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Since Russia launched its barbaric war of conquest against Ukraine in February, videos have surfaced on social media showing Russians in Europe harassing Ukrainians in public, flashing sinister grins as they hurl abuse at people whose compatriots are being made homeless, displaced, kidnapped, raped, mutilated and murdered. It’s sickening to watch and shows why a growing chorus of European leaders is absolutely right in calling for a ban on Russian tourists visiting Europe.

On Tuesday, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted that European nations should stop issuing tourist visas to Russian nationals, pointing out that visiting Europe is a privilege, not a right. Kallas’s tweet came a day after Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin advocated similar restrictions on Russian tourism in an interview with Finnish public broadcaster YLE. Latvia said it would “indefinitely” suspend accepting visa applications from Russian citizens, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky likewise told The Washington Post that Western countries should close their borders to Russian travelers.

Naturally, the proposal drew opposition from Russians, including opponents of the war, who perhaps see it as unfair collective punishment.

“Those who call Russia fascist are often the same people who call for a complete EU visa ban for Russians,” tweeted Ilya Matveev, a Russian political scientist formerly based in St. Petersburg whose profile includes a #NoWar hashtag. “I sincerely don’t understand that — would you turn Germans fleeing Nazi Germany back saying ‘You should fight Hitler instead?’”

But Matveev misses the point in two ways. For one, a tourism ban presumably would not affect legitimate immigrants and asylum seekers. But most of all, his tweet implies denial of the indisputable fact that the Russian Federation is indeed a fascist dictatorship that has launched a war against Ukraine, a country whose very right to exist Russian dictator Vladimir Putin explicitly denies. Therefore, it is the nation as a whole — not just Putin and his cronies — that needs to be held responsible and experience consequences for its actions.

As Marin put it, “It’s not right that at the same time as Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In his Washington Post interview, Zelensky dismissed distinctions between pro-war and anti-war Russians and noted that the Russian population put Putin in power and has not seriously opposed him.

Data from the Levada Center, Russia’s last independent pollster, support his arguments: As of July, Putin maintained an 83% approval rating among respondents. Russians overwhelmingly direct their anger not at the psychopathic dictator who started the war, but at the countries standing in his way, with 75% and 69%, respectively, reporting negative attitudes toward the US and EU. As of April, 74% of respondents still supported the war. By late May, that figure had risen to 77%.

Even in his petulant whine responding to Kallas, Russian Security Council deputy head Dmitry Medvedev couldn’t resist adding a touch of predatory aggression, quoting a saying, “The fact that you are free is not your merit, but our flaw.”

The absolute evil of the war that apparently still has majority support in Russia is beyond dispute. Russian soldiers have reduced once thriving cities like Mariupol to rubble, committing unspeakable horrors that reportedly include kidnapping Ukrainian children for adoption in Russia, massacring and raping civilians in places like Bucha and not only making but proudly posting a video of themselves castrating a captured Ukrainian soldier alive before executing him. The World Bank now estimates that a staggering 55% of Ukrainians will be living in poverty by the end of 2023, compared with 2.5% before the war started. Rebuilding Ukraine from Russia’s devastation is likely to take many, many years, its cost running well into the double- or triple-digit billions, but that won’t bring back the dead or repair survivors’ physical and psychological trauma.

In the context of Russia’s savage atrocities, the very idea of carefree Russian vacationers sipping Chablis in Marseille, buying Valentino handbags in Milan and sunbathing on Mykonos as their nation flaunts its soulless depravity and gleefully inflicts suffering on innocent people is obscene.

Russian tourists finding themselves unwelcome in Europe would no doubt feel humiliated. But such humiliation is a step toward dislodging from their minds the colonialist chauvinism and sense of entitlement that caused the war in the first place. After all, it has worked before.

Notwithstanding its absurd propaganda about “denazifying” Ukraine, 21st century Russia bears remarkable parallels to post-World War I Germany.

Like Russians after the fall of the Soviet Union, Germans after their country’s defeat in the Great War also wallowed in wounded pride, clinging to past glory and the delusion that restoring it and claiming their rightful place as a great power was a birthright. In their national sickness, they embraced a bloodthirsty dictator who plunged Germany into a war of conquest and genocide. It took a humiliating defeat in World War II for Germans to see the evils committed in their name, but also a path to a better future.

Russia’s wounded pride stems from the fact that it never fully decolonized and has consistently operated as a colonial empire, having simply exchanged monarchy for Marxist-Leninism and rebranded as the Soviet Union in 1922. It maintained its colonial power by falsely calling itself “anti-imperialist” and “anti-colonialist,” despite waging war to prevent colonies in the Caucasus and Central Asia from declaring independence after the tsar’s 1917 overthrow and continuing its predecessor regime’s white supremacist domination and ethnic cleansing.

So even when it partially decolonized with the 1991 Soviet collapse, the Russian Empire remained alive in Russians’ minds, such that many of them saw the union’s breakup not as decolonization, but — as Putin called it — catastrophe. Russia retained most of its colonial holdings while still feeling entitled to hegemony over newly independent post-Soviet countries, claiming the right to dictate their policies and international relations. And if its former colonies chose democracy and Western ties over autocracy and subservience to Moscow — as Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltics did — then it could only be due to the CIA or Nazis, not because it’s what those countries desired.

For all its trappings of modernity, Russia has not advanced past the 19th century. It’s fundamentally the same country it was when it committed genocide against the Circassians in the 1800s, which would explain its refusal to admit it. And in a genuine tradition of medieval barbarity, it still uses rape as a weapon of war, including multiple times against my paternal grandmother in Germany, when she was only 16.

The fact that Russia, in the 21st century, sees conquering Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Baltics as not only acceptable, but as its right and a necessary corrective to the “catastrophe” of its partial decolonization, while its people condone and even celebrate barbaric cruelty as a means to achieve that, shows a nation that will not join the civilized world until it is forced to.

That’s why it’s imperative to hold the entire Russian nation responsible for the war and make its people experience direct, material consequences for their nation’s amoral behavior, even if the minority of Russians who oppose the war experience them too. Despite my opposition to America’s war of aggression in Iraq from the start, I experienced my fair share of anti-Americanism when I was living in China as the bombs fell on Baghdad, including getting screamed at and assaulted. I thought it unfair, and to be clear, I don’t condone violence or harassing people, but I’m not blind or insensitive to the sting of facing a backlash over wrongs done in my name, a sting that Russians now know too.

Revoking Russians’ privilege to vacation in the very European nations whose peace and security their dictator has shattered and engage in obnoxious displays of chauvinism and contempt toward Ukrainians and Europeans is a small inconvenience compared to losing life, limb or loved ones.

But it’s an inconvenience that might spur Russians to take stock of their nation, its crimes against Ukraine, and how they could have allowed those crimes to happen.

Until then, as Zelensky told the Washington Post, Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy.”

Alaric DeArment is a journalist in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @alaricnyc.

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