When Russianness itself becomes a form of guilt
In March 2022, Sainsbury’s became the first British supermarket to change rename its chicken kiev in support of Ukraine. The newly rebranded chicken kyiv was one of the earliest instances of a gathering cultural boycott of Russia, within weeks of its invasion of Ukraine.
Other examples of exclusion would soon follow: Massive economic sanctions were imposed against Russia; many Western businesses pulled out; New York’s Metropolitan Opera, America’s largest performing arts institution, cut its links with superstar Russian soprano Anna Netrebko because she seemed unwilling to retract past statements of support for Vladimir Putin’s actions; Bolshoi Ballet and other Russian dance performances were cancelled in the UK, while New York’s Carnegie Hall removed Russian music director Valery Gergiev and piano soloist Denis Matsuev from a Vienna Philharmonic performance because both musicians had strong ties with Putin.
These boycotts were different from Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision to cancel her upcoming novel set in Russia. As Sam Kahn has said on Persuasion, it starts to feel as if “’Russianness’ alone is a form of guilt”.
Which brings me to the so-called memory sanctions, the damnatio memoriae practised in the days of the Roman empire. We’ll look at that next.