Olga Zeveleva
August 2017.

Prominent Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov has been arrested by Russian authorities. What is going on?

4 answers

I think my reaction is best described as angry and fed up. The cultural conservatives, who hold power in Russia and have for some time, continue to wage war against diversity, against experimentation, against an approach to art and to life that posits honesty, integrity and inquisitiveness as indispensable. It is not, as the authorities call it, a case of embezzlement. Such charges are laughable and easily disproved. In fact, we have been moving toward this day for four or five years now. We have seen innumerable signs that this was coming. The authorities continue to demand "traditionalism" and loyalty; some in the artistic community fight back, but the power of authority is great, and it keeps marginalizing the efforts of some brave and independent artists. Then there is a whole other problem - this situation is extremely complex - that many in the arts community will be happy to remain silent as long as the whip misses them. The arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov is a hard and awful day.

Obviously there is little that the international community can do other than to make noise. It will soon be necessary to make noise. But I believe strongly that this must be done in an organized way. Obviously any voice of support for Kirill and the others who are implicated in this trumped-up case, will fall on grateful ears. But in order to actually influence the course of affairs in some way, organization will be needed. There is a good committee of activists in Russia who have been responding to this case for months now. I would expect some leads to come from them. Anyone interested in this situation - and anyone interested in art, politics, and freedom of expression must be interested - should keep an eye on what is coming out of Russia by way of Facebook (a tremendous tool in Russia) and the press. I will be following this on my Facebook page and website, but I will hardly be alone. Become a part of the community and respond when the time comes. I would expect that to be not far off. 

I got the bad news and was concerned, and was sad that Kirill Serebrennikov has been forced to interrupt his artistic work (which should have brought him in September to the Stuttgart Opera, for a staging of "Hänsel und Gretel"). It is always highly problematic and a dangerous approach to the work and freedom of an artist when his file gets on the desk of the procuratorate. It would be a gesture of respect for the arts and for Kirill Serebrennikov and the Gogol Theater if the authorities allowed him to continue his work, even if this might not be in their sense nor interest. Indeed, it happens often that political reasons cannot be excluded (and a view back on the international history of "artists brought in the dock" shows the dominance of political backgrounds). I am afraid, however, to remark that, if we're realists, the obvious solidarity of an international film society can't achieve much, as in the case of Oleg Sentsov; but we all can follow the events incessantly and attentively, as we do in the case of Oleg Sentsov, and can so make clear that everything that happens with Kirill Serebrennikov happens under the watchful eyes of the international community.

I was shocked to read of Kirill Serebrennikov's arrest, particularly since at least one of the accusations seems truly bizarre (that A Midsummer Night's Dream was never staged, and the funds simply syphoned off -- a quick search of the Internet with limited date parameters, 1 Jan. 2012-31 Dec. 2012, produces dozens of references, including a video on Youtube loaded by RIA-Novosti on 20 November 2012). Mr Serebrennikov is a renowned theatre director, and the case against him and the Gogol Centre has been criticised by leading figures from the art world across Russia. I trust that the legal proceedings will swiftly be terminated.

As for the international community, my sense is that cases such as this require protest and decisive criticism, but I am against boycotts, which damage the entire artistic community in Russia and elsewhere. I have had close contacts with Russia back to Soviet times, and it was always accepted back then that cultural contacts should persist during times of political tension -- indeed, that they were more than ever necessary at such times.

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