kotrikadze3_VANO SHLAMOVAFP via Getty Images_russians in tbilisi VANO SHLAMOV/AFP via Getty Images

Banish Putin, Not Pushkin

Much of the Western world, with its values of humanism and respect for every individual, has responded to the invasion of Ukraine by convicting all Russians. But recent history shows that there are good reasons to reject the perverse logic of collective guilt.

TBILISI – Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Georgia’s capital has become one of the most interesting places on Earth. Much of Russia’s cultural and intellectual elite – artists, writers, journalists, actors, directors, philosophers, and professors – has poured in. Enter a café, and you inevitably hear Russian and recognize someone you know. Cozy, picturesque Tbilisi is small, with everything in easy sight. There are countless Ukrainian flags with slogans expressing support for the country. And then there are the messages scrawled on the fences and walls of houses: Fuck Putin; Fuck Russia; Russian warship, go fuck yourself.

That last epithet – the response of Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island in the Black Sea to a Russian surrender demand at the beginning of the war – quickly became a slogan of resistance. The problem is that all Russians are now being condemned as supporters of President Vladimir Putin, as though they were on that warship.

I flew to Tbilisi with my children and husband (the editor-in-chief of Dozhd, the recently closed independent Russian television channel) after the last window for freedom of speech in Russia slammed shut. Even after the Russian government declared the channel a “foreign agent” in August 2021, my husband and I were still allowed to work, because Putin considered it necessary to maintain a façade of democracy.