Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

After the invasion of Ukraine, calls for a boycott of Russia increased. What about two years later?

Is it still appropriate to celebrate Russian culture? | War in Ukraine

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Calls to boycott Russia have had repercussions on entrepreneurs as well as a literature professor. We met them.

  • Yasmine Mehdi (View profile)Yasmine Mehdi

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The sign is hard to miss: “No politics,” reads at the entrance to Steamul Sauna, a Mississauga establishment frequented mainly by Eastern European customers. For years, Ukrainians and Russians rubbed shoulders in the warmth of the banias, but the war put a damper on this coexistence.

When the war started, there were tensions and even conflicts, recalls owner Roman Moissenko, who immigrated to Canada from Russia 20 years ago. After several altercations, he decided to ban political conversations in his establishment.

I understand people on both sides. But if we allow people to argue here, our business will not survive.

A quote from Roman Moissenko, owner of Steamul Sauna

At the same time, the entrepreneur faced calls for a boycott and some negative comments on social networks. This period was difficult for Mr. Moissenko, who himself has family near the front line.

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Roman Moisenko would like to be able to celebrate the traditions of his country of origin without having to justify himself about the actions of Vladimir Putin.

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I was born in Ukraine and studied in St. Petersburg. At one time, Russia and Ukraine were one country, he laments about the divisions exacerbated by the February 2022 invasion.

The Pravda bar in Toronto has long been known for its kitschy Soviet decor and its imposing selection of Russian vodkas. It's an iconic bar that's been around for 20 years, explains Jasmine Daya, who bought the establishment during the pandemic.

The Torontonian has no link with Russia or Ukraine, but the conflict quickly overtook it. We immediately saw repercussions, she relates. Angry people have emailed us and left voicemails, and our windows have been smashed a few times.

There were also a few break-in attempts […]. It was terrifying.

A quote from Jasmine Daya, owner of Pravda Vodka Bar

Ms. Daya temporarily closed her bar to make some changes. She got rid of most of the Soviet decor in her bar, except for a map of the former USSR and an imposing statue of Lenin hidden in the basement , near the toilets.

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The owner of Pravda Vodka Bar decided to temporarily change the branding and name of her establishment after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Jasmine Daya has also removed Russian names from its menu. The Moscow Mule was thus renamed the Roaring Mule in order to avoid provoking customers. I don't think it's appropriate to erase history, but as an entrepreneur, I can't afford […] to lose my business, she confided.

A few weeks after the invasion of Ukraine, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) suspended all imports of Russian products, including vodka. Pravda is one of the rare bars in Toronto to always have a few bottles in stock. Once [they] are finished, I won't be able to buy more, explains Jasmine Daya. By email, the LCBO indicated to Radio-Canada that it does not intend to review this policy.

Kate Holland fell in love with Russian literature when she was a teenager. Now a professor at the University of Toronto, she is a specialist in Dostoyevsky's novels. Since February 2022, she says she has spent several sleepless nights wondering about the future of her profession.

Part of the ideology behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine concerns language, literature, culture and history.

A quote from Kate Holland, professor at the University of Ukraine. University of Toronto

In March 2022, when the Russians bombed the Mariupol theater, they installed a screen above it with the faces of Russian writers Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky […]. This is a very striking example of the way literature is politicized by the Russian regime, illustrates Kate Holland, who refuses to become complicit with this regime.

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Kate Holland believes it is important to recognize that Russian literature and culture have a political dimension.

For the first time in her career, this professor was attacked by students who demanded that we stop teaching Russian, associated with the language of the aggressor country. Ms. Holland denied this request, although her department made some changes to her curriculum.

Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are now taught through the prism of Russian imperialism and Ukrainian authors have been added to the syllabi. We need to better understand the context in which these novels were written, says Kate Holland.

Can we still celebrate Russian culture without apology for the Russian government? Yes, answers the linguist. Instead of removing cultural products, we should add them […], but these nuanced conversations are not easy to have, she admits.

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