Now there’s no longer anyone left alive to separate fact from fiction, we’re pretty much stuck with the myth of the World War I Home Front, whereby each Zeppelin raid was followed by the communal kicking of Dachshunds on the street and the smashing of shop windows bearing Germanic names. Whether or not this actually happened doesn’t seem to matter anymore because all our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers (who might have been witness to such incidents) are gone; it’s become absorbed into the second-hand narrative of a conflict too far away to bear any relevance to the here and now. But we do know for certain that anti-German sentiments forced our very own royal household to change their family name, wary that Saxe-Coburg–Gotha was a tad too Teutonic a moniker to rally round when the King’s own cousin was responsible for starting the whole bloody mess in the first place; if the newly-christened House of Windsor could decline sanctuary to the Tsar (when he was supposed to be our ally), its commitment to the preservation of Albion in the face of foreign aggression seemed pretty sound – and few foreigners were more aggressive towards Albion in the 20th century than the Germans. Chances are, then, some of the myths re opposition to all things German are rooted in truth; war has a habit of legitimising bigotry, after all.
At this moment in time, when war rages in Europe once again, the division between the good guys and the bad guys is as crystal clear as ever and it is now officially OK to badmouth Russians without fear of an Identitarian comeback. Whilst mocking or criticising China – whose terrible human rights record far exceeds that of Russia – leaves the guilty party open to accusations of racist punching-down, doing likewise to the Russian people and their culture is perfectly acceptable; indeed, it’s practically compulsory. Just as any prominent black spokesperson (especially in the US) is fair game to be subjected to old-fashioned racism in the emperor’s new clothes of anti-racism should they dare offer a critique of the BLM agenda or deny the perceived oppression that comes with the colour of their skin, to voice the opinion that anything Russian isn’t necessarily tainted by the Putin brand is to unleash the contents of one’s bladder on the Ukrainian flag, which (lest we forget) is this season’s must-have fashion accessory.
I’m not really surprised that the illiterate stupidity of the present day has bled into the invasion of Ukraine and reduced it to merely another branch of the culture wars from the West’s perspective; but the facile nature of the popular response is depressingly symptomatic as to how everything today has to be translated into black & white symbolism bereft of any shades of grey. I wonder how many of those advocating the blacklisting of all things Russian have even read anything by Dostoevsky or listened to anything by Tchaikovsky or watched anything by Eisenstein. It’s like being a fan of The Beatles means you’re a cheerleader for Boris Johnson, simply because both are Brits (even though our PM was actually born in NYC); it’s infantile, ignorant and ill-informed, and the current vogue for associating anything Russian (however antique) with Vlad’s war machine is as vacuous a gesture as Sainsbury’s shelves being stripped of vodka. Maybe we should all wait for St Bono to write another poem on the topic, whereby he can compare Volodymyr Zelensky to any acceptable cultural hero undamaged by SWJ revisionism; and then we can have that deluded and deranged cadaver Nancy Pelosi recite it live on CNN.
It’s interesting how an otherwise-despised strain of jingoism, so derided when it waves the Union Jack during the Last Night of the Proms, can receive a free pass when it comes to anti-Russian feeling; we might be ashamed to celebrate our own nation’s achievements, but it’s fine to denounce those of another in the name of ‘freedom’. Coming as this does from countries whose governments have done their utmost to obliterate civil liberties over the past couple of years of pandemic paranoia, it’s hard not to greet such developments with cynicism. I suppose, though, this is the natural outcome of an age in which cancel culture is second nature; that all Russian cultural exports – whether they emanate from pre-Soviet Russia or the USSR itself (neither of which have any bearing on present-day Russia) – are subject to a blanket ban simply due to their geographical origins is patently ridiculous, but it’s not really that different from the way in which the artist is now regarded as inseparable from his art – one thinks of the likes of Phil Spector, for example. Any hopelessly naive hopes that the Woke mindset would be extinguished by Covid have been dashed once again by the fact that every reaction to every crisis now is merely a further extension of the Identity Politics philosophy, whereby everyone is defined by increasingly narrow criteria, lumped in together on the basis of race, gender, sexuality or nationality, whether or not that has any relation to their individual personas.
Apparently, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is the latest posthumous victim of the current wave of Russophobia; true, the vapid virtue signalling that demands the anglicised spelling of Kiev becomes the more native Kyiv in the context of a dish that has little to do with the location it derives its name from is partially understandable from the point of view of the contemporary Western diet; but what on earth does the first man in space – who died as long ago as 1968 – have to do with any of this? Ah, but he’s Russian, so it’s okay to belittle his considerable achievements – achievements that would’ve made it undeniably harder for Neil Armstrong’s one small step to take place just eight years after Gagarin completed a full orbit of Earth in the Vostok 1 capsule and became the most famous man on the planet overnight at the height of Cold War tensions in the early 60s.
Gagarin’s sole venture into outer space took place the same year of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and just the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet the humiliation he inadvertently heaped upon the West didn’t dent his global popularity; people were grownup enough back then to recognise Gagarin was being manipulated as a Soviet propaganda tool and didn’t hold his birthright against him. Admittedly, 60 years ago it was something of a thorn in the side of the American Dream that the USSR appeared to be leading the way in the Space Race; Gagarin’s groundbreaking exploration of the atmosphere came hot on the heels of Sputnik paving the way for the satellite age, all of which piled pressure upon NASA to fulfil the promise of JFK during his inauguration speech, that of putting an American man on the Moon before the end of the decade. But Yuri Gagarin rose above the East-West politics of the era, with his achievement accepted on a human scale that transcended nationality; film footage of the rapturous reception he received for a visit to characteristically rainy Manchester just three months after his historic flight into orbit is testament to his universal popularity.
Kennedy may have barred Gagarin from making a similar jaunt to the US, but that was simply politicking; most saw Gagarin for what he was – an international hero whose nationality was secondary to his place in mankind’s history. However, the current climate will probably bar any eulogising of Laika – the brave little oblivious pooch whose doomed 1957 journey into space enabled Yuri Gagarin to follow suit – before too long, for an annual event organised by the Space Foundation in America that ordinarily honours Gagarin by calling it ‘Yuri’s Night’ has dropped his name from the get-together; at the same time, a statue of Gagarin in Luxembourg (again, demonstrating how his appeal stretched way beyond national or ideological boundaries) has been covered up, presumably lest the sight of him suggests the Grand Duchy is pro-Putin. Cultural boycotts of apolitical Russian exports didn’t take place during Cold War I, so we certainly don’t need them in Cold War II. If anything, the ‘1812 Overture’ should be the theme tune of the moment, proving as it does that there’s far more to a nation than any warmongering philistine who happens to control it.
© The Editor