Accessibility links

Interview: Russian Official Who Quit Ministry Warns Of Cultural 'Isolationism'


Yevgeny Savostyanov (pictured) quit the Culture Ministry this past week, saying he was "ashamed" of Minister Vladimir Medinsky's policies.

Yevgeny Savostyanov (pictured) quit the Culture Ministry this past week, saying he was "ashamed" of Minister Vladimir Medinsky's policies.

Yevgeny Savostyanov, the head of Russia's Coordination Council on Intellectual Property Protection, says the country is heading toward an era of cultural "isolationism" where artists who don't toe the Kremlin line will be muzzled. Savostyanov made waves this week when he quit the Culture Ministry, saying he was "ashamed" of Minister Vladimir Medinsky's policies. He spoke with RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Lilya Palveleva.

RFE/RL: Your open letter, in which you resigned from the Culture Ministry's board and public council, was addressed to Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky himself. Has he responded?

Savostyanov: I don't know, he hasn't called me, we haven't spoken. Besides, I think my open letter was quite clear. What else is there to discuss? I remain hopeful that this will help rectifying the course and that we will see some steps by the ministry to protect cultural workers. But so far, nothing....

The first example that comes to mind is that some people are reportedly seeking to ban our Oscar nominee, [Leviathan] by Andrei Zvyagintsev, from being shown in Russia, and the Culture Ministry remains silent. Instead, it should be seizing the opportunity and declaring that "No, there will be no more bans! No more prohibiting works from being shows at exhibitions, in cinemas, and on stage, regardless of whether some don't appreciate them."...

If you don't like it then don't go and see it. It's your lawful right, you can even hold demonstrations and rallies against this film or that show. But don't disrupt them, don't interfere.

If you don't like it then don't go and see it. It's your lawful right, you can even hold demonstrations and rallies against this film or that show. But don't disrupt them, don't interfere. But Vladimir Medinsky, perhaps implicitly, personally encourages this radical line in culture ministry officials. And this has a negative impact on the freedom of expression of artists.

RFE/RL: How do you explain Medinsky's conduct? Is he displaying contempt for a certain type of art or simply a lack of professionalism

Savostyanov: He is generally quite professional. He is very well versed in theater and feature films. I've dealt with him on film-related issues and I can say that he is an interesting, clever interlocutor. I think it has to do with his personal tastes; I believe he has a very conservative stance. And never mind his personal conservatism. But his other stance is that everything else should be given no support....

So the odd situation emerges when he says that money will not be allocated to a film festival because its director adheres to a particular point of view. Why? We all pay taxes, regardless of our ideological views. Why should some people be sidelined and others not?

RFE/RL: You are familiar with the inner workings of the culture ministry. Do you think the ministry will continue tightening the screws on independent artists?

Savostyanov: I'd like to be mistaken, but I believe it will. As we move further toward isolationism, it will impact the cultural and ideological sphere, too. We already went through this in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. I myself worked in the cabinet of [leading Soviet communist ideologue] Mikhail Suslov, so I'm very familiar with this atmosphere and I think it's a huge step back. We haven't seen anything like this since 1986-87....

There is a "right" worldview and there is a "wrong" worldview that is seen [by some] as hostile and to be banned.

Due to certain circumstances, I am currently reading newspapers from that time, and I see how the tone of articles changed from 1987. We are returning to the state of affairs during the stagnation years, before the death of [Soviet Communist Party head Yury] Andropov.

RFE/RL: The difference was that the Communist Party was then in power, whereas now the ruling party is United Russia.

Savostyanov: It makes no difference; what things are called is irrelevant. There is a "right" worldview and there is a "wrong" worldview that is seen as hostile and to be banned. The worldviews that please the minister will be encouraged; those that don't will be harassed. Films with a certain type of content will not be supported or financed, film festivals will receive no funding, theaters and performances will be shut down, Cossacks and Orthodox activists will be allowed to disrupt museums exhibitions. This pressure first leads to ideological self-censorship and eventually grows into censorship.

XS
SM
MD
LG