A while ago, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, I wrote this post, expressing my dismay at romance authors and readers who have been wilfully ignorant about the entire situation (and about Russian history) in order to uphold the popular belief that everything about Russia is exotic and romantic and romance novel-worthy.
Since I wrote that post, Russia has stolen more and more Ukrainian land, slaughtered many thousands of Ukrainians and people from other countries, and displaced hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from their homes (members of my own family are now refugees). They continue to violate the ceasefire, and while the entire world’s focus turned away from Ukraine, Syria and Africa, and to Ferguson, Missouri, thirteen Ukrainians a day continued to die during the so-called “peace”. Ukrainians – including teenagers – disappear from the streets, only for their tortured bodies to turn up dumped somewhere days, weeks or months afterwards.
But, hey Russian-themed romances, right? Because, hot billionaires from Moscow, right?
I do have family from (and some still in) Russia. And so I know from personal experiences of sitting around their dinner tables and listening to them – educated and well-travelled people – spout racist, imperialistic pro-Russian propaganda at me that today’s Russia is a very ugly place. Russians have been arrested for wearing the colours blue and yellow (Ukraine’s colours). In my most recent travels in Europe, everywhere I went blue and yellow was the thing in men’s fashion. It wasn’t a political statement!
A Stalinist parade in Moscow in 2014
As I said a little while ago, of course you can make the “not all Russians” argument, because people have different opinions.
But you’d be mostly wrong, as polling has shown the vast majority of Russians both love Vladimir Putin and support his invasion and annexation of Ukraine. And Russian billionaires and celebrities from every walk of life, athletes, ballet dancers, musicians, artists, are open supporters of the war.
One such person is opera singer Anna Netrebko, who was dumped by international companies she was the face of after donating a huge sum of money to the Russian terrorists in Ukraine. However, some still argue you should separate her actions from her art and she should continue to sing in countries like the United States. As it says in this article:
Marlene Dietrich was the favourite actress and singer of Hitler. In the nascent Nazi empire she could have become the number one star. She could have had everything.
But she left what she had, renounced her citizenship and moved to the USA. When the war began she toured on the front lines, performing before the soldiers. Unlike Netrebko, she was able to distinguish good from evil.
Russian-Australians are now fighting as terrorists in Ukraine. My family’s Ukrainian church in Australia was trashed by a Russian gang in mid-2014, with anti-Ukrainian racial slurs written all over the place, including on the (Catholic, not Russian Orthodox) priest’s car. It made the international news. Ukrainians here are receiving death threats and having their accounts hacked. People in my own family are now being called up into the Ukrainian army to fight in this war.
As I said a little while ago, I bet that in 1939 women weren’t begging for more romances about German men. You need to make that comparison.
I’m just… furious, I guess is the best word. Furious that so many romance authors and readers constantly make comments about not wanting reality in their reading, and that they don’t watch the news, because they don’t like to know bad things. Furious that there’re so many deliberately ignorant people who couldn’t give a damn about anything important, just as long as the Russian billionaire weds the Plain Jane at the end of the book. Too bad if she supports gay rights or independent thinking when settling into her new life in Russia.
I’m furious that there’s nothing that will make them care – unless something has a personal effect on their own lives, I guess.
The thing is, a lot of what the authors use for “Russia” in their books isn’t Russia anyway. Much of the world still believes anything east of Germany is “Russia”. Educate yourself on how the history of Eastern Europe has been rewritten for centuries.
That’s why you have popular romances about “Russian” lovers, where the hero is actually born, raised and from a city in the middle of Ukraine.
That’s why you have bestselling books where the so-called “Russian” hero sports a Ukrainian name and the only reference to his culture is when he’s referred to as a “Cossack” when the author wants him to look hot. Totally ignoring the fact Ukraine, not Russia, is “The Land of the Cossacks” and that Cossack culture is so integral to the Ukrainian identity it is a major part of the national anthem.
Hell, even borscht is a Ukrainian, not a Russian dish!
That’s why books with titles like Her Russian Protector are so popular.
That’s why the review books made available to me continue to come with titles like The Russian’s Ultimatum.
Too many authors are using Russia as their romantic setting about as well as those sheikh romances that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the cultures of the Middle East. Both are offensive. Both make you wonder what the purpose of the setting is when it is so grossly inaccurate. For anybody who bothers to watch the news or give a damn about a culture outside of their own, both are damaging and hugely offensive.
I can’t make authors or readers watch the news, and I can’t make them care. But I can tell you I’m disgusted that so many are giving Russia a free pass at this time. Now. In 2014 and 2015. I can tell you that I am disgusted with people who overlook most Russians’ enthusiastic (and often financial) support for the murder of Ukrainians, Georgians, Belarusians, Syrians… in order to fantasise about Vlad the billionaire Impaler tying you up and having his way with you in the back of his sports car in Moscow.
I can and I will judge people for not giving a damn about the world at times the bad things aren’t making things worse for them. People need to start thinking of what Putin has done to Russia in the way they think of what Hitler did to Germany, and then they need to ask themselves: I’m seriously enjoying romance about that?!