Notes of Lev Manovich, February 24/March 6, 2022

February 24, 2022

In summer 2019 I spent a month in Kyiv. It is a most amazing
city – a bit of Rome, Paris Rio de Janeiro, and Bangkok together – but
with its own unique vitality, creativity, and energy (some of the most
talented artists and other cultural figures of “Russian avant-garde”
of 1910s-1920 were actually all from Ukraine – including Malevich!) Of
course its also many cities in one, each with its identity – so what I
am sharing in these photos are only a few quick glances around. These
people can’t be defeated! But especially now they need all our
support, in actions, words and our thoughts. Some of the young
creatives you see in these photos may try now to go and study abroad,
or to move abroad and work there – so be attentive if you see their
university program applications or job applications. Others will stay
in Ukraine. If you have a chance to hire a designer, a coder, a
photographer etc in Ukraine to do freelance work on your project – of
course if you think they are right for the job – do it. And if you are
curator, book editor, festival organizer – be attentive to
possibilities to publish books, exhibit artists, invite performers
from Ukraine.

And all of this also applied to aspiring students, creatives and
intellectuals from Russia. Nobody that I know in Russia supports this
insane war. But if people try to make an ant-war demonstration or
simply go out with posters, they are arrested immediately. But what to
the west may look like “silence” of people in Russia does not mean
that they agree with the government and support its actions. On
Facebook, Instagram and other social media, you can see already
millions of posts from people and cultural, scientific and other
nonprofit organizations in Russia against the war (and often you can
use build in translate function of the platform to read them.)

We have to prevent another iron wall emerging between west and
post-communist states. We have to use Internet and all cultural
mechanisms that rely on it to support people in Ukraine, in Russia, in
Belorussia.. We should welcome all intellectuals, creatives, students,
professors and others like us to have more access to opportunities to
study, teach, exhibit, perform anywhere in the world. Artists,
intellectuals, and creatives of the world – stay united!
Today many top prizes at world most prestigious film festivals like
Cannes go to new Russian films, and you can see works of Russia
artists in many exhibitions, and Russian theatre directors are invited
to direct plays and operas in Europe. We have to make sure that this
process continues. This will benefit everybody – them and us – and all
the audiences, readers, listeners..and for all this to happen, the
countries who think about canceling all entry visas for Russian
citizens have to think about it carefully..if Russian creatives,
scientists, students can’t transmit to other countries, it means we
are making an Iron Wall 2.0.

March 6, 2022

Today my thoughts are with people in Ukraine, and its future. But I am
equally concerned about thinking about people in Russia – who never
voted for Putin, who went to demonstrations against his regime, or who
simply were trying to live their lives in decent ways. This includes
many talented students, artists, professors, and culture workers I
know personally in Russia. They are now under pressure from two sides.
When Putin started the war against Ukraine, he automatically also
began a war against his own country and its future. This is clear. The
West responded with economic sanctions and military support for
Ukraine – and I support this. But is it fair to cancel exhibitions,
research projects, fellowship opportunities, and other mechanisms that
allowed students, researchers, intellectuals and creatives to be part
of the world – as opposed to being locked inside their country?

In the last few days, many people in Russia are trying to leave for other
countries – because they don’t want to stay in the country that
carries out this horrible war, and where simply using the word “war”
leads to a prison sentence. But when they arrive in other countries,
what opportunities will they find? And what about people who can’t or
don’t want to leave their homeland? In my case, I am continuing to
work with my ex-students from HSE (Russia’s best university which has
dozens of foreign faculty). I sent support messages to my friends in

I admire Russian cultural projects such as literary portal Gorky that made clear its anti-war position but continued its work. From its statement for the readers:

“Все мы начиная с 24 февраля 2022 года оказались перед лицом
наступающего варварства, насилия и лжи. В этой ситуации чрезвычайно важно сохранить хотя бы остатки культуры и поддержать ценности гуманизма — в том числе ради будущего России. Поэтому редакция «Горького» продолжит говорить о книгах, напоминая нашим читателям, что в мире остается место мысли и вымыслу.”

Google Translate output:

“Since February 24, 2022, all of us have faced the coming barbarism,
violence and lies. In this situation, it is extremely important to
preserve at least the remnants of culture and support the values of
humanism, including for the sake of the future of Russia. Therefore,
the editors of Gorky will continue to talk about books, reminding our
readers that there is room for thought and fiction in the world.”

If all independent thought and culture in Russia will disappear, it
will be terrible for Russia’s future and also for the whole world. We
have to make sure this never happens. What I described is only my
position. Everybody should make their own choice. But I do want to add
one more thing from my own experience. I grew up in the USSR in the
1970s. Rare western art exhibitions, translations of Western authors
and screenings of Western classic films in a single movie theatre in
Moscow that could do it were essential for my education. So I hope
that whatever new wall will emerge between Russia and the rest of the
world, we will keep passages in it to continue discovering together,
creating together, and talking together with Russian intelligentsia,
the country’s ‘thinking class’.