[Introduction: Boris Sydiuk, an internationally-known Ukranian fan, asked SFWA to join a global boycott of Russian books and publishers from events around the world. (See Publishers Weekly for the text of such a call by members of the Ukrainian Book Institute, the Lviv International Book Forum, and PEN Ukraine.) SFWA President Jeffe Kennedy, quoted below, replied that the Board has decided SFWA cannot participate. Sydiuk has written a guest post expressing his disappointment.]
By Borys Sydiuk: Right now, when I’m sitting at my desktop and writing this text, a cannonade nearby doesn’t stop. The previous night was scary in Kyiv. Evidently, Russians are going to start demolishing Ukrainian capital like they are doing with Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Mariupol.
The Ukrainian SFF Community joined the efforts to isolate Russia, the nazi-country of the 21st century, to force them to stop the war. The boycott by American authors we asked for is also doing the job. Many leading writers and artists of the great United States already joined the campaign.
We appealed to SFWA to also join the campaign, and here is what they replied:
“The SFWA Board of Directors met this last week to discuss and carefully review your missive. SFWA’s mission is to support, advocate for, and educate creators in the science fiction and fantasy genres across the world. We do this regardless of the actions of their governments. Because our mission is tied to our incorporation and status as a charitable organization, we cannot participate or support any kind of boycott.”
Can you imagine? They stay aside with popcorn watching how the greatest evil of modern time is trying to destroy a new democratic country, to genocide a European nation, to realize the “Final solution of Ukrainian question”.
That is easy to appeal to status, constitution, and so on just to abstain. It is so comfortable — to abstain, sit in a shell thinking the evil will not come. But the evil will come, the evil will knock to your shell and you will abstain when the evil will be killing you. So nice!
Dear American and foreign authors, members of SFWA, do you think the board of SFWA made the right decision? Do you think you are ok to belong to an organization that is so toothless, trying to remain soft and fluffy?
Tonight Russians targeted living houses in Kyiv, they expanded to put on fire as many Ukrainian cities as they can trying to break us, trying to wipe out democracy and freedom, and bring the totalitarianism of 1984 and Animal Farm to our home, and then to yours. Abstaining today means you support the Russians in this way. Sigh.
Yes, absolutely SFWA, of which I’m a member, made the right decision.
When I attended the mass demonstration here in Helsinki, just a couple of hours’ drive from the Russian border, against the war, the first thing I saw as the crowd gathered was Ukrainians and Russians who live here united against Putin and the Russian state. One of those Russians made an important point to me: sanctions and boycotts drawn with a broad net hurt Russian workers and do nothing to hurt Putin.
We can already see this happening. Russian commercial jets are blocked from Europe’s airspace, but the Russian elite use a loophole in the laws to continue flying their private jets. The banking cutoff prevents Russians working abroad from sending remittances to their family at home, but Putin and his circle will, at worst, have to content themselves with being mere billionaires instead of multi-billionaires.
And we know from a decade of sanctions against Iraq that economic maneuvers and boycotts do nothing to bring down dictators, and everything to heap misery on dictators’ worst potential enemies.
The reality is that a cultural boycott of all things Russian does nothing useful to combat the Russian state. It would only be performative posturing. The best tool we creators have, the only thing that will ever bring real change to Russia and throw out the Putins of the world, is international solidarity. I stand with the Ukrainians and Russians who marched together in Helsinki, with the thousands beaten and jailed by Russian police for opposing the war and opposing Putin’s dictatorial rule, with my friend from Ukraine who’s now a refugee in Warsaw separated from her family and my colleague here in Helsinki who’s a refugee from Russian state backed homophobia — we cannot close the roads by which the oppressed so desperately want to return home.
Our only practical strategy is to build up the people who can bring down Putin from below. That means elevating the voices of people fighting for democracy, internationalism and revolutionary change, not helping silence them with a blanket boycott.
It always amazes me how organizations refusing to take a stance against evil always do it after a “carefull… review”
Edmund Schluessel on March 15, 2022 at 1:08 pm said:
Yes, absolutely SFWA, of which I’m a member, made the right decision.
