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Moscow Theater Probed For Allegedly Insulting War Veterans

Actor Liya Akhedzhakova performs in a scene from a production of The First Bread at the Sovremennik theater.

The head of the Russian Investigative Committee has ordered a probe into complaints that a production by the prominent Moscow theater Sovremennik (Contemporary) was insulting to World War II veterans.

The committee said in a statement on July 29 that the move was made after "complaints by representatives of society and media reports."

"Society's negative reaction has been a result of not only the use by the theater's actors of swear words in one of their performances, but also a number of people think that veterans [of World War II] were insulted," the statement said, adding that one of the main duties of the Investigative Committee is to protect the rights of war veterans.

The statement did not mention the specific performance in question, but many in Russia believe it concerns the theater's performance of the play, The First Bread.

Last week, media reports said that the Kremlin-backed Officers of Russia nongovernmental organization had sent "numerous" complaints to the Prosecutor-General's Office, the theater's leadership, and the Moscow Mayor's Office, saying the play was "offensive" because it had an "excessive use of swear words" and "blatant propaganda of same-sex love."

The group, which brings together army veterans, also says that a monologue by a character played by the popular actress Liya Akhedzhakova contains phrases that insult war veterans. The Ukrainian-born Akhedzhakova is an outspoken Kremlin critic who has openly condemned Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.

Two days after the reports about the complaints were published on July 21, the theater said it changed the monologue of the character played by Akhedzhakova in the play, eliminating the swear words from it.

In 2013, Russia approved a controversial law banning any content that presents “distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations." Rights groups see the legislation as the de facto outlawing of LGBT activism.

The Kremlin has recently used the pretext of "insulting" war veterans as a tool to suppress dissent. In February, jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny was ordered to pay a hefty fine for "defaming" a World War II veteran who appeared in a video in 2020 advocating the removal of presidential term limits.

The First Bread performance was based on a play by Rinat Tashimov and staged by Polish director Benjamin Kotz.

The Sovremennik theater was founded in the late 1950s by a group of young Soviet actors during the Khrushchev Thaw. Dozens of actors who were extremely popular in the former Soviet Union started their careers at the Sovremennik.

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