The writer is a twice-Oscar-nominated Ukrainian film producer
A century ago the first of the “philosophers’ ships” set out from the Soviet Union to Germany, carrying Russian intellectuals who refused to accept Soviet rule. Among the passengers were the theologians Nikolai Berdyaev and Sergei Bulgakov, the critic Yuly Aikhenvald, the sociologist Pitirim Sorokin and many others.
Today, it is missile-laden warships that Russia is sending west. The world is watching the atrocities it commits in Ukraine: the siege and obliteration of cities, the killing of innocent civilians and the flight of millions of refugees
I have felt the horrors personally. On the 12th day of war, my friends evacuated my 81-year-old mother-in-law from Kyiv to western Ukraine. A Russian shell blew a hole in the wall of the apartment of my 84-year-old aunt in Kharkiv. To escape the bitter winter cold, she had to hide in the pantry, the only place she could keep warm. After two weeks she was taken via a humanitarian corridor to Bucharest. My son, an adviser to the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky, was sent on a mission to Europe and left Kyiv just days ago.
Yet, strange as it may sound, the future for Russia looks in many ways more horrible than for Ukraine, which I believe will emerge from war victorious. This once great culture is sinking into an abyss of darkness, aggression and brutality. Recent events have shown that while Vladimir Putin’s regime has failed to build an effective army, it has succeeded in creating a fully functional fictional reality for its constituents.
This state propaganda machine is incredibly effective. When an American viewer encounters an opinion he doesn’t agree with on Fox News, he can always switch to CNN. In Russia, viewers will hear there is no war, only a limited “special operation”. If they change channels they will learn “Ukrainians are bombing themselves.” If they switch again, the anchorman will insist Ukraine is defended by “gangs of Nazis under the command of a drug addict, who uses civilian population as human shields”.
This month, a group of independent sociologists and data analysts published a study titled “Do Russians Want Wars?” It found that the 59 per cent of respondents who support the “special operation” tend to be those who have the most trust in official news agencies. Of the 22 per cent who categorically oppose the war, 85 per cent do not trust any information from the state media.
It is the latter group who need protection now. I spent 20 years in Moscow and in that time I produced films by Russian directors who strove to tell the truth about their country. None of them are silent now. They all protest, loudly and publicly, risking their freedom and income. The Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa said it best: “When I hear calls to ban Russian films, I remember my Russian friends, decent and worthy people. They are also the victims of this aggression . . . You cannot judge people by their passports. You can only judge them by their actions.” Yet the isolation of Russia from the world’s information, economic and financial systems, turns its citizens into global outcasts.
This is why western sanctions should not be aimed just at punishing those responsible for war. They must also protect Russians who fight for change in their country. During the cold war, while the west battled the Soviet regime it also made a conscious effort to help dissidents inside the USSR and to provide an alternative to state propaganda.
Banishing Russian scientists from international conferences, performances of Tchaikovsky from orchestras, or independent Russian films from major festivals are all steps back towards the abyss. Ukraine’s suffering must be ended at all costs. But as the west wages war on the tyranny of the present, it must not destroy the possibility of a peaceful future — while taking aim at the ship of war, it must take care not sink the metaphorical philosophers’ ships of our times.
Source: Financial Times