Since Russia launched its barbaric war of conquest against Ukraine in February, videos have surfaced on social media showing Russians in Europe harass Ukrainians in public, winking sinister smiles as they insult people whose compatriots are homeless, displaced, kidnapped, raped, maimed and murdered. It’s sickening to watch and shows why a growing chorus of European leaders is absolutely right to call for a ban on Russian tourists visiting Europe.
On Tuesday, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted that European nations should stop issuing tourist visas to Russian nationals, stressing that visiting Europe is a privilege, not a right. Kallas’ tweet came a day after Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin recommended similar restrictions on Russian tourism in an interview with Finnish public broadcaster YLE. Latvia said he would “indefinitely” suspend the acceptance of visa applications from Russian citizens, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did the same Told The Washington Post that Western countries should close their borders to Russian travellers.
Understandably, the proposal has drawn opposition from Russians, including war opponents, who see it as perhaps unfair collective punishment.
“Those who call Russia fascist are often the same people who call for a total EU visa ban for Russians,” tweeted Ilya Matveev, a Russian political scientist formerly based in St. Petersburg whose profile includes a hashtag #NoWar. “I sincerely don’t understand this – would you dismiss Germans fleeing Nazi Germany saying, ‘You should fight Hitler instead? “”
But Matveev misses the point in two ways. For one thing, a tourism ban would likely not affect legitimate immigrants and asylum seekers. Above all, his tweet involves denial of the indisputable fact that the Russian Federation is indeed a fascist dictatorship that has launched a war against Ukraine, a country whose right to exist Russian dictator Vladimir Putin explicitly denies. Therefore, it is the nation as a whole – not just Putin and his cronies – that must be held accountable and suffer the consequences for their actions.
As Marin said, “it is not fair that at the same time that Russia is waging an aggressive and brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can lead a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists” .
I couldn’t agree more.
In his Washington Post interview, Zelensky dismissed distinctions between pro-war and anti-war Russians and noted that the Russian population had put Putin in power and had not seriously opposed him.
Data from the Levada Center, Russia’s last independent pollster, backs up his arguments: In July, Putin maintained an 83% approval rating among respondents. Russians are overwhelmingly directing their anger not at the psychopathic dictator who started the war, but at the countries that stand in his way, with 75% and 69%, respectively, reporting negative attitudes toward the United States and the EU. In April, 74% of respondents always supported the war. At the end of May, this figure had resurrected at 77%.
Even in his petulant complaint in response to Kallas, the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, could not help but add a touch of predatory aggression, quote a saying“The fact that you are free is not your merit, but our fault.”
The sheer evil of war that apparently still has majority support in Russia is indisputable. Russian soldiers reduced once prosperous towns like Mariupol to rubble, committing unspeakable horrors that would include kidnapping Ukrainian children for adoption in Russia, slaughtering and raping civilians in places like Bucha and not only achieving but proudly posting a video of themselves castrating a captured Ukrainian soldier alive before executing him. The World Bank Now estimates that 55% of Ukrainians will live in poverty by the end of 2023, compared to 2.5% before the start of the war. Rebuilding Ukraine after Russia’s devastation will likely take many, many years at a cost running into the double- or triple-digit billions, but it will not bring back the dead or repair the physical and psychological trauma of the survivors.
Against the backdrop of Russia’s savage atrocities, the very idea of carefree Russian vacationers sipping Chablis in Marseilles, shopping for Valentino handbags in Milan and sunbathing in Mykonos as their nation displays its soulless depravity and joyously inflicting pain on innocent people is obscene.
Russian tourists finding themselves unwelcome in Europe would no doubt feel humiliated. But such humiliation is a step towards dislodging their minds from the colonialist chauvinism and sense of entitlement that caused the war in the first place. After all, it worked before.
Despite its absurd propaganda on the “denazification” of Ukraine, 21st century, Russia has remarkable parallels with post-World War I Germany.
Like Russians after the fall of the Soviet Union, Germans after their country’s defeat in the Great War also wallowed in wounded pride, clinging to past glory and the illusion that restoring and claiming it their rightful place as a great power was a birthright. In their national illness, they embraced a bloodthirsty dictator who plunged Germany into a war of conquest and genocide. It took a humiliating defeat in World War II for Germans to see the evils committed in their name, but also a path to a better future.
Russia’s wounded pride stems from the fact that it never fully decolonized and always operated as a colonial empire, having simply swapped the monarchy for Marxism-Leninism and renamed the Soviet Union in 1922. It maintained its colonial power by falsely calling itself “anti-imperialist” and “anti-colonialist”, despite the war waged to prevent the colonies of the Caucasus and Central Asia from declaring their independence after the overthrow of the Tsar in 1917 and from continuing the white supremacist domination and the ethnic cleansing of its predecessor.
So even when it partially decolonized with the Soviet collapse of 1991, the Russian Empire remained alive in the minds of Russians, so many of them saw the breakup of the union not as decolonization, but – as Putin called it – a catastrophe. Russia retained most of its colonial possessions while still feeling entitled to exercise hegemony over newly independent post-Soviet countries, claiming the right to dictate their policies and international relations. And if its former colonies chose democracy and Western ties over autocracy and submission to Moscow – as Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltics did – it can only be down to the CIA. or the Nazis, not because that’s what those countries wanted.
Despite all its outward signs of modernity, Russia did not go beyond the 19e century. It’s basically the same country it was in when it committed the Genocide against the Circassians in the 1800s, which would explain its refusal to admit it. And in a true tradition of medieval barbarism, she still uses rape as a weapon of war, including on multiple occasions against my paternal grandmother in Germany, when she was only 16 years old.
The fact that Russia, at the 21st century, considers the conquest of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Baltic countries not only as acceptable, but as its right and a necessary corrective to the “catastrophe” of its partial decolonization, while its people tolerate and even celebrates barbaric cruelty as a way to achieve it, shows a nation that will not join the civilized world until it is forced to.
That is why it is imperative to hold the entire Russian nation responsible for the war and to make its people suffer the direct and material consequences of their nation’s amoral behavior, even if the minority of Russians who oppose the war also suffer. Despite my opposition to America’s war of aggression in Iraq from the start, I experienced my fair share of anti-Americanism while living in China when the bombs fell on Baghdad, including being yelled at and mugged . I thought it was unfair, and to be clear, I don’t condone violence or harassment from people, but I’m not blind or insensitive to the sting of facing a backlash for wrongs done in my name. , a sting that Russians now also know.
Revoking the privilege of Russians to holiday in the very European nations whose peace and security their dictator shattered and to engage in heinous displays of chauvinism and contempt towards Ukrainians and Europeans is a small inconvenience compared to loss of life, limb or loved ones.
But it’s a downside that could prompt Russians to take stock of their nation, its crimes against Ukraine, and how they could have allowed those crimes to happen.
Until then, as Zelensky told the Washington PostRussians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”.
Alaric DeArment is a journalist in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @alaricnyc.