That, I think is debatable, but let’s not go there.
Mr. Schluessel also wrote:
… boycotts do nothing to bring down dictators, and everything to heap misery on dictators’ worst potential enemies.
Um, exactly who are these worst potential enemies – of Putin? Are you talking of the mass of ‘good’ Russians who ‘really’ oppose the war? Those who do nothing? Those who are meekly led off to Police vans, those who watch their friends being led off without lifting a finger? Those scared of even a 15 day (15 year now? what’s the difference, they’re already in jail for the rest of their lives) sentence while Ukrainians – their supposed brothers and sisters – are fighting and dying?
Cry me a river.
SFWA seems to be saying that the nature of their incorporation precludes them participating in a boycott? If they can’t they can’t, I suppose…it is surprising, though.
@ Edmund Schluessel
I am not a member of SFWA. That said, I would like to point out that a boycott of Russia would be a political action and that refusing to boycott Russia would also be a political action. I suggest that SFWA join the rest of the Western world in opposing Putin and his invasion of the Ukraine. At this moment, my opinion of SFWA as an organization is very low due to this decision and I suggest that SFWA’s pro-Putin decision will affect their prestige as an organization throughout the West.
Maybe, just maybe, this has something to do with Chengdu 2023. Could they be standing up for Putin because of the pro-Putin GOH at Chengdu? Of course I have no evidence of anything, being outside the SFWA, WSFS, and the SF/F authorial communities, but it is an intriguing thought.
SFWA is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. As such, participation in political action as an organization is prohibited by federal law.
Not a member of SFWA, but I do recall when I was attending the University of Minnesota back in the late 70’s, the university administration did not want to join in the protest boycott against South African apartheid, and they used the exact same rationale then as SFWA is using now. Que sera, sera.
Ginjer Buchanan: Concern for its nonprofit status didn’t stop SFWA from boycotting Amazing in the Seventies.
SFWA probably has a different attorney now. Did they consult their attorney and receive this advice? I don’t know. If they did, well, you either have to follow your attorney’s advice or get a new one, don’t you?
SFWA is a professional organization for writers of science fiction and fantasy. What could they actually do that would be considered a boycott? Purge their membership rolls of any writer with a Russian last name? Or who currently lists an address in Russia? Refuse to help any Russian writer who is having contract issues with a publisher?
I’m not trying to be humorous or snide here. I have a vague understanding of the implications of a large bank or an oil company refusing to do business with Russia. I just don’t see what is at stake in this case.
Nancy Sauer: I hope SFWA’s decision as a nonprofit corporation not to speak out won’t discourage individual writers from doing so.
Just a few weeks ago over 80 writers signed a letter protesting the election of a Chinese bid to host the 2023 Worldcon because of China’s treatment of Uyghur and Turkic minorities. The Russian invasion of the Ukraine — vocally supported by a whole list of Russian sff writers — deserves the same kind of ire.
The link states that the boycott of Amazing was over payment policies which would seem to be an area where the SFWA is supposed to act. Boycotting a nation over it’s policies unrelated to the SFWA’s mission would be a different matter.
Whatever the law really is, I can’t see that the Amazing boycott – which apparently amounted to refusing to count it as a qualifying market – is a valid counter-example.
Mike: Well, yes, I hope individual writers do speak out. And I hope that further con coms, when looking for guests of honor, will check to see if their candidate supported the Russian war against Ukraine. And yes, maybe it would be better if SWFA could issue a statement condemning the Russian war against Ukraine.
But what is being called for here is a ‘boycott’, and I have no idea of how an organization for writers goes about boycotting a nation. Do they disenfranchise any writer who visits Russia during the war? Or who publishes in a Russian magazine? Delist all Russian publications as qualifying markets?
What 501(c)(3)’s cannot do is “participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office.”
But other kinds of political activities can be acceptable.
