Stolen Time and Historical Empathy——奪われた時間と歴史的な共感

ビクター白湖, an art historian working in Russia, where restrictions on speech are increasingly severe, presents an essay on his thoughts amidst the confusion and fear that have befallen him since Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Stolen Time and Historical Empathy

While continuing to receive letters, many people ask me about what is happening in Russia, worrying about my safety and being interested in what is happening. In fact, as a person who was born here and made plans to continue to live here, it is not easy for me to answer this question. It seemed that over the past thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many people tried to do something of their own for this conditionally “new” Russia: someone organized their own charitable foundations, independent platforms for journalists, small businesses ... many other initiatives and actions which were aimed at bringing our position closer to other countries, to show that Russia is not scary and we can be open to everything. But one day it all disappears, time and efforts turn into nothing, and our future is stolen. We got only the miserable, bleeding and sobbing present.

I don’t want to describe everything that you might have already read in the news, so just a list: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram are blocked (I believe that YouTube will be soon too), you can get a criminal term for participating or calling for an anti-war rally, covid has disappeared from the news (what a miracle!), film distribution / independent news media / concert industry collapsed, sanctions, companies are leaving Russia, people are losing their jobs, the rapid rise in prices of all products, the silence of the Orthodox Church, propaganda brought up an aggressive majority and persecutes the thinking minority. It turns out that all our personal problems have receded into such a distant plane that only the next promises of a brighter future will await us. And in principle, this worked with those sections of the population who were already so impoverished that they had nothing to lose, and years of propaganda led to the fact that they were created an enemy from a neighbor, enemies everywhere and nothing more. It is amazing that this is the same generation that once rebelled against the Soviet regime, wanted freedom and another world, but in the end made it exactly the same. Eternal grievances, the hope that others will decide and do for them, turned them all into a nation of patience.

It cannot be said that even before that we did not do all these things in defiance, we tried to break out into the international space, gain trust and reputation, but then there was at least some kind of balance of power, now it is no more. For several years, since my interest in Japanese contemporary art began, I sincerely believed that many artists from Japan could be interesting in Russia, wrote about them, interviewed, told people. It was and is my direct duty to devote myself to what I love, to those countries, Japan and Russia, to which I owe a lot, especially considering that in Russia before that there were no people who fully dealt with this topic. I gave them all my time, energy, tens of thousands of words in texts and podcasts, and, I confess, I did it all practically for free, without receiving any fees for it. It was only at the beginning of this year that one project appeared in my life that could change everything, but even this was carried over to an uncertain future. I can’t say that I can’t do anything anymore, but this was the path in which I invested the most ... and what to do now, I don’t know.

Now it seems impossible to continue doing what you had to do before, read books or give lectures, research ... Leave your country, loved ones, your native language and go into the frightening unknown? The list of countries now is such that Georgia or Armenia, no offense to them, is unlikely to give me any future in the field in which I am engaged. And in Japan, which is now incredibly difficult to get into, it is unlikely that they are waiting for an art historian from Russia, you really know everything about your history and artists better than I do. This whole current campaign with letters is not only an attempt to support with words those who are now in trouble, and almost all of us are in trouble now, but also to show what is really happening, to somehow preserve the humanity and appearance of those who stand for peace. I am sincerely grateful to all those who participate and spread this message. It is also difficult for me and sometimes scary, but this is my little professional duty, which I hope means something.

The tragedy lies in the fact that even if the war ends, we will still be hostages of our situation. And who will lend a helping hand to us, behind this barrier of sanctions and restrictions? Of course, you can blame us for inaction and that we brought the situation to this point, but I try my best, and yet I am in my mid-twenties, which means that I was young enough for many events that I could take part in. How to wash off all this so that in the future you can calmly communicate with people, interview them and look them in the eye? How to build connections, conduct research and access them when the ruble has weakened so much that it is impossible to buy books abroad? Not to mention even less sophisticated requests, this situation affects each of us, always has.

