April 18, 2023

De-Russianization of UK Institutions


De-Russianization of UK Institutions
Entrance to the Pushkin House, London. Pushkin House Rafy, Wikimedia Commons.

Since the start of Putin's war, many in the West have been given cause to rethink their perspective on Russian literature and culture. This debate is reflected, as The Moscow Times reports, in pressure mounting against London's Pushkin House to change its name.

Self-described as a Russian "independent cultural center," Pushkin House has existed since 1954 and is the oldest and most significant institution of its kind in the UK. On the anniversary of the invasion in February 2023, the organization released a statement relaying the perspectives of various writers and academics on its continued operations.

Though the House is praised for, for instance, its role as "a vital space for reflection, interrogation and debate" during the war, University College London professor Dr. Michał Murawski calls for change, beginning with a symbolic "de-Pushkinization." For him, Pushkin's image now merely serves "to justify, decorate, conceal or smokescreen the trans-historical, unceasing Russian reality of war, rape, murder, and genocide."

Many in the UK believe that studying Russian culture is inappropriate at this time. The London-based Russian and Eastern European culture magazine Calvert Journal ceased operations as the invasion began in February 2022, stating that "we cannot in good conscience continue our work ... like business as usual."

Others, however, fear that such efforts are ultimately reductive. University of Glasgow lecturer Ammon Cheskin recently argued to The Moscow Times that there is fear that the future of Russian Studies will be "students who see Russia as the enemy and want to study the enemy."

Ultimately, reconciling Russian studies with the Russian government's weaponization of culture may only be possible in retrospect. As The Moscow Times writes, "The fate of Russian studies as a discipline hinges on the outcome of the war."

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