In Background, Solidarity with Ukrainian people, Ukraine

By Naomi Lakritz, Columnist, The Calgary Herald, April 11, 2015

It sure didn’t take long for Je Suis Charlie to bite the dust, did it? Three months ago, the West was ablaze with righteous indignation over the killings of the French journalists at Charlie Hebdo who had published cartoons of Muhammad.

Columnist Naomi Lakritz

Columnist Naomi Lakritz

Je ne suis pas Charlie anymore, to judge by the reaction to pianist Valentina Lisitsa’s tweets about the Russia-Ukraine civil war. Born in Ukraine, Lisitsa is an ethnic Russian. She has a different view of the conflict there, and her tweets about it prompted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to cancel her performances.

This just goes to show how shallow and hypocritical “Je Suis Charlie” really was. The West is very happy to champion freedom of speech when that freedom is used to attack a cause that westerners aren’t necessarily cool with anyway, such as Islam: ‘Prophet Muhammad isn’t supposed to be portrayed in any illustration? How dumb is that? Let’s poke a stick in Muslims’ eyes and declare it a noble act.’

But when that same freedom of speech opposes a cause dear to western hearts, such as the proper side to be on in Ukraine’s conflict, then the speaker is punished. Je suis Charlie, but only when Charlie’s ox is not the one being gored.

TSO president Jeff Melanson said: “People were very offended over what (Lisitsa) was saying online starting in December, and that sort of crescendoed over the last three or four months. And when we reviewed the various tweets and asked Valentina to please explain the tweets and the content, unfortunately … we were left with no choice but to remove her from the program.”

On the contrary, the TSO had a choice — to respect Lisitsa’s freedom of speech. How can one support Ukraine’s fight for democracy, yet oppose the freedom of speech which would be a tenet of that democracy? You can’t have it both ways.

Good for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra for honouring Lisitsa’s contract to perform here in June. That is exactly the right thing to do.

What were the tweets that killed off Je Suis Charlie? “Victory Day to Kyiv. Because nobody does Nazi torchlight marches better?” Another tweet shows a picture of pigs’ testicles, supposedly to represent the faces of Ukrainian leaders.

One tweet, which Lisitsa’s opponents claim is anti-Semitic, shows a picture of a man wearing a T-shirt featuring a menorah and the words “Bandera’s kike.” She asks “if they find it funny in Russian, pardon Ukrainian, would they wear English translation?” She is not being anti-Semitic; she is deploring the T-shirt mocking Jews, as the Jews in Ukraine were no supporters of Ukrainian nationalist hero Stepan Bandera, who thought the Nazis would be his allies after Poland was invaded in 1939.

Besides, plenty of anti-Semitic remarks and other racist garbage are posted online daily, including on Facebook, and no one makes a fuss. No, this is solely about Lisitsa’s support for the Russians, and seizing on these tweets is a pathetic, transparent ploy to censure her for that support.

In another tweet, in an analogy with Ukraine’s situation, she mentions how the German people’s minds were “just as poisoned” with Nazi propaganda “until reality hit them hard.” Still another tweet stated: “This is what happens when media ‘gets’ their news out of a … uh … sphincter,” referring to a New York Times article on Ukrainian separatists being abandoned by Russian leaders.

Lisitsa is entitled to support whomever she pleases in the conflict and to speak her mind about it. None of it has anything to do with her music. She’s learned the hard way, though, that if you attack Islam, you’re the darling of the West. If you attack something the West cherishes, you’re a pariah.

Whatever happened to: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”? Adieu, “Je Suis Charlie.” Your ox has been gored and the wound is a fatal one.

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra has examined the controversy surrounding the banning of performances by Valentina Lisitsa by the Toronto Stymphony Orchestra. It has decided that scheduled performances by Lisitsa of works by Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff will go ahead on June 5 and 6 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall .


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