Is it really so difficult for us to understand that power and territorial ambitions are so primitive and outdated that it does not lead humanity into the future? Why, against the backdrop of what is happening now, the long-standing stories of confrontation between Iraq and Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan, China and Taiwan arise, the question of the Kuriles / Northern Territories comes from the mouth of the Prime Minister of Japan. I am far from political science, and really, I don’t undertake to judge or suggest anything, but when will we start living not within the drawn boundaries, but finding new ways of dealing with territories, political geography? Forget your grievances and represent the community of spaces, cultivate mutual interest and respect for the cultures and peoples of the countries there? Humanity is walking along the same routes, clinging to the same dubious decisions, we may remember the lessons of history, but are completely unable to reproduce empathy towards history and its participants.

Our entire cultural life came to a standstill, those who could speak out and stop their activities have already done so, there were few of them. And for the most part, this happened with private institutions, the state ones gave vague formulations or were silent. Art ends at some point, especially if it is not in tune with the times and does not respond to it, so I note that the statements of some institutions that compared themselves with Shostakovich in besieged Leningrad are simply disgusting.

It saddens me to see how quickly ties between people break due to different points of view in families, as well as between countries. The cultural centers of a number of countries have ceased their work, as has partly the Japan Foundation, which has suspended some of its programs, which is not surprising, because now the Russian government considers Japan an unfriendly country. The situation is complicated by the fact that sanctions or the withdrawal of organizations hit not only corrupt officials and the economy, but also those who are trying to survive and find salvation, but apparently this is our collective price. How many times and how often can you experience falls without ups? I don't know, but it's impossible to create fullness out of emptiness, intelligence out of incompetence, nothing will remain.

I feel fear and anxiety for the future and past of my loved ones, my country and its neighbors, the reality has touched us on both sides of the present. It is inconceivable that anything could grow out of war, only being open and listening will allow us to rise above the nature of the beast. How can we extricate ourselves and catch up with the outgoing train of civilization? We can only rely on each other, maintain and resurrect our ties, find words and actions that allow us to find commonality and feel the lessons of the victims of history.

For the same reason, I call on everyone who, due to their emotions that arise against the background of what is happening, breaks ties with the cultural world of Russia, canceling residences and research for artists and art historians - this is the wrong decision. Thus, you are not harming tyranny, but only pushing free-thinking people under the knife of an authoritarian regime, depriving them of the opportunity to do their own thing. We will always rely on humanitarian knowledge as an element not only of the articulation of cultures, but also as a tool that allows us to maintain clarity of mind and freedom even in the most alarming situation. Ask yourself where the state and power end, and where does an independent and free person who needs your support begin.




あなた方がすでにニュースで読んだかもしれないことを全て記述したくはないので、ここにリストアップするだけにする。Facebook / Twitter / Instagramはブロックされ(YouTubeもまもなくブロックされると思う)、反戦集会に参加もしくは呼びかけすれば刑事罰を受ける可能性がある、新型コロナウイルスはニュースから消え去った(なんとう奇跡!)、映画配給 / 独立ニュースメディア / コンサート産業は崩壊し、制裁を受け、企業らはロシアを去り、人々は職を失い、あらゆる製品の価格が急上昇し、正教会は沈黙し、プロパガンダが攻撃的な多数派を育成し、考える少数派を迫害しています。我々のすべての個人的な問題は、明るい未来が待つどこか遠い地平に追いやられたことが判明した。原理的に、これは失うものが何もないほどにすでに困窮した一部の人々には有効であり、そして長年に渡るプロパガンダによって、隣人から敵を創造し、あらゆる場所から敵を創造し、無からも敵を創造するという事実が作られた。かつてソヴィエト政権に反抗し、自由と新たな世界をもとめた世代が、結局のところは全く同じものを作ってしまったのだから驚きだ。永遠の不満、誰かがきっと決めてやってくれるだろうという希望、そしてそれらが彼らを我慢する国に変えてしまった。