In determining whether activities such as economic boycotts, mass demonstrations, and picketing, are consistent with IRC 501(c)(3), the Internal Revenue Service relies on a three-part test. Rev. Rul. 80-278. Such activities will be considered permissible under IRC 501(c)(3) if:
(1) The purpose of the organization is charitable;
(2) the activities are not illegal, contrary to a clearly defined and established public policy, or in conflict with express statutory restrictions; and
(3) the activities are in furtherance of the organization’s exempt purpose and are reasonably related to the accomplishment of that purpose.
Economic boycotts, mass demonstrations, picketing, etc., that further the purposes of the organization and are not illegal, contrary to public policy, or in conflict with express statutory restrictions or limitations, will not preclude an IRC 501(c)(3) exemption.
For example, the Senate Committee on Finance last year raised an issue about exempt organizations involved with the January 6 insurrection — not because the actions were political, but because what was done was illegal. Their letter to the IRS Commissioner cites this Revenue Ruling.
The main problem you have to understand is that in this case there are no 50 Shades of Grey, only Light and Darkness.
@ Nancy Sauer,
Once you decide to boycott a country, you then figure out how it will work. Not every boycott will work the same, right? Just asking random questions is useless. Do or do not.
So you don’t want to actually have to think how such a thing would or would not work, you just want them to say they’re doing it. I’m with Nancy, I see nothing positive that could come from this. The only ones hurt would be Russian SFF writers, the majority of whom I expect don’t support the war.
Russia has reacted to Western sanctions by threatening to lift copyright and trademark protections. Maybe that will alarm SFWA more than basic human rights issues.
This answer is unsatisfactory. I worked for over 15 years in a natural foods grocery and in that time I saw a lot of calls for boycotting companies, industries, or countries. In every case the boycott organizers had specific actions they wanted taken as part of the boycott. No one ever said, “I don’t care what your store does, just say you are boycotting X.” They usually wanted the store to ban items from country X, or company Y, or any company that doesn’t fit criteria Y. Or they were trying to convince shoppers to do that on their individual initiative. But they had a Plan.
If you want SFWA to issue a statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, then ask for a statement. If you want them to boycott Russia, tell them what you want them to do. Vague armwaving isn’t helping anyone.
To clarify, I am not saying that nothing positive could come from this. I am just wanting to know what “this” is, because until I know that I can’t decide one way or another.
Nancy Sauer: The scope of the Ukranian writers’ call is to bar Russian publishers and writers from book fairs, and to stop sales of books from those sources. That’s from the Publishers Weekly link. So that’s a specific proposal from them.
@ Nancy Sauer
That is my point. If you want to discuss a boycott, let’s do it. I am an IT technical writer so I can’t suggest specifics. However, you seemed to want someone to do the work for you. Nancy, you seemed to have some good ideas so if we agree that a boycott is appropriate, why not use them as a basis for future discussion?
Ah! I had missed the Publishers Weekly link; thank you for calling it to my attention. I have read it and now I have more focussed questions.
SWFA does not, so far as I know, run any book fairs, so they can’t boycott Russia by refusing to allow the state-supported publishing group to have a booth at their fair. (Which is what the Frankfurt book fair seems to be doing.) I suppose they can issue a statement asking other book fairs to follow suit, but then we are back to asking SWFA to make a statement. Which is not the same as a boycott.
The next course of action I can envision is SWFA asking, or telling, SWFA members not to attend book fairs that do allow the Russians in or to allow their books to be sold at such fairs. That would be kind of like a boycott. Does SWFA even have that ability?
I’m not sure I have anything more to say on this, so I am bowing out for now. I will keep reading, in case I feel I need to clarify something I’ve said.
Leaving aside the question of whether SFWA can legally boycott Russia, and the additional question of what that would mean in practical terms, what struck me is this:
I got to the word “missive,” and said, no, you didn’t. In this type of context, that’s a very dismissive word.
@Edmund Schluessel–The idea that boycotts are meaningless or bad because they don’t hurt the bigwigs is not well-supported. Boycotts alone, or small boycotts that aren’t broadly supported, don’t do much.
But Putin wouldn’t be suggesting that sanctions are an act of war if they weren’t having a significant impact that matters to him.
