something abstract against the war and on behalf of peace, but they don't name names, they do not acknowledge that Putin and the whole KGB governmental system have been long leading the country to the present calamity. Moreover, many of them benefited from the Putin regime getting personal governmental prizes and being officially propagated by the highest Russian statesmen. Now they say that they are against the war to preserve their foreign benefits and contracts, but at the same time they refuse to feel any guilt and they are afraid of showing any big unloyalty towards the regime and losing their laurels inside Russia.
The fourth group of artists
“The last group is the one that makes me depressed. These are artists who are now justifying Putin's deeds and blaming the world for Russophobia. They are twisting the truth; they are repeating the Russian propaganda outrageous lies about Putin only preventing NATO's imminent attack. Some of them are openly expressing these awful thoughts, others are supporting their soul mates with likes and comments on social media. These artists have taken the evil side notwithstanding the level of their artistic talent. And this category of artists should definitely be banned outside the Russian state they feel so much affiliated with.
“Present-day Russian artists will have to go through scrutiny. And those of us who long ago understood who Putin is, are ready to pay this price.”
“My conclusion is that a total ban of the whole Russian culture is a wrong and calamitous step. But present-day Russian artists will have to go through scrutiny. And those of us who long ago understood who Putin is, are ready to pay this price.
Alisa Ganieva, author and member of the Bergen International Literary Festival's advisory board.