Processing a war on Europe's doorstep and knowing how to adequately react to it is not an easy task in times where the lines between silence, clicktivism, and activism have become blurrier than ever.
Rumours of a potential invasion do not really prepare you for that moment when an actual war breaks out. Waking up to news about the start of the conflict in Ukraine certainly sent shivers down many spines in Europe, but that still stands in little comparison to how it must have felt to those Ukrainians living closest to the Russian border. The days since have been marked by endless news cycles of continuous attacks, heroic resilience, and an ever-growing selection of sanctions.
Unsurprisingly, the war in Ukraine quickly developed into the number one issue in many areas of life, not just in politics and economics. Looking to social media, the major reaction observable on the first day was one of solidarity and compassion for Ukraine, although not everyone caught up with the invasion simultaneously.
Reactions in the electronic dance music community
As I follow a number of musicians from the international electronic dance music community, I witnessed several artists taking the decision not to play on the first weekend, with many citing more than understandable reasons for not wanting to perform when a country has just been struck by war. It also became evident that many have some form of relationships with people in Ukraine, which makes the entire event even more terrible.
The social media cycle then quickly entered what appeared to be a second phase, one where artists announced to no longer share any promotional content on their pages, only news and donation links related to the war. Since not everyone caught up with this at the same time, it did not take long for some voices to criticise others for not postponing their live shows, releases, and other forms of promotional content.
About a week into the Russian invasion, representatives of the Ukrainian electronic dance music scene published and circulated an open letter. In it, they wrote about the horrors of the war and the pain that it has inflicted on the people of Ukraine. As a way of support, they demand that people take several actions to fight the invaders, one of which struck me as somewhat questionable.
The representatives thus urge people to "[c]ancel all cooperation with Russian artists, promoters, clubs, organizations, who do not actively resist the actions of their government and do not explicitly take action to stop the Russian military invasion of Ukraine".
Link: An Open Letter from the Ukrainian Electronic Music Scene
Even though I denounce any form of war and have nothing but compassion for those who have to suffer through it, reading this demand gave me a little pause and I could not help but wonder about a number of questions. How do you actively resist the Russian government and what is considered explicit action against the military invasion? How do you measure someone's level of resistance and who will be the final judge of it?
When most action you see boils down to clicktivism, is it enough to be against the war on social media, as long as it is plainly visible to everyone? Is it enough to post a picture standing next to a 'Fuck Putin' graffiti, as I have seen people do? If so, is that worth a permanent post or just good enough for a temporary story? If you join a protest and do not take pictures or videos of it, were you even there? In short, how much activism is enough?
Meanwhile in the world of sports…
Setting music aside for a moment, a look at the world of sports shows similar expectations and incidents of them not being met. Thomas Tuchel, head coach of Chelsea Football Club, had to learn this the hard way during a press conference last week, where he was repeatedly urged to comment on the position of Russian club owner Roman Abramovich.
Being against war seems like a basic enough premise that a majority of people can agree upon, regardless of politics and status of education. However, what if just being against war is no longer an acceptable position, what if it lacks commitment and thus falls into the same category as being silent altogether?
Yes, silence can be violence, but calling out silence can equally turn into the presumption that one's concerns outweigh those of everyone else. The absence of video footage does not prove the absence of resistance, and it is important not to forget how little we know about the struggles that each individual faces in their life. I am afraid it is also not in everyone's nature to engage with the threats that surround them, regardless of how close or existential they may seem to others. If that were the case, everyone would have gotten on board to fight climate change a long time ago.
Back to music
Looking at the sanctions that the 'West' issued against Russia, most can be framed as not specifically designed to hurt the Russian people, but rather to tackle either something abstract, such as the country's 'economy', or someone particularly rich and influential, like so many of their oligarchs.
Boycotting Russian musicians from the electronic dance music scene thus seems like a rather personal measure that mostly hurts human beings instead of the government, regime, or whatever you want to call those in power. It entails a certain notion of vigilantism, as one desperately seeks to contribute to the cause, all while the sanctions of one's own country cannot possibly be seen as severe enough.
I can only imagine how helpless the situation must feel to Ukrainians and that the urge to provide help must be overwhelming. I command every effort that is being done to help those in need and want to give some reassurance to those angered by the (apparent) silence of others. There will always be limits to how many people you can reach and convince of your position, and just because someone fails to publicly expose their resistance does not mean that it is not present at all.
Farewell independent media
Russia has in the meantime tightened its penalties for what it considers opposition to the invasion and evicted the very last of independent media outlets. It is noteworthy that since then, some of the Ukrainians who signed the open letter have removed the document from their pages, which begs the question if they have reconsidered their expectations on Russian artists in light of the new laws.
During a press conference last week, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel warned the people of Luxembourg against "Russo-phobia" and drew attention to the fact that the citizens of Russia should not be conflated with the war raged by President Putin. I think that in the end, however one decides to help Ukrainians in need, this thought should never be set aside completely.