Vladimir Putin delivers speech at Valdai Discussion Club
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What motivates Russian President Vladimir Putin is often a subject of debate for Moscow experts. While the Kremlin chief usually keeps his cards close to his chest, his speeches offer a brief glimpse into what is driving his barbaric actions. They also shed light on his peculiar obsessions. In a speech today at the 19th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Moscow, the Russian President went on a bizarre rant about ‘cancel culture’.
In a translated speech, he said: “In the very beginning, classical liberalism interpreted the freedom of every individual person to say what you want, do what you want. But in the 21st century liberals started to proclaim that the so-called open society has enemies.
“Whatever comes from Russia, it is all the Kremlin’s doing…all of this was prophetically described in the 19th century by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This is what our Western partners have come to. What is it, if not the current Western cancel culture?
“They are not going to cancel history’s recognised geniuses of the world culture…several years will pass and no one will know their names, but everyone will remember Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky.”
Putin was referring to Fyodor Dostoevsky – the Russian novelist who is well known for his 1866 novel ‘Crime and Punishment’, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer who wrote the iconic ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
While he did not this time specify whether he believed the West was cancelling those named art figures, in March, just two weeks after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra removed the work of Tchaikovsky from its programme.
They were due to play the composer’s 1812 Overture at a concert, but decided not to due to events in Ukraine.
The venue released a statement at the time saying: “In light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra, with the agreement of St David’s Hall, feel the previously advertised programme including the 1812 Overture to be inappropriate at this time. The orchestra hope you will continue to support them and enjoy the revised programme.”
The move was met with backlash by some. Cellist, Max Weiss, said at the time that “everyone needs to get a grip” and added that she had attended a concert where both the Ukrainian national anthem and Tchaikovsky’s work had been played.
As for Dostoevsky, a university in Milan decided in March to ban a course that covered the novelist’s work. The University of Milano-Bicocca’s decision came to light after Italian writer, Paolo Nori, shared a letter he had received which read: “Dear Professor, the Vice Rector for Didactics has informed me of a decision taken with the rector to postpone the course on Dostoevsky. This is to avoid any controversy, especially internally, during a time of strong tensions.”
Various Italian figures, including the country’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi, condemned the decision. Just days later, the university U-turned and announced that the course would go ahead.
Putin has often weighed in on the ‘cancel culture’ debate. In March, he compared Russia to “cancelled” Harry Potter author J.K Rowling, who has received criticism for her views on trans rights. He also referred to Russian cultural icons as he suggested there is no free speech in the West.
He said: “They’re now engaging in the cancel culture, even removing Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov from posters. Russian writers and books are now cancelled.
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“Recently they cancelled the children’s writer Joanne Rowling because she – the author of books that have sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide – fell out of favour with fans of so-called gender freedoms.”
While Putin has repeatedly lamented the West for “cancelling” Russian culture, Dostoevsky himself was threatened with execution in Russia in 1849 after being accused of taking part in anti-government activism.
After being escorted to a firing squad, his life was spared. The novelist was instead sent to a Siberian labour camp as punishment for his actions.
He was released in 1854 but only returned to Russia five years later. He then left in 1962 to travel around Europe.
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