What’s Wrong with Art “for Peace”? A Memo for Ukrainian Artists Abroad
On February 28th, the Ukrainian Institute called for the suspension of any cooperation with Russia.
The suspension of cooperation with Russia must continue until the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, including the temporarily occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and Crimea, and the prosecution of Russia for war crimes against the Ukrainian people. On April 4th, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine and the State Agency of Ukraine for Arts and Art Education joined the call.
What does it mean for Ukrainian artists and art groups? Together with the Ukrainian Institute, Balletristic created a memo for performers of art, theatre, and dance on how to truly support Ukraine with their work and prevent possible reputational crises.
I am invited to take part in a charity concert / project / tour “for peace”. Should I agree?
By supporting the slogans “for peace”, you weaken Ukraine’s position in its information struggle with Russia on the local and international front.
Ukraine is at war with Russia. This war was caused by Russia’s open attack on Ukraine and long-term occupying aggression against our territories. The criminal actions of Russian politicians and the military are killing tens of thousands of peaceful Ukrainians and destroying cities. If peace suddenly comes tomorrow, Ukraine will be mutilated and evil will go unpunished, always ready to attack again. A sudden peace will not correct the worldview of the invaders who have been destroying the Ukrainian nation for centuries. That is why Ukraine is not fighting for peace, but for its undisputed victory in this war.
Choose slogans that openly support Ukraine and do not allow ambiguous interpretations. Explain your position to the event organizers and demand a change of the event name.
But if we stop the war now, we can save thousands of lives!
In fact, yes. But it also means justifying Russia’s political and war crimes and allowing them to be repeated in the future at the cost of new lives. We also do not forget that more than 700,000 Ukrainians have now been illegally deported to Russia. And we cannot predict what will happen to them if the war ends immediately.
Also, if Ukraine ceases to defend itself, we risk disappearing as a nation – a sovereign community of people united not only by territory and ethnic origin, but also by language, culture, spiritual values, historical memory, and self-awareness. Russia has openly declared its rejection of Ukrainians as a nation, and the killings committed by the Russian military are already recognized as genocide at the international level. We’ll remind that genocide is a form of mass violence aimed at destroying a certain national, ethnic, racial, or religious group of people. Forced dissemination of its language, distortion of historical facts, prohibition and destruction of cultural heritage are also instruments of genocide that Russia is using against Ukrainians for more than once already.
The proposed project will involve former representatives of Russian culture who have not lived in Russia for a long time and / or have openly spoken out against the war. Is it appropriate to go on stage with them?
No, not appropriate. First of all, you provoke a shift of attention to the representatives of Russian culture and strengthen Russia’s presence in the information field by this. For many years, Russia has been a prominent player in the international cultural and artistic arena, and any presence close to it now means the risk of being overshadowed by its recognizability. In times of struggle for our own independent voice, our slogans, values, attainments, names, works must sound separately and as clear as possible.
Secondly, culture is a system of values formed within society. It is an indicator and at the same time a tool for establishing the norm: what is acceptable and what is unacceptable for people in a particular environment. So what can be the art of a country whose culture is based on the principles of aggression, violence, lies, devaluation of human life?
It is culture that shapes the artist’s worldview, the artist produces works that reflect culture, and society comprehends itself through these works, as if looking in a mirror. Therefore, we cannot separate Russian culture from Russian war crimes. For the same reasons, you should pay attention to which show items are announced in the concert programmes next to yours.
Note that even the so-called Russian opposition environment is characterized by paternalism, superior attitude toward Ukraine and Ukrainians, and the formation of judgments about people and the country which they essentially have nothing to do with. This once again shows that the “opposition” is the bearer of the same Russian cultural code.
But the organizers promise to transfer the money to Ukraine. And our country needs help so much now!
First, pay attention to where exactly the money is going. If these are international funds, see who is the ultimate beneficiary of the aid. The money should be donated to missions dedicated to supporting Ukraine.
Second, not all aid is measured in money here and now. No less important is reputational capital, on which our competitive advantage in the international cultural arena and future economic prosperity directly depend.
Reputation is a level of trust. Attractiveness for partnerships, funding, cooperation, and the desire to be involved depend exactly on it.
What is cultural diplomacy, why is it as important to victory as weapons and humanitarian aid, and how do I relate to it?
Cultural diplomacy is a form of public diplomacy and a tool of “soft power” that can be defined as the exchange of ideas, information, works of art, and other components of culture between states and peoples in order to strengthen mutual understanding. The purpose of cultural diplomacy is to influence the level and nature of contacts with other countries. Although cultural diplomacy is often not given due importance, it can play an important role in achieving the country’s foreign policy goals and even in maintaining national security.
Every Ukrainian artist who participates in international projects and collaborations becomes an agent of influence in shaping the image of his or her country, a participant in the process of cultural diplomacy. If you tolerate joint projects with “good Russians”, it humanizes the image of the aggressor in the eyes of foreign audiences and reduces the degree of rhetoric about the war in Ukraine to “armed conflict”, makes the collective responsibility of Russian society vague. Therefore, at this stage, Ukraine’s cultural diplomacy can be supported only by a complete boycott of Russian culture and its representatives.
I work in a state theatre / company. Should I coordinate my personal tour with the management?
