War in Ukraine | culture at the front

Bus drivers can no longer play popular Russian songs in their vehicles. Bookstores selling books in Russian will be excluded from a financial aid program.

Posted at 5:00 am

Agnes Gruda

Agnes Gruda
The press

The import of books by contemporary Russian authors will be banned. Russian artists are banned from Ukrainian stages and media unless they publicly condemn their country’s war against Ukraine.

A series of laws passed last Sunday by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, aim to both support the country’s culture and punish Moscow for its invasion.

“We want to break with the contemporary Russian universe in every possible way, less with the Russian language and more with the cultural products of Russia,” says MP Volodymyr Ariev.


Volodymyr Ariev, Ukrainian MP

The latter was in France on a business trip during the vote, but he gives 100% support to the three laws adopted without a single opposition vote. Before they come into force, they still have to be approved by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

This legal triptych is primarily aimed at supporting Ukrainian cultural production, but it is also a reaction to the war, stresses Taras Shamayda, who campaigned for the new legislation.

Even before the war, the Ukrainian book market was struggling with the influence of its powerful neighbor in a country where the vast majority of readers speak both languages.

“Now the publishers of books in the Ukrainian language are being supported,” says Taras Shamayda.

The law applies to writers and artists who are citizens of the Russian Federation, and therefore does not apply to books written before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Books by Tolstoy and Pushkin can still be purchased in their original language.

The new legislation also targets international literature that can be translated into Ukrainian, one of Ukraine’s other national languages, such as Tatar, or one of the languages ​​of the European Union. Translations into Russian are prohibited.

Ukrainian authors writing in Russian will still have the right to publish in that language, but their books will end up in unsubsidized bookstores.

It is a reaction to the war and this war is an identity war, Russia wants to destroy our nation, we want to protect ourselves.

Volodymyr Ariev, Ukrainian MP

In this context, it is normal to ban artists from Moscow, he thinks. As an example, he cites Adolf Hitler’s favorite director, the German Leni Riefenstahl.

“I don’t think we would have allowed his films to be shown in England at the time. »

understandable reaction

At first glance, these defensive cultural laws seem draconian, notes Dominique Arel, director of the Department of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa.

But you have to put them in context, he says. And that context is that of an invasion aimed at annihilating Ukrainian culture.

[L’envahisseur russe] not only calls for the eradication of Ukrainian identity, but actually carries out a policy of “de-Ukrainization” in the cities it occupies.

Dominique Arel, Director of the Department of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa

In these occupied territories we witness the elimination of any symbol, book or teaching of Ukrainian history.


A book entitled guide toaudition in english lies on the ground of a school in Kharkiv that was destroyed by shelling.

“In response, Ukraine is trying to cut all ties with Russia,” Dominique Arel said.

Before Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, around 50% of the Ukrainian population spoke Russian more fluently than Ukrainian. Today the proportion is closer to 40% Russian speakers versus 60% Ukrainian speakers.

At the beginning of Ukraine’s EU accession process, don’t these three laws run the risk of violating European standards for the protection of minorities?

“We are not banning the Russian language, we are blocking Russia’s cultural industry,” said Taras Shamayda.

The approach must be placed in a historical context of “decommunization,” which could go much further, notes Ukrainian philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor-in-chief of information site Ukraine World.

Russia wanted to wipe out 19th-century Ukrainian culturee century, then under Stalin.

Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor-in-chief of news site Ukraine World

Since the start of the Donbass war in 2014, Ukraine has known that Russia wanted to “re-communize” it, according to Volodymyr Ermolenko. In response, Kyiv has accelerated a process it calls “decommunization.”

Since February 24, the process has intensified. “Russian missiles are aimed at cultural targets, museums, libraries, theaters,” argues Volodymyr Ermolenko.


Mariupol Theater destroyed by Russian strikes

“And culture is the heart of a nation. »

Nowadays, Ukrainians plan to rename many streets or public buildings to Ukrainian names.

In particular, renaming the Tchaikovsky Academy of Music in the name of its founder, the Ukrainian musician Mykola Lyssenko, is under discussion – a project that is anything but unanimous.

Volodymyr Yermolenko supports this proposal. “We have nothing against Tchaikovsky, we are against the annihilation of our culture. »

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