More than 2,500 Novosibirsk Residents Demand Moscow Reverse Its Obscurantist Policies

April 6, 2015
Thousands rally in Novosibirsk against censorship of the arts April 5, 2015. Photo by Anton Karliner/Meduza

Staunton, April 6Between 2,500 and 5,000 residents of Novosibirsk staged a demonstration yesterday to demand that Moscow follow the principles of the Russian Constitution and allow artistic and other freedoms instead of pursuing what is an increasingly obscurantist, reactionary and authoritarian policy.

The meeting sparked by the Tannhauser case called for that play to be restored to the repertoire and for the government to sack Culture Minister Medinsky who has been the point man for the Russian Orthodox Church’s efforts to impose its version of political correctness on the country.

The meeting adopted a resolution, for which signatures continue to be sought, and a letter to Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials. A translation of the resolution is given below:

We citizens of Russia and residents of Novosibirsk, concerned by the cultural situation in the country and the violation of Article 44 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation which guarantees freedom of literary, artistic, scientific, technical and other kinds of creativity express our anger at the persecution of theater workers of the city of Novosibirsk, the activity of radically inclined citizens directed at the blocking of cultural measures, and efforts by representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and a number of other political figures to introduce censorship of artistic creativity.

Particular groups of citizens cannot speak for all residents. About 8,000 people attended performances of Tannhauser, a number that exceeds that of those taking part in meetings against its showing. At the same time, the decision about the fate of the play was taken without any account of the opinion of the audience and the theater community. The Novosibirsk State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet is the property of society, and we demand that in the process of taking key decisions, the point of view of all sides be considered.

1. Freedom of Creativity and Censorship. We consider that the removal of the opera Tannhauser from the repertoire of the Novosibirsk theater and the firing of theater director Boris Mezdrich are steps which create a dangerous precedent for the further introduction of censorship in the entire country.

We consider any attempts at censorship of creativity as impermissible. We consider that it is necessary to revise Article 148 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation which governs “violations of the right to freedom of conscience and belief’ to bring it into correspondent with the principle of legal clarity. No category of citizens must have greater rights to the defense of their feelings than do others since this contradicts the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The use of Article 148 as an instrument of censorship is absolutely unacceptable.”

2. The Ministry of Culture and the Novosibirsk State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet. The director of the theater Boris Mezdrich was removed by Minister Vladimir Medinsky as a result of the pressure of activists the majority of whom had not seen the performance. In taking this decision, the culture minister ignored both the opinion of the audience and the professional community and the decision of the court. He shows his lack of respect to the theater community and the opinion of citizens and considers actions limiting freedom of creativity as permissible. Such decisions encourage aggression toward arts workers and viewers from the side of religious fanatics and also deprecate and discredit the decisions of the court. We demand the resignation of Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

We are convinced that the appointment of Vladimir Kekhman to the position of director of the Novosibirsk State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet who has a doubtful reputation (in particular his having been accused of massive fraud) and not having made any serious contributions to the culture of the Russian Federation will bring harm that cannot be corrected to the reputation of the theater. We demand the resignation of Vladimir Kekhman and a public discussion of candidates for a new director with the direct participation of the unjustifiably removed Boris Medrich.

3. Church and State. We are upset by the fact that the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation in this conflict about the Tannhauser opera supported the church and radical groups and not the public which has clearly and uniformly expressed its attitude toward the case. The position of the Ministry of Culture concerning the results of the public hearings of March 13, 2015, bears a categorically one-sided character. We are concerned by the methods which the Novosibirsk metropolitanate is using for the defense of its interests. A radicalization of movements linked to the church which can lead to religious extremism is taking place. Religious activists are expressing their dissatisfaction by means which are unacceptable for secular ethics and morality, which do not correspond to the principles of law, and which express an extreme lack of respect to society and its opponents.

Novosibirsk is a city of science and culture, and we its residents deserve respect for our opinion, our values, and our cultural dignity. We respect the rights of religious believers and those who follow none as long as we preserve for each the right to free creativity.