To demand a ban on Russian culture is immoral and insane

At the Cannes Film Festival, the French Culture Prize was awarded to the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa† In his speech, he did not come up with calls and ultimatums to boycott Russian culture. He himself was expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy on March 19 for opposing such a boycott. Incidentally, President Zelensky thought that the measure against Loznitsa was wrong.

The Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa. Photo by

With the help of Sergei Loznitsa

For all of us, culture is a matter of life, and today we are all at the forefront. On the one hand, there are those who demand that Russian films be banned and that Russian culture be completely scrapped. On the other hand, there are those who are against a total boycott of the culture.

Immediately after the Russian aggression against Ukraine started, I spoke out against a total ban on Russian film and against a boycott of Russian culture. Some of my countrymen responded by demanding to also boycott my films, especially my films about the wars past and present ‘Donbas’, ‘Majdan’ and ‘Babi Jar.Context.’ It is astonishing that ‘Donbas’ and ‘Majdan’ were already banned. It was in totalitarian Russia at the instigation of the FSB. Today, Ukrainian activists are demanding that these films be canceled in the democratic EU. It is a bitter observation that their position on some issues coincides with the position of the Russian FSB.

Unfortunately, the Cannes Film Festival is also in the front line.

As far as I know, in its 75-year history, the festival’s management has only received a letter from a state film fund manager demanding that a film by a citizen of that state be removed from the program. That was in 1969, and it was the movie ‘Andrei Rublyov’ Andrey Tarkovsky.

terribly topical

This year, the same thing happened with my film ‘A Natural History of Devastation’ produced by Germany, Lithuania and the Netherlands, which premieres this week. A film about a topic that has once again become terribly topical during the war that Russia is waging in Ukraine: can unarmed civilians and the space where civilians live be used for the war? This is apparently not a concern for the management of the organizations that support the Ukrainian film sector.

Cultural activists describe freedom of speech as the enemy’s propaganda

They are only concerned that a Ukrainian citizen dared to express an opinion that goes against the majority. They wage war on their own front, not where the fate of Europe, modern civilization and possibly humanity is decided, but where a cultural war takes the place of state-building, where myth-making takes the place of knowledge of one’s own history, where freedom of speech is termed enemy propaganda.

still 5 nhdStill from Loznitsa’s new film ‘The Natural History of Destruction’, which premiered in Cannes. Photoatoms and voids

The events of these three months of war and the aggression to which not only individual cultural institutions (museums, theaters, cinemas, galleries) have been exposed, but also the artists – directors, actors, conductors, artists, musicians – require reflection and seriousness. conversation. We need to understand what is going on and who wants it.

How to ban culture?

Language is one of the most important and fundamental cultural categories. In language and with the help of language, the worldview of man is formed and determined. Demanding a cultural ban is as bad as demanding a language ban. Such a demand is as immoral as it is insane. How can you ban a language spoken by 350 million people in the world? I’m now speaking to you in my mother tongue, which I spoke from an early age in my hometown of Kiev. This language is spoken by a large proportion of refugees from eastern Ukraine. In this language, the heroic defenders of Snake Island explained to the Russian aggressors to whom they belonged. Modern Ukraine is a multinational and multicultural country.

Put the Russian language at the service of Ukraine by telling the truth about the terrible war in Russian

Demanding a boycott of the Russian-language culture, which is also an achievement and wealth for Ukraine, is archaic and destructive as such. Such a requirement is contrary to European principles of cultural diversity and expression. Instead of putting the Russian language, the mother tongue of 30 percent of Ukrainian citizens, at the service of Ukraine by telling the truth in Russian about the terrible war, cultural activists are burdened by the senseless work of Sisyphus to destroy what cannot destroyed.

loznitsa still 2Wedding scene from Loznitsa’s movie ‘Donbas’.

One gets the impression that these people understand culture as a simple addition of individual products: movies, novels, plays, paintings, etc. But that is not the case.

Culture is a human activity in the most diverse manifestations, they are rituals and practices in our lives, they are forms and ways of human consciousness and expression, it is our memory and practice of preserving and reviving. And finally, culture is planting, development. I think you all know that.

Reaction to barbarism

How will you combat this? How can you equate the crimes committed by the current Russian regime (in fact, there have been only criminal regimes in Russia for the last 100 years) with the creation of Russian artists, mostly outcast and almost always tragic prophets in their unhappy homeland, artists who became part of world culture and thus an achievement for all of humanity? In response to the barbarism that the Putin regime is unleashing on Ukraine with the help of Russian vandals, how can you demand the destruction or removal of what has always resisted barbarism? It is devoid of logic and reason.

How can you equate the crimes of the Russian regime with the creation of Russian artists?

The French philosopher René Girard writes: ‘The object of true hatred can only be a human being who prevents us from fulfilling our desire, while it is also he who inspired that desire. He who feels hatred in the first place hates himself and behind his hatred hides a secret desire. By trying to hide this desperate desire from others and from himself, he refuses to see anything else in his model as obstacles. The secondary role of the model therefore takes precedence and obscures the original role, which consists of religious imitation. ‘

What’s wrong with us? What will happen to the culture? I think we can come to an understanding through constructive and in-depth discussion and not through all sorts of ultimate prohibitions. When it comes to film, the European Film Academy could form the stage for a European conference in which philosophers, anthropologists, film historians, cultural scientists, film connoisseurs, directors and screenwriters participate to discuss this very serious issue.

World War One

Stefan Zweig recalls the atmosphere of the First World War in his memoirs. ‘France and England were’ conquered ‘in Vienna and Berlin, on Ringstrasse and on Friedrichstrasse. English and French inscriptions had to disappear from the shops, even the monastery “Angel Girls” was forced to change its name because the people were outraged and did not suspect that angels meant angels and not English. Naive businessmen stamped their envelopes with the words “Lord, punish England!”, Smart ladies swore they would not speak a word of French while alive. Shakespeare was banned from the German theater, Mozart and Wagner from the French and English concert halls, German professors declared Dante a German, French professors declared Beethoven a Belgian, without thinking that they requisitioned the spiritual heritage of the enemy countries, which whether it was grain or ore wax. They were not happy that thousands of peaceful citizens in these countries killed each other every day at the front, in the hinterland condemned and slandered their great deaths, which had lain dormant in their graves for hundreds of years. ‘

Does this remind you of anything?

Fate befriended me for several years with the great Irena Veisaite, a Lithuanian Jew who survived the Kaunas ghetto, was a professor of theater and knowledgeable of German literature, a collaborator with George Soros and an extraordinary cultural figure in Lithuania. Irena once remembered that in the ghetto she organized an underground group dealing with German poetry with friends and peers. In the evening they met in secret and read poems by Goethe, Heine and Schiller to each other. ‘Hey, why? You heard the language of the German executioners around you all day, didn’t you? ” I exclaimed. Irena looked at me in surprise. “Yes, what did that have to do with Goethe?”

Few get such a talent of spiritual wisdom, few can attain such humanity, only true heroes are capable of such nobility. But every single one of us, people of culture, is committed to making an effort to combat barbarism in any performance. I am often asked: what should an artist do when there is war? My answer is simple: preserve your sanity and defend the culture.

Loznitsa’s speech was published in Russian by Radio Svoboda.

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