War as the Ultimate Existential Situation
List of speakers

On June 23, the Valdai Discussion Club, in partnership with the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), held an online public talk, titled “How and Why Must War Be Spoken About Using the Language of Culture?” The moderator of the discussion was Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club. 

According to Bystritskiy, world culture commonly addresses the theme of World War II with an unusual degree of seriousness, and the question posed was how and why it is necessary to talk about war using the language of culture.

Mikhail Shvydkoy, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cultural Cooperation, answering this question, suggested that art will always return to the theme of war, because war is the ultimate existential situation, concentrating the main themes of human life. He added that in Russia and Israel, the memory of the Second World War is of particular importance, and also emphasised the anti-war, humanistic nature of Soviet art about the war.

Film director Krzysztof Zanussi explained in his speech the importance of the Second World War by the fact that it was one of the rare moments in history when good and evil were clearly separated. It was a fight against pure evil. The war as such, in his opinion, attracts artistically minded people in that it presents a situation of acute choice, when a person determines who he himself is.

Film director Andrey Konchalovsky, in turn, noted that the “temptation of evil” is an eternal theme. Nazism, he said, was monstrous in its quest to make the world perfect. And in this sense, evil will still be present next to us, dressing in the clothes of justice or necessity. The war with it will be endless. Expressing pessimism regarding the prospects of modern culture, Konchalovsky added that now the war is moving into the field of education.

Anatoly Golubovsky, curator of museum initiatives and exhibition projects of the Russian Jewish Congress, also emphasised the connection of war with the moral choice facing each person and with the problem of responsibility. In this regard, he stressed the importance of preserving the memory of the Righteous Among the Nations, whose role is currently insufficiently reflected in culture.

During a brief discussion about repentance, guilt, and responsibility, the public talk participants finally discussed the question posed by the moderator about whether art can teach us something that will put us in touch with the horror of war and our responsibility for what is happening in the world. In general, they agreed that although the possibilities of art are limited, it can at least make people think – and we still do not have another tool that encourages people to understand themselves and the world.