by William Nattrass
Friday, 11
March 2022
Dispatch
10:11

Russophobia is sweeping through central Europe

The Czech Republic is treating Russians like second-class citizens
by William Nattrass

Prague, Czech Republic

Soon after the war in Ukraine started, the Czech government stopped accepting visa applications from all Russian citizens. The move relegated Russians already living in the country to second-class status — many people who have lived in the Czech Republic for years can suddenly only measure their future with any certainty in a scale of months, until their current visa expires.

The visa ban set a precedent which private companies have been quick to follow. One of Prague’s largest real estate developers announced that it will no longer sell or rent properties to Russians. Some hotel chains have banned the provision of accommodation to anyone with a Russian or Belarusian passport. And Russian food stores — popular with Russians, Ukrainians and Czechs alike under normal circumstances — face bankruptcy as a result of customer boycotts.

Translated: ‘Russian food in Žižkov has redesigned its signboard and the Cyrillic alphabet has basically disappeared in the shop window. Insignificant detail at this time.’

In this environment, it’s hardly surprising that many Russians are already starting to question their future here. When your right to remain is far from certain and your access to basic services is restricted, who can blame them? Of course, the restriction of Russians’ basic rights is nothing compared to the pain and hardship inflicted by their country on Ukrainians, but we should not punish expat Russians as a response.

Indeed, a common rationalisation for discrimination against Russians claims exclusion from Western society will make Russia’s more worldly, well-educated middle classes lose patience with the Putin regime. Discrimination is justified as a tool of political pressure to bring about a change in the Russian mindset.

Yet this is a deeply problematic argument, as a small example may illustrate. Russian friends in Prague recently made me aware of an acquaintance who was refused some small goods ordered through a Czech e-shop unless they were willing to denounce, in writing, the actions of the Putin regime. The vendor no doubt felt a sense of self-righteousness in making such a demand. But for the Russian customer, born and raised in a country where political dissent carries significant risks (and where spreading information not to the Kremlin’s liking can now land you fifteen years in jail), putting such a statement down in writing is no small matter.

The story is similar with cultural figures, such as conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko, who face banishment from their work in the West over a refusal to denounce Putin. The choice presented here is, potentially, a choice between being on the right side of history and enjoying the freedom to return in safety to your homeland, family and friends. How many among us could be certain that faced with the same choice we would make the ‘right’ decision? Instead, in an environment where open hostility to Russia and its culture has become socially acceptable, an insular attitude is likely to become entrenched.

Asking Russians to choose the West over their homeland isn’t a political choice; it’s an emotional one, which few are likely to make.

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Tom Watson
Tom Watson
6 months ago

Russians (especially prominent Russians such as Gergiev who I seem to remember hearing is relatively close to Putin) no doubt have their safety to consider, but I imagine their refusals have far more to do with the fact that most self-respecting people won’t publicly denounce their own country over political events they can’t control for the satisfaction of foreigners. That’s the sort of thing you’d expect the Soviets to have tried to get people to do, isn’t it? Banning cats is crazy and silly; this is crazy and nasty.
I would hope Brits in Russia aren’t being asked, as a precondition for buying food or remaining employed, to sign written statements to the effect that the crisis is Britain’s/NATO’s fault for sending weapons to Ukraine – and if they are, I hope they’re telling the people asking them where they can shove such a request.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
6 months ago

This is indeed stupid as it risks driving Russians towards Putin rather than turning them against him. I happen to have a friend who is Russian and who has been very upset by events. She assumed I would be hostile since she does not condemn Putin outright, but we sat down and talked, listening to each other attentively. She is suffering too as she cannot get to her father who is dying in Moscow (she is his only remaining child). We need to treat the Russians as human beings, not reject them out of hand as somehow inhuman because of the war they did not want any more than most if not all of us.

Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
6 months ago

Since the population is under authoritarian control, the fact that around 15000 protesters have already been jailed says much about how ordinary people have shown courage against the brutal regime controlling their lives. Oligarchs in cahoots can escape attempts to control them but ordinary people shouldn’t be victimised surely.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
6 months ago

This is a real shame and so unfair to Russians who might be completely appalled at what’s going on but who just don’t – for whatever reason – want to comment. Since when it is an obligation to comment on any political issue? Being apolitical and silent is a valid choice.
Have also been very disturbed at the kind of mob frenzy that has been whipped up with regard to sanctioning oligarchs and freezing their assets and the speed with which the UK has proceeded.
Number 1: not every rich Russian is in bed with Putin. A lot of rich Russians who own property in Europe probably make these investments to get their money out of Russia and into a more stable and certain legal environment. That is nothing bad – in fact it is very sensible.
Number 2: I used to work in AML and am familiar with the process of collecting proof to notify a suspicion of money laundering to an FIU. It is extremely difficult, takes time and requires the utmost prudence. All these calls for the UK to act more quickly completely gloss over these evidential requirements. They also fail to take into account that making it easier for the state to confiscate property is not a place you should rush to happily, as those powers could then quite easily be used against the ordinary citizen. Be happy that you live in a country whose legal system places such great value on private property and freedom from state interference. Criticism by a couple of overexcited Guardian journalists and EU bureaucrats is not a reason to be swayed from this.

Last edited 6 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
6 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

You are not alone in being disturbed at the mob frenzy with regard to sanctioning Russia and Russians. I am not against the West imposing financial sanctions against the Russian regime, especially given the huge risk of other (military) interventions, but this needs to be thought through carefully.
My main concern is not the sanctioning of the ultra-wealthy Oligarchs (orchestrated by western governments) but of the mob frenzy of western business implementing their own financial warfare to protect their branding / PR and placate their (often woke) employees. When fast food chains, furniture and fashion retailers and all those other businesses pull out of Russia, it punishes low paid Russians who end up with no job. People will argue that this all puts pressure on the regime, but why should we be using low paid Russians as economic cannon-fodder? And what are the implications of this move for business to get involved in foreign policy? I appreciate that any business must be allowed to make its own decisions about where to invest and operate, but in the current situation it seems that business – and not governments – is calling the shots on the sanctioning of Russia. When the woke employees realise that their employers have this power, where will it end? I can imagine the BDS movement agitating for such moves against Israel. Then any other country that has the nerve to upset the feelings of western liberals.

Andrea X
Andrea X
6 months ago

Vaccine passports 2.0
Now that we know that we can segregate part of the population we can’t wait for the next excuse.

Jim R
Jim R
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I was thinking the same thing. I was also wondering since the old “phobia” label is being trotted out to describe this – can we call discrimination against the unvaccinated a phobia too? Might be something to that.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
6 months ago

This is an excellent choice and illustrates our current conundrum. There are those in the West, the vast majority it appears of our short-sighted politicians, who want to punish Russia and Russians to the hilt. But those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And those that learn the wrong lessons from history are doomed to make poor decisions.
What is required a sense of realism as opposed to virtue signaling, and unfortunately the West seems to have employed virtue signaling to make themselves seem good, rather than realism. What is required is an imaginative leap forward: the West has to bring Russia into the Western family of nations rather than constantly treat Russia as the enemy. In the current circumstances this, for sure, is very hard to do. But it’s the only solution that will ensure a good outcome for the Ukrainians, and end to the war, and an end to Russian paranoia.
But the West simply cannot bring itself to act magnanimously. Over the last 15 years they have continued to poke the bear while claiming they have done nothing wrong. Well they have. The continual eastward expansion of NATO is clearly a threat to Russia. Dangling NATO membership in front of Ukraine, and nudging Ukraine with CIA/US instigated coups as in 2014 is perhaps not the wisest policy. For sure, there are those that argue that the West is perfect and can do no harm. But Russia is not the Soviet Union and they no longer have a policy of world domination to spread communism worldwide.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

