Canceling Russia: Implications for Cultural Diplomacy

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2023-67-4-123-131
U. Artamonova,
Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO RAN), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation.
Moscow State Institute of International Relations, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation (MGIMO University), 76, Vernadskogo Prosp., Moscow, 119454, Russian Federation;
The Diplomatic Academy, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation, 53/2, build. 1, Ostozhenka Str., Moscow, 119021, Russian Federation.

Received 22.11.2022. Revised 12.12.2022. Accepted 30.12.2022.

Acknowledgements. The article was prepared as part of the project «Opportunities and limitations for cultural diplomacy in the age of “cancel culture”» supported by the grant from the MGIMO university for conducting scientific works by young researchers under tenure of Doctors of Sciences or Candidates of Sciences CMU‑12 “Cluster Studies”.

Abstract. After February 24th, 2022, the Western society, mainly the U.S. and European countries, demonstrated a general trend that can be considered “canceling” Russia in response to its special military operation in Ukraine (western companies leaving Russia, athletes under Russian flag being excluded from international sportive events, Netflix suspending its services to Russian clients, etc.). Among other examples, “canceling” Russian culture in terms of high culture (classical music, literature, theatre, ballet, art exhibitions) presents a special case. This article examines “canceling” Russian culture in relation to cultural diplomacy in the framework of wider political confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, since influencing of international public opinion, among other things, through cultural diplomacy remains one the frontlines of the mentioned confrontation. First, the authors analyze the nature and the evolution of “cancel culture” per se, concluding that as a social phenomenon it has been politicized rapidly: from an instrument of stigmatizing perpetrators whose wrongdoings were bordering with actual crime (harassment, racism) “canceling” quickly became a tool to penalize any celebrity for expressing social and political views that do not agree with the mainstream agenda. The case of D. Trump being denied access to social media platforms in January 2021 in accordance with the same logic, while technically remaining the head of the state, was a turning point when “canceling” lost any chance to remain considered as an apolitical practice. However, the attempt to extend the “canceling” to the whole independent state – Russia – in 2022 over the matter of international politics (the conflict in Ukraine) was a new high which made it clear that “cancel culture” evolves into a tool of international political manipulation. In addition, the article examines critical differences in Russian and American approaches to cultural diplomacy. Russia, in terms of influencing international public opinion and promoting its positive image abroad via cultural diplomacy, relies mostly on high culture, which can become an easy target for “cancel culture”. The U. S. in its approach to cultural diplomacy have historically relied more on popular culture that allows them, for example, with the use of movies, not only to construct their own positive image for the international public opinion, but also to promote negative stereotypes about other countries and regions. Thus, cultural diplomacies of two countries are likely to produce two conflicting narratives with completely different instruments. Because of that, even partial and temporary “canceling” of Russian high culture internationally gives a competitive advantage for American cultural diplomacy, especially since the first and foremost aim of every such activity is to create an image, a view, a stereotype afresh, not to change the already existing ones. Thus, permanent interaction of state’s cultural diplomacy with the international public opinion is crucial for efficacy. Bearing in mind the current situation in international relations in general and tensions in Russian-American relations in particular, the article concludes that application of “cancel culture” in such a manner and the consequent disbalance in capabilities of Russian and American cultural diplomacies are likely to further destabilize the international situation and to increase the risk of more conflicts emerging and escalating.

Keywords: “cancel culture”, cancelling, cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy, soft power, popular culture, high culture, U.S., Russia, Ukraine


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For citation:
Artamonova U., Rustamova L. Canceling Russia: Implications for Cultural Diplomacy. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2023, vol. 67, no. 4, pp. 123-131. EDN: OCPKQN

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