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Russophobia: Dance of Death

All the greatest mathematicians, philosophers and scientists from classical antiquity sharing their ideas and learning from each other in The School of Athens (1511) by Raphael

European culture, which has always been a source of envy, as well as a point of reference for the rest of the world, takes a further step towards an unprecedented Middle Ages of reason and dignity. And it does so by adopting one of the methods that it itself would seem to repudiate with great force in recent years: that of “phobia”.

After the disqualification from the competition for the European Tree of the Year, of the famous “Turgenev Oak” — which the great Russian writer planted 198 years ago —, the cancellation of the Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake tour by St Petersburg Ballet Theatre or Le Étoiles of the National Opera of Ukraine — after the dance troupe was contacted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture who ordered them to stop —, plus some other childish complaints we have already talked about here, this is the time of Edgar Degas’ drawing Russian Dancers. It is a pastel depicting troupes of dancers — which the artist was fascinated to see performing in Paris late in his life — which The National Gallery in London has seen fit to rename as Ukrainian Dancers, to the delight of the public with yellow-blue flags.

Swan Lake by St Petersburg Ballet Theatre cancelled at the
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin, Ireland
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas – Ukrainian Dancers (formerly Russian Dancers, ca. 1899)

A spokesperson for the gallery tried to explain their update: “The title of this painting has been an ongoing point of discussion for many years and is covered in scholarly literature, however there has been increased focus on it over the past month due to the current situation so therefore we felt it was an appropriate moment to update the painting’s title to better reflect the subject of the painting.”

Excellent motivation. But establishing that this is the right time for such an operation, maybe is not exactly the way intelligent and far-sighted people behave, and once again it seems to hide some other reasons we are dangerously getting used to. In the past, Russophobia — anti-Russian sentiment — has included state-sponsored mistreatment and propaganda against the Russians in France and Germany. Nazi Germany, at one point, deemed Russians and other Slavs, an inferior race and “sub-human” and called for their extermination. In accordance with Nazi ideology, millions of Russian civilians and POWs were murdered during the German occupation in World War II.

Turgenev Oak, planted according to legend by Ivan Sergeevich Turgev himself, in the Spasskoye-Lutovinovo Museum-Reserve, Russia

Now we have always referred, even in unsuspected times, to a certain way of thinking as medieval. But a world in which one is violently insulted and paradoxically accused of making propaganda, or being racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, trolls, etc., just because doubts are raised about a certain double standard way of thinking, acting or communicating, well, such a world, we probably did not imagine it.

And when someone says that comparing our times to a not so distant past is a symptom of old age, presumption or frustration, maybe, never as in this case, it is not exactly a sincere objective behavior. And that dance exhibited at the National Gallery, as a metaphor of our time, together with the Swan Lake, with no more historical or critical comparisons, seems to become more and more a dance of death — of culture indeed.

St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake (Irina Kolesnikova) – Photo: Vladimir Zenzinov

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