Regardless of whether or not cancel culture is real, it’s certainly a useful political tool—useful enough, it seems, for a head of state like Vladimir Putin to wield it as a tool in an international geopolitical conflict.
In an address to the Russian public, Putin said that the country of Russia and its culture are being “canceled” by Western forces, which are removing them from history and disparaging their cultural works. In short, he said, Russia is being treated the same way as Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
“They canceled Joanne Rowling recently, the children's author. Her books are published all over the world,” Putin said. “Just because she didn't satisfy the demands of gender rights.”
In addition to these comments, the Russian embassy in France tweeted a meme depicting the United States and the European Union injecting Europe with a massive vial full of “Russophobia” yesterday. It depicts a syringe of “cancel culture” on the ground, already depleted.
Motherboard reached out to Putin on the topic of cancel culture—and, specifically, J.K. Rowling—several days ago, though a representative. He did not respond.
Putin compared the criticism Rowling has received for her transphobic politics to a great variety of perceived indignities to the Russian people: the apparent removal of Russian writers and composers from undefined places in the West, Nazi book burnings, and even America dropping the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
“We remember that footage when they were burning books,” Putin said. “It's impossible to imagine such a thing in our country. We're insured against these things thanks to our culture.”
(Russia in fact has an exceedingly deep history of banning books and executing writers, though of course this has nothing to do with the question of whether librarians in the American Midwest need to purge their shelves of Babel and Mandelstam to show support for Ukraine.)
This isn’t the first time Putin has mentioned cancel culture during the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. In fact, he has expressed “concerns” about cancel culture since at least October of last year.
It’s not clear, meanwhile, that Rowling would welcome Putin’s support: Loathsome as it may be of her to attack the right of trans people to exist without persecution by the state, she is currently using her children’s charity, Lumos, to raise money for the children of Ukraine.