After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, baseball great Babe Ruth stalked his house and destroyed every item that was made in Japan. “He started throwing things out the window that he got from Japan … dolls, whatever he could reach,” explained his granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti. He never explained how destroying these items would hurt the Japanese emperor or the military that conducted the raid. In a similar burst of misguided rage, well-meaning people around the world have poured out their rage at all things they perceive to be “Russian” due to their outrage over Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian restaurant owners, some of whom fled Soviet tyranny, have received threats. Angry Westerners have punished antiwar Russian performers, long-dead Russian cultural figures, cats and dogs who hail from the Motherland, even inanimate pixels flickering on gaming screens. Here are a few of the most egregious examples:
1. “Russian” Vodka…That Isn’t Russian: On the day Russia invaded Ukraine, a Vermont bartender posted a video of himself pouring out a bottle of vodka. “Sorry, we don’t serve Russian products here,” he says. Days later, the owner of the Off Point Pub in Davenport, Iowa, dumped her Russian vodka stash down the sink. Both bartenders threw out their reserves of Stolichnaya vodka, a Luxembourg-based company with a Russian name that produces its spirits in Latvia. The company has since rebranded itself “Stoli,” but confusion continues. CEO Damian McKinney remembers that, when one British alcohol distributor threatened to eliminate Stoli from the service after the invasion, “I said, ‘Do you know we’re Latvian?’ And there was a pause.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Stoli owns the trademark in about 150 countries, including the U.S., while the Russian government controls the brand in Russia and the Netherlands.”
Sorry @Stoli lovers. No more.
— Magic Mountain (@SkiMagicVT) February 24, 2022
2. Putin’s Crime, Dostoevsky’s Punishment: The University of Milano-Bicocca announced it would “postpone” a course on Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky “to avoid any controversy … during a time of strong tensions.” The university did not explain how a course on the author of such literary classics as The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and The Possessed — whose books encouraged people to “love all creatures, love all things” — benefited Vladimir Putin.
The writer who offered the course, Paolo Nori, said he found canceling Dostoevsky doubly ironic. “I realize what is happening in Ukraine is horrible, and I feel like crying just thinking about it. But what is happening in Italy is ridiculous…Not only is being a living Russian wrong in Italy today, but also being a dead Russian, who was sentenced to death in 1849 because he read a forbidden thing.”
At the last minute, Dostoevsky was spared execution but sent into exile. He died in 1881, 71 years before Vladimir Putin was born. The university’s move drew the condemnation of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who called the decision “insane.” The university eventually reversed its decision and let the course take place.
3. Canceling Tchaikovsky: On March 2, The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra announced it had removed “The 1812 Overture” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky from an upcoming concert. “In light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine,” playing the classic would be “inappropriate at this time.”
When the public objected, the symphony professed shock and denied it had been motivated by Russophobia. “It was nothing to do with Tchaikovsky being Russian. It was much more to do with us deciding that it was inappropriate at the present time, given that some pieces are military themed and they come with the sound of a volley of cannon fire,” said director Linda Robinson. (Perhaps she should explore works in Tchaikovsky’s non-cannon canon.)
“Tchaikovsky was a gay, tolerant individualist who was little interested in nationalism, who even came to hate his 1812 overture. To censure him would be a calamity,” wrote Patrick West in The Spectator. “A cultural boycott ignores the heartfelt desire of modern-day Russian artists, 20,000 of whom, including composers, have signed a motion condemning the invasion.”
4. Canceling a Russian pianist who condemned the Ukrainian invasion: A concert by Alexander Malofeev was canceled by the Vancouver Recital Society. The 20-year-old prodigy, who has relatives living in Ukraine, wrote that “every Russian will feel guilty for decades because of the terrible and bloody decision that none of us could influence and predict.”
He said he did not post a more pointed condemnation, because he felt “very uncomfortable about this and also think that it can affect my family in Russia.” After canceling the concerts, the Vancouver Recital Society explained it was in order to stand in “solidarity”with a team member from Ukraine.
“Honestly, the only thing I can do now is to pray and cry,” wrote Malofeev, who had already arrived in Canada for the performances, after the concert was canceled. “People cannot be judged by their nationality.”
5. Feline organization bans Russian cats: The global backlash against all things Russian does not confine itself to human beings. On March 3, NPR reported (at your expense) that the Luxembourg-based “Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe), an international cat federation with members in about 40 countries, is banning Russian cats from its competitions for the next three months … The organization describes itself as ‘the United Nations of Cat Federations.’” (That may explain the fecklessness.)
6. Russian dogs no longer man’s best friend: Crufts’ international dog show, based in the U.K, and sponsored by The Kennel Club, has banned 51 dogs and 30 dog breeders from participating because they are Russian. “In the light of rapidly evolving circumstances, it is with a heavy heart we have taken the decision not to allow exhibitors from Russia to compete at Crufts 2022,” a spokesperson said. “Our friends in Ukraine, and their dogs, are fearing for their lives and we will do all that we can to support them wherever possible.”
7. EA Sports bans make-believe Russians from video game: One need not be real or alive to be canceled over Russia’s conflict with the Ukraine. The video game company Electronic Arts (EA) announced that it would remove players’ ability to play as the Russian team for EA Sports FIFA products, in order to “stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov had actually asked gaming companies Xbox and PlayStation to block players based in Russia and Belarus from playing online games. The two companies halted new sales of their products in Russia.
A statement from EA SPORTS FIFA: pic.twitter.com/v3pZvpblgS
— EA SPORTS FIFA (@EASPORTSFIFA) March 2, 2022
“It’s the culture of ‘Do something,’ even if the something is stupid and wrong, that causes the cancellation of Russian artists and ultimately the threatening phone calls to restaurants,” wrote New York Post columnist Karol Marcowicz, whose Jewish immigrant parents settled in a “Russian” community composed of people from “Latvia, Moldova, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan,” and numerous non-Russian backgrounds. “We don’t always need to act, to virtue signal how deeply we care and to display our commitment to canceling the bad people.”
Amid Babe Ruth’s wrath, his daughter managed to save a metal urn that had been made in Japan from destruction. Westerners would be wise to save the gems of Russian culture instead of indiscriminately trashing everything Russian, a hate-filled mirror-image of the ethnic prejudice and destruction they claim to despise in Putin.