Canada Council cancels all funding for Russian-aligned arts projects in solidarity with Ukraine

Photo: Wikipedia

In a blog post on Friday, the Canada Council for the Arts announced that in an effort to support Ukraine in its struggle against invading Russian forces, the granting organization would be cancelling all funding for Russian and Russian-aligned projects for as long as the war continues.

The message reads, in part:

As of today, all activity involving the participation of Russian or Belarusian artists or arts organizations will cease to be funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. This includes partnerships, direct and indirect financing of tours, co-productions, participation in festivals or other events held in Russia.

Therefore, any current or anticipated applications that support artistic activities created by or in collaboration with Russian arts organizations will not be accepted by the Canada Council, until Russia withdraws its military forces from Ukraine.

The wording of the blog post makes clear that the Canada Council’s boycott includes not just state-run arts organizations, but individual artists as well. This goes further than the Bologna Children’s Book Fair did in announcing that it would be suspending any association with Russian state-run organizing groups. The BCBF left the door open to working with individual Russian writers and independent publishers.

The increasing soft-power sanctions from international literary and arts communities is a contributing factor in rendering Russia a virtual pariah on the international stage. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman marshalled the lexicon of cancel culture to suggest that the entire country was in the process of being cancelled. Hyperbolically referring to Western sanctions as “the economic equivalent of a nuclear bomb,” Friedman goes on to acknowledge the “superempowered individuals, companies, and social activist groups” that are increasing the pressure on the Kremlin by initiating boycotts and sanctions that go beyond government-imposed restrictions.

“Russia and Russians are now being cancelled from every direction — from ballerinas to soccer teams to companies to orchestras — and it is being driven increasingly by superempowered individuals and small groups,” Friedman writes. “And when the cancel juggernaut gets going globally, it acts without mercy.”

Caught in the crossfire are Russian citizens who may not support the war but have already started to feel the crippling effects of global sanctions and withdrawal of support. “We understand these sanctions to have unfortunate consequences for certain Canadian artists and artistic organizations and that the citizens of Russia and Belarus will also be penalized,” reads the Canada Council’s statement. “This is the burden of the unprecedented sanctions of the international community.”

Some want to see a separation between punitive measures targeting the Kremlin and its supports and those affecting individual Russians. Porter Anderson, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, writes that calls – including from voices inside Ukraine – to ban all Russian publishing and boycott all writing by Russians around the globe are “understandable” but do not “reflect the reality that many if not most members of the book business in Russia are, even in a dangerous crackdown on dissent, trying to make their solidarity with Ukraine known.”

Anderson points to an open letter from a group called Russian Scribes Against the War, which had 1,600 signatures as of March 4. The statement reads in translation:

We, Russian book publishers, booksellers, editors, translators, critics, illustrators, designers, typesetters, proofreaders, printers, librarians, book dealers, are protesting against the war unleashed by the authorities of the Russian Federation in Ukraine.

The war must be immediately stopped, and the initiators and participants in military aggression must be stripped of their ranks and brought to justice.

The book is one of the main forms of preservation and transmission of human experience. And all this experience accumulated over the centuries teaches us: War is a crime, and the value of human life is unconditional. The war must be stopped.

Anderson goes on to state that the list of signatures and the link to sign the letter have since disappeared; whether this is a result of state censorship, hacking, or an attempt to keep the signatories safe from retaliation is unclear.

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin has taken the extraordinary step of banning access to Facebook and sending letters of warning to internet giants Google and TikTok. TikTok and Netflix have since unilaterally suspended operations in Russia in response to a new law that criminalizes anything the Moscow regime designates as “fake news.”

Cutting off ordinary Russians’ access to trustworthy information is intended to prevent word of Russian casualties or any other unapproved news from trickling down to the populace at large. But speaking with Kara Swisher of the NYT, Clint Watts, a former F.B.I. agent and current research chair at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, suggests simply shutting down access to information in our highly connected age is easier said than done.

“Imagine if you spend five hours a day on your phone, and suddenly, there’s nothing to look at for three of those hours. And you want to know what’s going on, and all you’re hearing is very lame Putin content,” Watts told Swisher. “Putin has got a problem at home.”

Canada Council cancels all funding for Russian-aligned arts projects in solidarity with Ukraine