State leader, not the people, proper target of criticism against Ukraine invasion

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its atrocities there can never be tolerated. But the responsibility lies with the state and its leader. It is not right to direct anger toward ordinary Russians.

Incidents of discriminatory behavior and defamation against Russians living in Japan have become a problem.

In February, a ryokan inn in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, said on its website that it would stop accommodating people from Russia and its ally Belarus because the inn had taken a stance of opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But later, the inn deleted the notice after receiving administrative guidance from the prefectural government.

Some people have harassed Russian restaurants and shops that deal with Russian products, and have even posted messages on social media, such as “Go back to Russia.”

At JR Ebisu Station in Tokyo, a station sign in the Cyrillic characters used in the Russian language temporarily disappeared. As passengers and others told East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) that they were offended by the Cyrillic sign, a station staff member covered the sign with a piece of paper. After that, there was growing criticism of JR East’s response, so the paper was removed from the sign.

It is quite natural for Japan to stand firm against Russia — which is attempting to change the status quo by force — in line with the international community. A series of moves to ban Russia from participating in international sports and arts competitions also can be said to be unfortunate consequences of Russia’s outrageous acts in Ukraine.

It is understandable that many people are angry at Russia’s barbarism. However, it is Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia as a nation that should be blamed. It makes no sense to defame someone just because he or she is a Russian.

More than 9,000 Russians live in Japan, and many of them have integrated into Japanese society. Some of them voice their opposition to the invasion of Ukraine by their home country and take part in demonstrations. Nor do all people in Russia itself support the aggression.

At a press conference, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi called on the Japanese people not to ostracize or defame ordinary Russians living in Japan.

The law on measures against hate speech states that discriminatory behavior against people from other countries is not allowed. The central and local governments must continue to make such calls.

It has often been the case in the past that when factors such as international conflicts, disasters and pandemics raise anxiety and fear, exclusionary moves increase.

Still fresh in people’s minds is the spate of discriminatory behavior and acts of violence against Asian people in Western nations over the novel coronavirus, based on the prejudice that “it is highly likely that Asians have spread the virus.”

The shunning of Russians is a shameful act that degrades the dignity of the Japanese people. It is vital that every one of us is keenly aware of this.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 6, 2022)