Irish Times view on boycotting Russian culture: Walking a delicate line

Dehumanising Russians and denying individual autonomy are among Putin’s chief objectives

Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine has united western opinion against the Russian despot and resulted in a once-unthinkable economic and cultural boycott of his country. Western businesses have closed their operations in Moscow. Russian products have disappeared from European shops. Eurovision, Fifa and the Paralympic Games have all banned Russians from taking part in competitions.

When combined with the severe sanctions imposed on members of Putin's circle, this impressive western retaliation for the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has had the effect of turning Russia into a pariah state. It's a situation Putin is unlikely to have foreseen, convinced as he was that a weak, divided West could not muster a strong response against him.

Yet there is a delicate line to walk between punishing the regime and stigmatising an entire population, large parts of which despise Putin and oppose his war. Nowhere is the tension more apparent that in the cultural boycott. The case for excluding Putin-supporting artists is clear: that explains the sacking by the Munich Philharmonic of the conductor Valery Gergiev, who was one of more than 500 artists who signed a letter of support for Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea. It is harder to argue for ostracising ordinary Russian artists. They operate in a hostile domestic environment in which poets have been silenced and exhibitions closed for challenging the chauvinism of the ruling elite. To seek to hold them responsible for Putin's crimes risks denying them any agency while playing into Putin's hands by strengthening his argument that the West has malign intentions towards all of Russia, not just towards him.

Dehumanising Russians and denying their individual autonomy have been among Putin’s chief objectives. His power depends on it. But as the brave anti-war protesters on Red Square remind us daily, he has not succeeded in snuffing out the tolerant, generous and open-minded spirit of so many Russians. The world must listen to that Russia while sparing no effort in holding the thugs in the Kremlin to account.