Yes, certainly. After all, in all promotional materials of the tour you will be listed as a representative of this theatre or company, and therefore – a representative of the state. Your personal representation must correspond to the official position of Ukraine.
How can state theatres / companies communicate externally and internally during the war?
Refrain from presenting, performing, and promoting Russian culture and works of art while the war against Ukraine continues:
- Avoid the Russian language in your public communication and repertoire;
- Boycott events and projects organized by Russian institutions;
- Abolish cooperation with Russian artists;
- Remove from the repertoire the works by Russian authors (playwrights, composers);
- Refuse funding, charitable contributions, and sponsorship from Russian organizations and their partners working in other countries.
I'm not used to feeling like a politician. How should I treat my foreign colleagues?
Be patient and do not neglect the opportunity to explain what the Ukrainian people are fighting for in the war with Russia. This is the inviolability of their state borders, the right to independently determine their political and economic vector of development, the right to their historical heritage, language, religion, culture, science, information space. Ukrainians are fighting for the right to be Ukrainians on their land.
Note that these are not relatives of your colleagues who are under fire, that this is not their nation which is declared “non-existent”, that it is not they who were forced to flee the country with one suitcase and start life from scratch. People abroad may perceive events with detachment and not be as empathetic as your compatriots.
Also remember that many European institutions have had partnerships with Russia for years. Of course, they will preserve or justify this relationship.
If you feel that you are being provoked for rampant emotions or someone is deliberately questioning your statements, change your tactics. Instead of explaining the phenomena, respectfully ask the question so that your opponent himself tries to explain what is happening in Ukraine and why it happened. If you do not feel the strength to do so, stop communicating.
I am afraid of spoiling relations with colleagues and I do not want to be considered too radical, emotional, aggressive in my position.
Pay attention to how your colleagues advance arguments and try to tune in to their wave.
You are told that only the Russian leadership and the military are to blame for the war – remind how many years in a row the Russians have tolerated their leadership and what percentage of the population supports the war, which has been going on for 8 years. Remind that the Russian servicemen are not killing the Ukrainian military, but civilians. That the Russian soldiers are mostly yesterday’s ordinary Russians, young people from all over the country who already have hatred in their hearts and are capable of horrific cruelty. Ask how, in their opinion, it happened that Russia is at war with the civilian population of Ukraine?
You are told that banning Russian culture is unwise, because it was Russia that gave us Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky. Say that you are not against Russian culture, but against ideas it supports in the current circumstances. Remind that Russian culture, as the culture of the empire, for a long time appropriated the culture of oppressed peoples, treated them disdainfully and partly mockingly, opposed the “high” culture of their capitals. Remind that in today’s world such views are not possible, and Russia’s cultural heritage needs analysis and rethinking of meanings. In addition, presenting it on stage during a full-scale war with Ukraine as a former colony is like supporting the political vector of the aggressor.
You are told that demanding economic sanctions from global brands is too daring. Remind that it was due to sanctions in Russia that it became impossible to produce new tanks.
You are told that many Ukrainians now sound like radical nationalists, and their appeals and demands are inhumane. Remind that we are a country that does not attack, but just at this very moment protects itself from total physical destruction. Our demands are not aggression, but self-defence without weapons. Remind that after what the Russians have done and continue to do with the civilian population of Ukraine, including now our close and loved ones, we have every right to at least distrust every representative of the Russian nation.
You are told that many Russians have also suffered from the Putin regime. Politely ask not to compare the murder, torture, abduction, and expulsion of Ukrainians with the discomfort of Russians from unplanned travel abroad or possible political pressure.
Do not argue and avoid the risk of being the one who has to excuse himself or herself.
Foreign journalists want to obtain comments / conduct an interview with me. What should I pay attention to? When should I agree and when should I refuse?
– not to give comments to the Russian media
– check the reputation of the publication with which you need to communicate
– if possible, clarify the topic and details of the report or publication in advance, find out the issues for discussion beforehand
– read the interview before publication
Which repertoire is better to perform abroad?
Russia is now openly declaring that the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian culture do not exist. The main task of Ukrainian cultural figures is to refute this statement by presenting Ukrainian works on the world stage and spreading knowledge about Ukrainian talents.
If you choose classics, explore its origins and the context in which it became popular. Refrain from performing the ballet “Swan Lake” or “The Sleeping Beauty”, works with Russian drama and stage adaptations of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Remember that Ukrainian folk dances are usually not about Ukrainian identity and folklore, but about the format of the existence of Ukrainian culture approved by the Soviet party at the time of the extermination of real national centres and their representatives.
If you are looking for Ukrainian music for a performance or for a play, you can use the resource:
If you are interested in modern Ukrainian drama, pay attention to these resources:
In practical terms, compliance with the recommendations of Ukrainian artists and institutions should be expressed as follows:
- Refrain from presenting, performing, and promoting Russian culture and works of art while the war against Ukraine continues;
- Suspend Russia’s participation in international cultural and academic events;
- Boycott events and projects organized by Russian institutions;
- Abolish cooperation with Russian artists and scientists;
- To remove from the supervisory boards of cultural and academic institutions representatives associated with the Russian state and / or Russian private capital;
- Refuse of funding, charitable contributions, and sponsorship from Russian organizations and their partners working in other countries.