As Brian Whitmore noted yesterday, some people in Russia’s arts community are taking some brave public stands against the authorities. Rocker Yury Shevchuk ended his concert tirade with a strong appeal for action: “Everything depends on you. The type of song you sing determines what kind of country we will have. Everything is in your hands, guys.”
And popular actor Aleksei Devotchenko has a similar "get-off-your-asses" message for Russia's cultural elite. He has posted on his blog an appeal to artists around the country to stop being so servile. It is a bold statement that will undoubtedly spell the end of his official career in Russia. And it is worth translating in full:
Can We Do Anything?
Dear friends and colleagues, actors, musicians, artists! On March 20 in many Russian cities there will be a national protest action against the criminal, deeply depraved, and cynical regime that was established in our country 10 years ago. Many of us, I think, support the demands and arguments that will be voiced on March 20. But at the same time we are shrugging our shoulders: “Can we do anything? Should we also go out into the streets?”
I believe it is a personal choice for everyone whether to go out or not. After all, doing so is by no means obligatory. Some will feel the urge to do so and others won’t. We are all different in terms of our convictions, our temperaments, our psychological and physical makeup. But there are things that can unite us in our drive to resist the shameful situation that has taken shape in Russia. Understanding fully the naivety of my suggestions, I nonetheless present them here. What can people who have tied their fates to art and culture do?
Refuse to take part in scenes in ultra-patriotic, propagandistic, chauvinistic, anti-Semitic, or pro-Stalinist feature films and television projects;
Refuse to take part in recording soundtracks for semi-official, agitprop documentaries and clips;
Refuse to participate in any theatricized celebrations organized by the Kremlin, St. Petersburg’s city hall, the United Russia party, and so on;
Refuse to participate in any broadcasts by the lying and tendentious television channels Channel One, Rossiya, NTV, or Moscow’s TV Tsentr;
Refuse to show up at high-society receptions and banquets attended by “public servants”;
Refuse to take part in government shows at all levels and, even more importantly, in the corporate celebrations of such monsters as the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry, LUKoil, Gazprom, and so on;
Refuse to participate in ceremonies to congratulate governors and mayors on their birthdays, anniversaries, on the births of grandchildren, and so on;
Refuse to give interviews to pro-Putin/Medvedev print media.
This list, of course, could go on. Of course, many of you will ask: “How are we going to earn a living? You know what they pay in theaters that aren’t servile to the authorities.” I know – 7,000 to 10,000 rubles a month maximum. I also know that for 10 minutes at some sort of Kremlin party you can earn as much as you’d make working in a theater for a year. I also know that many of you will shrug and say, “Money doesn’t stink.” Well, I think this money DOES stink – it smells of dank prison cells, of neglected hospitals and homeless shelters, of the acrid smoke of burnt-out architectural monuments and historical buildings and night clubs and homes for the elderly. It smells of the boots of the OMON riot police.
As for earning money…. There are many honest, professional means and this isn’t a secret to anyone. You can earn your way with solo concert programs; you can create original plays based on high dramaturgy that has been tested by time; you can appear in films that have no ideological or propagandistic subtext; you can take part in radio productions or the dubbing of foreign films, although this work is getting scarce.
Excuse me, please, for taking the liberty of writing all this, but God knows it is not a declaration or a manual for action. It is just my (and only my) personal appeal to everyone among us in the cultural sphere.
And maybe we can answer the banal and trite Soviet-era question, “Whose side are you on, Mr. Master of Culture?” A master of culture is always on the side of his audience, of his culture, and of his conscience. Thank you for your attention. For Your Freedom; For Our Freedom.
Of course, many prominent Russian cultural figures from filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov to sculptor Zurab Tsereteli long ago threw in their lot with the Putin government and its ideology. In March 2005, in the wake of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, RFE/RL's "Newsline" ran this item:
Deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov earlier this month held a closed-door meeting with leading Russian rock musicians, during which he asked them not to participate in events that could provoke "an orange revolution" in Russia, "The Moscow Times" reported on 31 March. Some participants in the meeting, which took place at a Moscow hotel, told the daily that Surkov, the Kremlin's chief ideologue, did not conceal his concern that Russia could see a repetition of recent events in Ukraine, where rock musicians played an important role in rallying Ukrainian youth in support of the Orange Revolution. Surkov said the authorities would like to be able to count on the support of the musicians, but added that they should at least remain neutral in the event of an uprising, "The Moscow Times" reported. Prominent rock stars Boris Grebenshchikov, Sergei Shnurov, Vyacheslav Butusov, and Zemphira attended the meeting, according to the daily. Meanwhile, on 29 March, Surkov told a meeting of the Unified Russia Duma faction that he "is categorically opposed to the introduction of a parliamentary system in Russia, as it could lead to the disintegration of the country," newsru.com reported.
Now lines are being drawn, and Russian artists are being asked again whether Russia wants "A Man Like Putin." Perhaps Western entertainers, like President Dmitry Medvedev's beloved Deep Purple or Scorpians, will have to make choices too.