@Michael Burianyk–It’s easy to dismiss the sacrifice of those who “just” protest and get arrested, when you’re not one of those getting arrested and getting that fifteen year sentence.
@rochrist: “The only ones hurt would be Russian SFF writers, the majority of whom I expect don’t support the war.”
Did you miss this story on File770?
Should SFWA boycott Sergey Lukianenko and the other 80 writers who signed that pro-war open letter that was posted here some time ago? Absolutely. Should they boycott Russian publishers who have expressed support for the invasion of Ukraine or state-owned publishing houses. Definitely.
Should they blanket boycott all Russian authors regardless of their stance? I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. A country is not its government and there are quite a few Russians who disagree with the war and even took part in protests. Should SFWA boycott Dmitry Glukhovsky, who has publicly spoken out against the war?
Another question is what exactly can SFWA do? We all know that it’s not easy to expel members from SFWA to the point that it has only happened twice to my knowledge, to Stanislaw Lem and Theodore Beale. And getting rid of Beale was not easy. Could SFWA even suspend membership privileges of Russian authors who support the invasion of Ukraine? And how many Russian authors or publishers are SFWA members anyway? Is Sergey Lukianenko a member? Are any of the other 80 authors who signed that open letter members?
One thing SFWA should be able to do is issue a statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I doubt that this would conflict with their by-laws, since they were also able to issue a statement supporting Black Lives Matter.
Regarding the Frankfurt Book Fair, I applaud their decision to ban the state-sponsored joint Russian publisher booth. However, I would applaud that decision even more, if the Frankfurt Book Fair had not refused for years to ban far right and neonazi publishers in spite of protests and even after authors of colour said that the presence of those publishers made them feel unsafe.
<blockquote> Russia has reacted to Western sanctions by threatening to lift copyright and trademark protections. Maybe that will alarm SFWA more than basic human rights issues.
I’m waiting to see if China agrees to help out Putin in his megalomaniacal quest. If so, I would encourage the whole WSFS and SFWA communities to unite in sanctioning both countries.
While I do agree these sanctions hurt the little guys more than the oligarchs, popularity is everything–especially in an authoritarian society. When that much discontent spreads around the country, they take down their leaders.
Legal question. Mike, you listed the terms under which a non-profit can engage in boycotts, etc. The first term was:
Is SFWA a charitable organization? It’s a non-profit, but that’s not the same thing.
If SFWA isn’t a charitable organization in a legal sense, their lawyers may be completely correct that they can’t legally take part in boycotts.
Another definition, from NGOsource.org:
Maytree: My statement is correct.
Here is SFWA’s description of their nonprofit tax-exempt status in the SFWA Bylaws.
SFWA engages in more than one purpose that is covered by IRC 501(c)(3), charitable is one of them.
What Revenue Ruling 80-278 means by using the word “charitable” is explained in the General Counsel Memorandum that provided the basis for that Revenue Ruling. When an organization’s purpose is a recognized charitable one, “the means or activities employed … do not have to be per se charitable, so long as they are in furtherance of the exempt purpose and one reasonably related to the accomplishment of such purpose.”
If you read Rev. Rul. 80-278, you’ll see that the principal activity of the organization in question is “instituting litigation as a party plaintiff under state and federal environmental legislation. Typical of its litigation is a suit it filed against a local manufacturer and the state environmental protection agency.” This is advocacy, but it is not intervention in a political candidate’s campaign which is the bugaboo.
Stating a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a violation.
Both the Authors’ Guild and the Horror Writers Association are 501(c)(3) organizations, and they have published statements opposing the invasion.
The official SFWA statement is nothing, just blah-blah-blah. Russian Exmo Publishers sent an open letter to American Publishing Industry asking not to continue the boycott because they do not support the war. Really? Take a look at what they offer to their readers – Battalfeild Ukraine, the War in Ukraine, etc. published years before the real war. They prepared the war in the Russian people’s conscience. And SFWA will not appeal to its members to boycott Russian Publishers. They are going to take money for Ukrainian blood, for killed children. Bravo!
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