The assault on Ukraine leads to talk of a Russian “cultural revolution”

Moscow Provincial Theater actor and director Sergey Bezrukov speaks during an interview at his theater in Moscow on July 15, 2022. (Photo by Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

by Marina LAPENKOVA
Agence France-Presse

MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) – Actor Sergei Bezrukov says the world has had enough of “liberal values” and hopes that Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine and foreign sanctions can help Russian culture chart its own path.

Bezrukov is among the artistic figures who say Moscow should exploit the country’s growing isolation to purify Russian culture of Western influence and promote conservative values ​​including patriotism and the Orthodox faith.

“We have to take advantage of the isolation to reconnect with our traditions,” said in an interview with AFP Bezrukov, one of Russia’s most famous artists.

Instead of looking up to Hollywood, Russia should build its own cultural space, he said.

“We have lived in the Marvel Universe for 30 years,” said the 48-year-old actor and director, referring to the American film industry.

“It’s time to create our own,” Bezrukov told the Gubernsky Theater in Moscow, of which he is artistic director.

“Returning to the USSR is impossible, but we can try to restore confidence in Russia,” added Bezrukov, who was recently slapped with EU sanctions for his support for the Kremlin’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Over the years, President Vladimir Putin has established himself as the guardian of traditional Russian values ​​such as heterosexual marriage and religion, and has repeatedly claimed that Western liberal values ​​have become obsolete.

Since the start of the Moscow offensive in Ukraine, the authorities have redoubled their efforts to break with Western values, and many artists say art should be the main channel for these attempts.

“Russia is on the verge of a conservative revolution,” said theater producer and director Eduard Boyakov, who is a supporter of what he calls Russia’s “sacred war” in Ukraine.

– Blacklisted artists –
After the start of the assault on Ukraine, numerous artists, including director Kirill Serebrennikov and actress Chulpan Khamatova, left Russia.

Those still in the country are under increasing pressure to support intervention in Ukraine.

Several fiercely pro-Kremlin figures, including Sergei Mironov and Zakhar Prilepin, co-presidents of the political party A Just Russia, have launched what they have dubbed a struggle against the “anti-state position” of Russian cultural elites.

They asked the head of the Bolshoi Theater, Vladimir Urin, to fire 30-year-old director Alexander Molochnikov for his allegedly anti-patriotic stance or to be fired himself.

Many anti-Kremlin figures are no longer able to stage performances in Russia.

“More than one hundred musical shows have been canceled since February,” Alexei Kozin, head of Navigator Records, a leading Russian music label specializing in rock, told AFP.

Kozin, who lives in Russia, said the unofficial “blacklist” currently consists of about 40 names, including Yury Shevchuk, a legendary rock musician who accused the Kremlin of “killing” young Russians and Ukrainians during a concert. in May.

In June, Moscow authorities announced a change of leadership in three of the capital’s best theaters.

The Gogol Center theater, transformed by Serebrennikov into a bastion of artistic freedom, has been closed.

“The authorities no longer want provocative art. They prefer quiet, reliable and even boring art, “Gogol Center playwright Valery Pecheikin, who is still in Russia, told AFP.

“Consequently, the theater will return to the great classics, the cinema to the bright comedies and the museums to the exhibitions that do not reserve surprises,” he added.

– ‘Total cleaning’ –
The exhibits have already been hit too.

In April, the Tretyakov Gallery pulled the plug from the Russian-American artist Grisha Bruskin’s exhibition devoted to ideologies. The gallery cited “technical reasons” for the closure of the exhibition initially scheduled for July.

Olga Andreeva of the conservative weekly expert evoked “an eternal struggle” between Slavophiles and Westernizers, two schools of thought in 19th-century Russia.

“We are now seeing a new round of this battle,” he told AFP. “Society is radically changing”.

Putin himself sets the tone.

In a chilling speech in March, Putin called for the “self-purification” of society and said the Russians will spit out “scum and traitors” who make money in Russia but prefer to live in the West.

In July, he agreed to lead a new patriotic movement reminiscent of Soviet-era youth organizations.

At the end of June, Russia presented a new 100-ruble banknote.

In a sign of the times, Apollo, the Greek god of music and poetry who previously featured on the note riding a chariot atop the Bolshoi Theater, has been replaced with an image of a monument to the Unknown Soldier.

Marina Davydova, chief editor of Teatr magazine, whose publication has been suspended, compared the pro-Kremlin figures to “hongweibings” who helped Mao Zedong suppress bourgeois tendencies during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1966-1976.

“It won’t be hard to guess that the cleanup will be total, but the speed with which it is happening is impressive,” Davydova, now living in exile, wrote on Facebook.

“Even comrade (Joseph) Stalin took years to defeat the Russian vanguard.”

© Agence France-Presse