If Russia stopped behaving as the enemy she might start to be treated as a friend. Perhaps her citizens could take note and try to eject the monster now in charge, then the shocks of the last few weeks would teach us the benefit of friendship and we might try that route.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
6 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Russians have indeed been trying to eject the monster now in charge for some time now. The result? Those who try are arrested, beaten, and even poisoned. And those who report on the arrests, beatings, and poisonings are murdered

Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago

It is all very well to claim that the ordinary Russians are innocent in all this. However, it surely cannot be a coincidence that they have – shall we say – put up with dictators and tyrants for well over 100 years. There must be something in the Russian culture that allows this sort of thing to go on this long.
Similarly, the Russian Orthodox Church has never found the guts to speak out and oppose any of these awful leaders. Patriarch Kirill actually supports and endorses Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. I haven’t checked back for his opinion on bombing children’s hospitals.
I would suggest that not enough Russians and trying hard enough. Sure, opposing and overthrowing these tyrants isn’t easy. But they’ve never been able to do it.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

At the very least, half a million people were murdered in Stalin’s purges. That’s hardly “putting up with dictators”.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
6 months ago

В России осталось около 200 000 тюремных камер, но население составляет 150 миллионов человек.
(“Russia has around 200,000 remaining prison cells, but a population of 150 million”…)

Решат ли россияне свою судьбу? Will they be as brave as their neighbours, the determine and united people of Ukraine?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
6 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Nope. Give up on Russia for the next 20 years – it’ll be a handy rehearsal too for when China starts throwing its weight around militarily in 20 years or so.
I think the time of Orwell’s separate global economic and political regions has arrived, and it can’t be resisted – so we just need to accept it (minus the actual continual mythical wars). Globalisation is finished.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
6 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

It is not an easy problem. We want to make it clear to all Russians that this war is a costly mistake, but we do not want to convince them that we hate them all so they will have to fight us anyway.
But ‘bringing Russia into the Western family of nations’ is a stillborn idea. Russia is too big and too imperial to accept being merely the equal of France and Germany, and too paranoid to live with neighbours that it does not control. And the rest of Europe finds Russia too demanding and dangerous to give it a veto on EU or NATO policy, and too different to commit to always finding a consensus. As they said about Germany: “Too big to be a friendly equal, and too small to dominate the continent”.

Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I see no evidence today that Russia’s values and institutions are compatible with the Western family of nations. Until that changes, there’s no point.

Mathieu Bernard
Mathieu Bernard
6 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The West is far from perfect. It is decadent, ideologically corrupt and expansionist. Which is why Putin has chosen his present course. He is most certainly paranoid, as well as extremely nationalistic and protectionist when it comes to Mother Russia. And he’s smart enough to see the writing on the wall, which is the relentless juggernaut of global communism promulgated by the Davos and WEF elites – a diabolical movement if there ever was one. Russia has had its flirtation with communism. In fact, Putin has been critical of the West’s current infatuation with cultural Marxism. There was perhaps a time when Putin would have been willing to work with the West, but the West blew its chances and chose to poke the bear instead. We are reaping what we have sown.

Last edited 6 months ago by Mathieu Bernard
Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago

Utter nonsense. If you still do not understand what Putin is there’s really no hope for you. “The West” cannot and should not work with Putin’s criminal kleptocracy. If and when Russia sorts itself out and starts behaving like a normal state we can reconsider.
This “decline of the West” stuff is pure fantasy. Someone wrote a book about this exactly 100 years ago. It never happened. The current decadence is a passing phase which will correct itself. As it always does. But the autocratic states cannot

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
6 months ago

I think most us have come to realise that many of Putin’s close governmental associates didn’t know that he was actually going to invade Ukraine so how any blame can fall on the Russian people is beyond me. There have been numerous demonstrations by Russians, against Putin’s moves to remove all opposition to his continued rule and any organs that support opposition including people like Alexei Navalny, in recent years. Given oppressive measures used against citizens during the Soviet era, Russians must be rightly terrified of openly opposing Putin’s actions. We should be supporting Russians and understanding why they may not be able to oppose their leader.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
6 months ago

And now we have Facebook allowing hatred and calls for violence against Russian people.

