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Ukrainian Art: Another Damage of the War, Part II
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June 27, 2022

Hardly any declaration of war against Russian culture

Dostojevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak, Pushkin, Nabokov, Turgenev, icons of Russian literature, breathing the soul of mother Russia, the depth of heavy historical burdens and despair, touched by nostalgia for Holy, Imperial Russia and cruelty of dictators like Stalin, the national conscience and pride wounded by invasions of Nazi Germany and Napoleon. Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, revelations of sensuality and musical power, anchored in history, for now, and eternal, music sheets blowing like flags, craving for grandeur.

Now, all this culture is threatened to be erased, burned like books in Hitler’s early days,   menaced by evil forces, heirs of fascist hordes which follow Hitler’s traces. Vladimir Putin, the self-righteous President, set the tone when he ordered leading cultural figures to join him in the Kremlin some weeks ago. He forced them to listen to yet another reason, why he has to unleash cruise missiles and turn brotherly Ukraine into dust- Russia is engaged in a cultural war against the  West. 

 “Today, they try to cancel a thousand years old country”. He said without blinking an eye. (“Aljazeera”, March, 25, 2022) Russian composers were excluded from concerts in the nasty West, and books by Russian authors were banned. “The proverbial “cancel culture” has become a cancellation of culture. , He insisted the President who tries to play the piano at times. “The last time such a mass campaign to destroy unwanted literature was carried out was by the   Nazis in Germany almost 90 years ago…books were burned right on the squares. ” Ajazeera, march 25, 2022)”.

The refusal to read a Russian author, or listen to Rubinstein on the piano, is the reaction of a few, irritated, angered by Russian war crimes. There is not, there should not be any comparison:  Germany considered communist,  Jewish, socialist, pacifist, anarchist authors, and even sexologists as “Volksverraeter”, traitors of the Reich. Their books were burned and the works of some of the greatest minds of history, Albert Einstein Karl Marx. Those who could not escape in the 1930s, ended like books, without pity or remorse.

Jewish music teachers were driven out of their profession,  Jewish singers and conductors escaped to the US or Cuba. “I am talking about the progressive discrimination against everything connected with Russia,” Putin complained, “about this trend that is unfolding in a number of Western states, with the full connivance and sometimes with the encouragement of Western elites.”  In his younger years, Mr. Putin worked as a KGB spy. He knows perfectly well that no one in the US or Europe has been imprisoned for being a devoted follower of  Tchaikovski,  applauding the dancers of the Kirov Ballet . Or reading  Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment or Doktor Zhivago.

Since Putin decided to defeat and conquer Ukraine, no books of Tolstoi or Dostoevsky were burned on the Place Dauphine in Paris, in Hyde Park of London, or under the Brandenburg Gate of Berlin, only in Putin’s imagination. Yes,  musicians of  Cardiff’s  Philharmonic Orchestra did not feel of embracing  Tchaikovsky’s  1812 Overture- a celebration of Russia’ s fight against Napoleon’ s invasion  including a volley of cannon fire;- for the musicians a piece of inappropriate music in the days Ukraine is struggling for survival (“London Evening Standard” March, 11, 2022).

The  orchestra's title, “Little Russian”, of Symphony No 2, deemed offensive to Ukrainians. The Cardiff Philharmonic will play, as programmed for the rest of the year, works by Rachmaninov and Prokofiev, famous Russian composers. . Though de temps en temps basic humanity takes precedent over art and history, it must be acceptable. Spain’s Teatro Real canceled performances by Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet, which did promise Putin to stage performances in support of Russia’s “military operation” in Ukraine, with the profit given to the families of Russian war deaths.

The National Gallery in London renamed Degas’ “Russian dancers “ to “Ukrainian dancers” once experts did determine that the depicted dancers were wearing  Ukrainian traditional folk dresses . Hardly any declaration of war against Russian culture. Nevertheless, Putin, reported the” New York Times”(March 30, 2022) “ lashed out at Western leaders for what he described  as a campaign to cancel Russian culture and history, saying that composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov were being removed from programs, even though the vast majority of orchestras and opera houses in the West have continued to prominently feature Russian works and artists. That night, after Putin s fake news  cascade, noted the “New York Times”, the New York Metropolitan Opera opened a revival of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”, featuring Russian, Ukrainian, American , French Armenien, Polish and Estonian artists.”

Yes, admitted: two icons of opera music, two Russians, two allies of Putin, more or less, have been punished for their  collaboration with the Russian leader, conductor Valery Gergiev, and Anna Netrebko, a world star, a diva, based in Austria, and over decades the most admired soprano at New York’s Met.

For years the conductor  Valery Gergiev,Russia’s most powerful musician, “avidly embraced Vladimir Putin, and suffered nothing for it”, wrote Alex Ross in the “New Yorker”.(March 3, 2022) He endorsed the annexation of the Crimea, admired Putin’s capacity to instill fear, and was ready to promote the greatness of his friend, whom he met in the early 1990s when Putin was still an official in St Petersburg, and Mr. Gergiev began his tenure as the leader of the “Marinsky”, then known as Kirov. The Maestro was in demand, conducting in Salzburg, Bayreuth, and from  2007 to 2015, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

“ This senseless war of aggression”

Gergiev was removed from his job as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, which he led for seven years, when he refused, as demanded by the local mayor, the financier of the state institution, to denounce Putin and his invasion ”New York Times” (March, 1, 2022). Anna Netrebko, married to a Russian tenor, also declined to denounce the Russian PPresident for his dramatic, and brutal invasion. The Metropolitan Opera decided to replace the diva in her role in “Turandot” with a  Ukrainian soprano, Lindmyla Monastyrsko, and cancel Netrebko’s season in New York.

Other opera houses, Munich, Zurich, scrapped upcoming appearances of the Russian diva as well. The singer supported Putin publicly in elections, and she was photographed with a flag used by Ukraine separatists in Ukraine. Days later, many performances were canceled, and the singer again explained her position:”

 I have said I am opposed to this senseless war of aggression, and I am calling on Russia to end this war right now, to save all of us. We need peace right now.”Again, no critical word on Putin, whom she hardly ever met, the soprano insisted(“New York Times”, March 30, 2022). The general manager of the Met Peter Gelb, was not impressed:” The Met stands by its position that artists who support Putinare not going to be allowed to perform at the Met. “Asked about Mrs Netrebko suddenly opposing the war:” In the case  of somebody ,who is so closely associated with Putin, denouncing the war is not enough”. Before the Met performed  Verdi’s “Don Carlos”, the orchestra played the Ukrainian National Anthem.Gelb: “We are cancelling Putin, not Pushkin.”

 At the end of last year , Vladimir Putin toured the Moscow “GES-2” Museum alongside Leonid Mikhelson ,one of the nation's wealthiest business men, who financed the  multimillion-dollar, Renzo Piano construction. Now the walls are empty, the space designed for greatness, competition with the London based Tate Modern lost in silence. ”It is not the time  for contemporary art when people are dying, and blood is spilling”, explained  Russian artist Evgeny Antufiev  his decision to withdraw from an exhibition shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, “we can ‘t pretend that life is normal.”(“Guardian”, April 17, 2022

)We need to end this illusion that things will get back to how they were before the war. Drinking cocktails at art openings as people are being killed, feels criminal.”The manager of GES- 2, Francesco Monacorda, resigned after the war started:” I imagine that (exhibiting anti-war work)is out of the question. , -Making an anti-war statement has legal consequences- a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading “fake news” about the military in Ukraine.

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