The tragedy of Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to build as atrocities are recorded and circulate throughout the world. To ensure the support of the Russian people, Vladimir Putin has also intensified his already firm hold on the press and protesters. He has shut down or expelled news outlets and responded violently to his public detractors. Along with eliminating freedom of the press, Putin has long been building his opposition to creative expression.
As war was declared, many Russian arts leaders resigned their posts, were arrested for their opposition, or have left the country out of fear for their lives. Dictators and autocrats from Stalin to Mao, have long feared the power of artists to stir free thinking and revolt. Don’t believe that it can’t happen here. The groundwork for suppression has already been laid by wealthy forces controlling the media, stirring the Culture Wars, and reviving book banning, all of which help to further fracture and divide the United States.
The good news , according to the ACLU is that, “…the commitment to freedom of imagination and expression is deeply embedded in our national psyche, buttressed by the First Amendment, and supported by a long line of Supreme Court decisions.” Let us not be complacent about any slow erosion of these rights.
For a compelling first hand account of artists living under Putin, read Viktor Vilisov’s essay, The Was Some Contemporary Culture Left in Russia.Then Putin Started a War, which appeared yesterday in HowlRound.