Cracking Down on the Arts in Russia

With the recent arrest of prominent Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov on embezzlement charges, the spotlight is on the plight of Russia’s artistic community. However, this crackdown on the arts community in Russia is far from new. Here are five more examples of the Russian authorities’ attack on the artistic community in recent years:

1.Pussy Riot (2012)

On 21 February 2012, three members of Russian feminist punk band ‘Pussy Riot’ performed in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, condemning the relationship between the Church and State. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samusevich were subsequently arrested and subjected to a show trial which captured the world’s attention. They were found guilty of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ and sentenced to two years imprisonment (Samusevich was released on appeal). Nadya and Maria served 21 months in prison before they were released.

2.“Tannhäuser” at the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theater (2015)

Following the premiere of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” at the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theater in December 2014, a senior Russian Orthodox Church Official lodged a complaint against the performance. It was claimed that the production ‘insulted the religious feelings of believers’ for its portrayal of Jesus. The director of the performance and head of the theater were charged with ‘intentional public desecration of objects of religious worship’. The charges were later dropped.

3. Oleg Sentsov (2015)

In 2015, Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges. Sentsov was accused of planning terrorist acts in Crimea which was annexed by Russia in 2014. Many regard his imprisonment as an attempt by the Russian authorities to silence dissent against Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Sentsov remains in prison and has alleged to have been tortured by the Russian authorities during his time in detention.

4. “Nureyev” at the Bolshoi Theatre (2017)

In July this year, the Bolshoi Theatre cancelled the premiere of its show concerning dancer Rudolf Nureyev at the last minute. Officially, the premiere (directed by Serebrennikov) was cancelled as it was “not ready”. However, many believe that the true reason for its cancellation was its themes of homosexuality. In 2013, Russia introduced the so-called ‘gay propaganda law’ which prohibits the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ among minors.

5. Moscow Premiere (2015)

In 2015, Moscow City Council removed funding for independent film festival ‘Moscow Premiere’, citing economic troubles. The festival had ran for the past twelve years. Many regarded the cancellation of the festival as another clamp down on artistic expression. The festival was known for its ‘radical’ themes.



Human Rights Watch, ‘Dispatches: Opera on Trial in Siberia’ (10 March 2015)

The Guardian, ‘Russian court jails Ukrainian film-maker for 20 years over terror offences’ (25 August 2015)

The Guardian, ‘Shock as Bolshoi cancels world premiere of Nureyev ballet’ (09 July 2017)

The Guardian, ‘Radical Moscow film festival cancelled in favour of Putin-backed replacement’ (27 August 2015)

Amnesty International, ‘Russia: Release punk singers held after performance in church’ (03 April 2012)





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