On March 2, Italian writer Paolo Nori denounced a ghastly episode of “cancel culture” carried out by Bicocca (Statale) University in Milan, Italy. During a live broadcast where he appeared very upset, Nori told viewers about an email he had just received from the Milanese university informing him of the postponement of the series of four lectures about Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky Nori was supposed to give a couple of weeks later. The email said: “Dear Professor, thismorning we decided to postpone your lectures on Dostoevsky. The purpose is to avoid any form of controversy, especially internal, at this moment of strong tensions.” The reference is of course to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces.
In his video, the writer explained why, in his opinion, the decision by Bicocca University was utterly shocking and completely senseless: “They had invited me, lessons were free and open to all. I believe what is happening in Ukraine is horrible and feel like crying just thinking about it. But what is happening in Italy today is ridiculous: censoring a university conference is ridiculous”.
Within a few hours of Nori’s announcement, Bicocca backpaddled confirming his lectures as scheduled.

In an official note, the university explained: “Milano-Bicocca is a university open to dialogue and listening, even in this very difficult period in which we are dismayed by the escalation of the conflict (…) The dean of the university will meet Paolo Nori next week for a moment of reflection”. The writer replied: “I still don’t know if I’m going or not. I have to think about it. I don’t know if I want to work with a University that has imagined that Dostoevsky generates tension. I’ll think about it and then I’ll answer quietly. I have other things to do now.”
The Minister of University and Research Maria Cristina Messa thought it “good that the University of Milano-Bicocca overturned its decision, as it is essential that Paolo Nori’s lectures are held with the support of the university”.
Nori insisted that “for some people in Italy today not only being a living Russian is a fault, but also being a dead Russian, a Russian who, when he was alive in 1849, was sentenced to death because he had read something forbidden. That an Italian university would prohibit lectures on an author like Dostoevsky is something I cannot believe”.
Before the news of its quick turnaround, there were many reactions on social media in Italy to the athenaeum’s decision, all of them negative, expressing immediate solidarity and protesting censorship: “I hope all students moveto another university! In Milan there is a new form of dictatorship, from La Scala to Bicocca. It’s madness!” wrote a woman; “At least in places dedicated to culture and education we should try and preserve a sense of reality and justice!!!” echoed a student. “Do you understand the danger of cancelling (postponing) lessons on Dostoevsky? Do you think students areincapable of distinguishing things that are not in the least bit commensurate to each other?” asked another. “The act of censorship is gravely somber: what do we do, erase Russian culture from European history?” wrote a teacher.


The writer Alessandro Robecchi: “Bicocca University cancels Paolo Nori on Dostoevsky “to avoid controversy at a time of great tension. To censor a writer who has been dead for 200 years, and a living one who tells us about him is a shameful infamy, which will remain forever in the history of the university”.
Russian-born writer Nicolai Lilin wrote on Facebook: “We are expecting excommunications and inquisitorial trials by the prigs who are now digging trenches so deep that they lost any connection, even the feeblest, with lucidity. Beauty will triumph and will save the world, but many will remain buried in those trenches, from which they now foment hatred”.

This is indeed serious stuff.
Bicocca’s decision to silence anything Russian because of the war devalued the art of Fyodor Dostoevsky (and indeed culture itself, at its highest and immortal) by downgrading it to a stack of expendable notions to be subordinated to the need to “prevent and avoid any form of controversy”, even if remotely possible, and even if conducted by a bunch of ignorant fools.
Such a position intensifies the shallow sentiment (and social posture) that contemplates censorship as a pacifying solution. It promotes an aseptical and acritical trivialization of all fundamental issues; halts thinking and understanding by means of decontextualizing history, art, language and all academical studies, basically to avoid trouble.

Universities were born to do exactly the opposite! They were created to be, and luckily most indeed are, havens of knowledge that teach how to look at the world from different, broader perspectives, not barracks that narrow the landscape by substracting angles and blocking views.
Some of us liked to think that such penchant to please lobbies and clients at all cost concerned US campuses only, US society, their traditional and now social media with their crazy algorithmic reward systems souring political-correctness into over-righteous cancel culture: sadly, we must acknowledge that American universities (and Canadian, where Concordia and Ottawa universities recently weathered analogous incidents) are only maybe a bit further ahead on the slippery slope, but that the same humus is already everywhere, all around us, and that we may be tragically unaware of its insidious, anesthetic smog.
Our societies were built upon the values of freedom, not conformity. We praise diversity, not single-mindedness. Cancel culture has a lot more to do with control and acquiescence then justice.
We should fight quietude and homogeneity, aspire to reality and its beautiful complexities, refuse lazy, easy hypocrisy, and embrace difficult endeavors, particularly when mutual understanding is our goal, and our duty, ultimately, is peace for all.