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Lithuanian Culture Center Nixes Russian Army Choir's Concert

  • RFE/RL

The choir of the Alexandrov Ensemble of the Russian Army performs during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Budapest Jewish ghetto in the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest on January 18.

The choir of the Alexandrov Ensemble of the Russian Army performs during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Budapest Jewish ghetto in the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest on January 18.

A planned concert by the Russian armed forces' official choir, known as the Alexandrov Ensemble, has been canceled in Lithuania because of what the venue's director called "ideological connotations."

The director of the culture center in the northeastern Lithuanian city of Visaginas, Danute Morkuniene, said on October 23 that organizers failed to inform her of the so-called Red Army Choir's participation when an initial agreement was concluded.

She said the cancelation was based on the "ideological connotations of the choir's program."

"The attitude to the Soviet soldiers is different in our country," Morkuniene said, adding that "the ensemble is a successor of the Soviet times."

The Baltic states -- Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- officially call their time within the Soviet Union a "Soviet occupation" and all have since joined both the European Union and NATO.

They have also expressed strong concern over Russia's actions in neighboring Ukraine and an apparent increase in Russian military activities in close proximity to their NATO and EU partners.

A performance in the Czech capital last week of the Alexandrov Ensemble attracted a minor protest outside the concert hall by activists angry over Russia's actions in Crime and text in the performance hailing the "little green men" who helped occupy Crimea ahead of its forced annexation in March 2014. They called the Alexandrov's work "the music of war and occupation."

Inside the Prague concert, a small group of protesters holding Ukrainian, NATO, and EU flags tried to disrupt the show but were quickly escorted out.

Earlier this week, Polish media quoted local activists as saying that they planned protests against Alexandrov Ensemble concerts scheduled for Poland in November.

The troupe also plans to perform in Latvia on December 8 and Estonia on December 9.

The Alexandrov Ensemble is touring Eastern European capitals that the Soviet Army liberated from the Nazis in 1945 in a project it says is devoted to marking "The 70th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War."

The ensemble introduced a song last year that invoked a phrase used by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu around the time of the Crimean invasion to refer to the occupying troops, titled Polite People.

President Vladimir Putin denied at the time that Russian troops were involved in sieges of government buildings and military facilities in Crimea but later acknowledged their presence, and even said he had ordered preparations for the seizure of Crimea at an overnight meeting with military advisers nearly a month before its takeover.

A subsequent United Nations vote maintained Crimea's status as part of Ukraine, and Kyiv and Western governments have condemned Russia's involvement in the ongoing conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian armed forces in Ukraine's east.

With reporting by Delfi.lt and Interfax
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