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Top Russian Official 'Ashamed' Of Culture Crackdown, Quits Ministry

  • Claire Bigg

Yevgeny Savostyanov no longer wants to work with the Culture Ministry.

Yevgeny Savostyanov no longer wants to work with the Culture Ministry.

A prominent Russian public figure has slammed the country's culture minister for overseeing a deepening crackdown on artists critical of authorities, quitting a ministerial commission in protest.

Yevgeny Savostyanov, the head of Russia's Coordination Council on Intellectual Property Protection, said in an open letter that he was "ashamed" of Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky and no longer wished to work with his ministry.

In his letter, addressed to Medinsky, Savostyanov resigned from both the ministry's board and its public council.

"The reason for this decision is the stance that you and the Culture Ministry have taken on a range of important matters of public interests, as well as some of your public statement and remarks for which I am ashamed," he wrote.

The letter criticized Medinsky's refusal to fund Russia's prestigious festival of independent film, ArtdokFest, on the grounds that its president, Vitaly Mansky, made too many "antigovernment remarks."

"It will not receive any money as long as I am culture minister," Medinsky said in November.

Savostyanov, a former FSB official and deputy chief of the Kremlin staff, condemned Medinsky and his ministry for turning a blind eye to the frequent disruptions of concerts, exhibitions, and shows of artists critical of the government.

He also lamented the eviction of Teatr.doc, a well-known independent experimental theater in Moscow.

Theater Stormed

In December, the theater was forced out of its premises after losing an appeal against the decision of Moscow authorities to end a 12-year rental agreement.

Despite protests by Russia's art community and the intercession of Western theater heavyweights such as the Soviet-born U.S. director Aleksandr Gelman and the Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard, Moscow authorities remained deaf to its pleas.

Teatr.doc had staged plays critical of President Vladimir Putin and his politics, including on migration and nationalism.

In late December, police stormed the theater during the screening of a documentary film about Ukraine's pro-European Euromaidan movement, citing a bomb threat. They seized stage props and detained several theater staff.

The Culture Ministry then asked the theater to give a formal explanation for the screening and submit its documents for inspection.

"When the minister said he would not grant funds to Mansky for his ArtdokFest, I made amends by becoming a sponsor of the festival," Savostyanov told Interfax. "But when the story with Teatr.doc began, I thought: 'Why should I bear such mental costs?'"

Savostyanov told Interfax that he had been considering parting ways with the ministry since January 2014, when Medinsky publicly clashed with Daniil Granin, one of the country's oldest and most respected writers.

Medinsky had dismissed Granin's book about the siege of Leningrad during World War II as a "pack of lies."

The minister had poured particular scorn on Granin's assertion that the city's party elite did not go hungry during the siege and ate delicacies that were inaccessible to the rest of the population while an estimated 1 million Leningrad residents starved to death.

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to​