A few days ago, I tooted at Mastodon about a Christmas message I’d had from a Russian friend. I intended my post to convey something hopeful about peace and reconciliation, but got immediate pushback from someone who asked why, if there are are some good Russians, they haven’t stopped the war. Meanwhile, over on Elon’s death site, the theme of holding Russians collectively responsible for the war seemed to be gathering momentum with vehement assertions that this isn’t just “Putin’s war” but one backed by “the Russian people”. I think claims such as these, particularly in their maximal forms are absurd, and become all the more absurd when the alleged collective responsiblity of “the Russian people” is extended to an attitude of hostility and blaming towards individuals, simply because they hold Russian nationality. And many members of “the Russian people” are, after all, children. Yet in rejecting such absurdities, I also want to leave room for those Russians who feel their own responsbility keenly and who feel shame at the Russian government’s actions and who want to take responsibility by resisting, in great or small ways, what that government is doing.

One obvious point to make is that Russia is not a democracy and that Russian citizens have no effective means to restrain their government, even if they wanted to. Rather, they live under a tyranny, quick to mete out savage punishments to its opponents, and where public opinion is partly shaped by relentless nationalistic propaganda. In this light, one might think of ordinary Russians as being among the victims of the regime, even though there are others, most notably Ukrainians, who are suffering much more at its hands. During the Soviet era, it is worth noting, Western governments were keen to frame ordinary Soviet citizens as victims of dictatorship rather than holding them individually or collectively responsible, but this approach has been abandoned in some reponses to the war, including by Baltic politicians who refuse to accept that Russians who refuse to fight for Putin are legitimate refugees.
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