Think twice before you punish a ‘Russian’ over Putins horrible war – New York Post

Posted By on March 20, 2022

Its a tough time to be Russian in America. Even if youre not actually Russian.

I was raised in Brooklyns Russian community, but nearly no one was really from Russia. Most are Jews from the former Soviet Union. I was born in Russia, but thats rare. My parents had met in Turkmenistan.

Most people I knew were from Ukraine, as was my father, or Belarus, like my grandmother. Others were from Latvia, Moldova, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and so on. Yet because we spoke the Russian language amongst ourselves, we used Russian as a shorthand for self-description.

It wasnt an exact fit, but it beat the alternative of complicated explanations of a country that no longer exists, changed borders, cities whose names were amended long ago and the way Jews were always kept separate in Soviet society. Today Ukraines president is Jewish and very much Ukrainian, though he too grew up speaking Russian.

There are non-Jews from the former Soviet states in Russian areas like south Brooklyn too. We werent all the same, but we were similar enough to form a tight-knit community.

Today its more complicated. Russian President Vladimir Putins invasion has discombobulated the delicate system.

American-based Facebook groups are changing Russian in their titles to a more fitting Russian-speaking. It makes sense to drop the shorthand, but its also a safety measure.

Facebook has made a temporary change to its hate speech policy allowing users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion, according to Reuters. If Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, imagines hate speech will remain in context, it should spend more time on social media.

Its not like being Russian in America has ever been easy. The 1980s werent great, what with the threat of nuclear war and Ivan Drago killing Apollo Creed in Rocky IV. A brief period starting in the 1990s was OK. Then the left imagined Russia had somehow installed Donald Trump as president and wouldnt let go of this misbegotten belief no matter how evidence-free it was. It formed a resistance to him whereby it succumbed to every ridiculous conspiracy theory, the more Russian the better. And now Putins despicable invasion of Ukraine.

But even in the worst times, when kids called me Commie or when members of the resistance told me on Twitter to go back to where I came from, we didnt have Carnegie Hall disinviting Russian conductors, as it recently did to Valery Gergiev, or the Metropolitan Opera canceling singer Anna Netrebko, who denounced the war but not strongly enough to please management.

Its not just happening in America. In Germany, the Munich Philharmonic fired Gergiev as chief conductor for not denouncing Putin. Even in Soviet times, Americans were able to separate the people of Russia from their government. We understood they are not free like us, that they cant speak up like free people can.

Nor is it only living Russians on the chopping block.

The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra canceled performances of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovskys music, and Italys University of Milano-Bicocca considered pulling the plug on a course focused on Fyodor Dostoevskys work.

Russians in America are sitting up and taking notice. On one hand, we came here to be American and leave the old world behind. On the other, our insular ways, our language, our food, make us a target now.

Russian is bad. People post pictures on Facebook of Russian cucumbers for sale on Brighton Beach, which are not actually from Russia but are the kind area Russians use for pickling, and suggest a name change is in order. In the same neighborhood, a rumor spread that the Taste of Russia market was changing its name to Taste of Ukraine. That turned out to be false, but Russians debated the name change online with many finding it absurd. Russian restaurants are seeing declining reservation numbers.

And worse. Tatiana Varzar opened her eponymous Brighton Beach restaurant Tatiana in the 1990s and expanded to Hallandale Beach, Fla., 17 years ago. Varzar serves a variety of Eastern European food: khachapuri from Georgia, salo from Ukraine, lamb chops pa karski from Armenia, pelmeni from Russia and so on.

Varzar told me the Hallandale restaurant has been getting anonymous calls that include threats. She forwarded a voicemail to me in which the caller refers to Russians as assassins and says, menacingly, that she should change the cuisine of the restaurant.

Varzar is from Odessa. Thats in Ukraine. She left in 1978. We left an oppressive state and it followed us here, she says.

Its the culture of Do something, even if the something is stupid and wrong, that causes the cancellation of Russian artists and ultimately the threatening phone calls to restaurants. We dont always need to act, to virtue signal how deeply we care and to display our commitment to canceling the bad people.

The not-actually-Russian community is traumatized by whats happening in Ukraine, with many people, including me, still having family in both Russia and Ukraine. And yet the community is more united than ever. Putins actions might be black and white, but for the rest of the world there is still a lot of gray.

Twitter: @Karol

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Think twice before you punish a 'Russian' over Putins horrible war - New York Post

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