This is an accelerated version of the Nazi playbook that led to Kristalnacht and then the Holocaust.

Anybody who supports this should be ashamed, you are NOT taking a moral position, you are part of the problem.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
6 months ago

What worries me is that I can see FB doing the same next time there’s conflict between Gaza and Israel.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
6 months ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

I thought that it already did.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
6 months ago

I posed this joke elsewhere:
“Imagine women ran the world,” a comedian instructed.
Some number of women in the audience cheered, “Woo-hoo!”
Our country is not talking to your country!”
Everyone laughed… Almost everyone.
This business of trying to ‘cancel’ an entire country reflects badly on the cancelers who turn out to be the usual suspects, mostly white, affluent virtue-signalers.

Andrea X
Andrea X
6 months ago

I have read it several time, but I still don’t understand the joke nor the point you are trying to make.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

You should never explain jokes. But the point of this one is that if the world was run by women, then instead of countries fighting (like little boys do), they would ostracise each other and refuse to talk to each other (as little girls do). And the point hs is making (somewhat lost in the joke) is surely that not talking, as he thinks we are doing now, is a bad idea.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
6 months ago

Old Soviet era joke told by a Russian friend of mine.

Moscow man buys newspaper, glances at front page, throws it straight out. Next day: same again. And again the next day.
Eventually the newspaper seller snaps. “Why Do you do that?”
“Oh, I’m just checking for an obituary”
“But obituaries aren’t even on the front page!”
“Oh, the one I’m looking for will be”

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago

This and some of the comments below show a commendably idealistic view of human nature. But alas a very unrealistic one. Eastern European countries lived under a cruel Russian hegemony for 45 years. The Czech Republic and Hungary were both given a good beating to remind them who was boss, 1956 and 1968. And now they see a fellow freed neighbour getting the same.

Russians living in Eastern European countries have been treated well, as fellow citizens of equal standing. But in the current situation it is understandable there is a wariness, an anger, about where loyalties lie. It may be be wrong, but there must be a human doubt about where loyalties might lie at the moment.

Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

It is not wrong. Distrust of Russia in Eastern Europe is completely justified.

Malvin Marombedza
Malvin Marombedza
6 months ago

There definitely is a link between cancel culture and this.

Vicha Unkow
Vicha Unkow
6 months ago

I was born in the Ukraine during WWII, my parents were escaping the USSR like many Millions of Russians, Ukrainians and Others in the midst of Battles between the Nazis and Communists. My father and Grandfathers all fought against the Reds, Bolsheviks’ far back as 1915. Millions who did escape to the West after WWII were returned by the Allais like the US and UK. Many faced firing squads and others were sent to Siberian Forests and Mines. The ones that escaped the Stalin’s agreement with Churchill/Roosevelt repatriation of former USSR citizens went to the US and Canada and some to EU Nations. They continued their opposition to Communists by joining their Armies or joining Anti-USSR Political groups. These people continued until after the Collapse of the USSR. They tried to warn America and Europe of the underhandedness of the new Russian and Ukrainian Leadership, but all went to death ears.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
6 months ago
Reply to  Vicha Unkow

Surely it’s time for the west to apologise for the way we allowed Stalin to carve up eastern Europe after the war, just like we have over slavery.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
6 months ago

How many among us could be certain that faced with the same choice we would make the ‘right’ decision?”
Nah, if I was aware of the Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians (which those outside Russia are) then I’d have no problem condemning the invasion as a war and accepting future exile.

Virginia McGough
Virginia McGough
6 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

But would you be prepared to accept reprisals against family or friends still living in Russia?