Faced with the war in Ukraine, cultural institutions adapt their programming

“Last time it was the Nazis in Germany, almost ninety years ago, who carried out such a campaign of destruction of an unwanted culture. We well remember the images of books burned in public squares. » During a meeting with cultural figures on March 25, Vladimir Putin openly compared the deprogramming of Russian artists in several Western countries to the burnings committed by the Nazis after their accession to power in Germany.

→ ANALYSIS. Since the Russian offensive in Ukraine, a cultural iron curtain has descended on Moscow

Curious coincidence, that same day in Paris, during the presentation of the 76th Festival d’Avignon, its director Olivier Py announced at the opening of this next edition a show by Kirill Serebrennikov. “It’s an honor for the festival”, he pointed out. The Russian filmmaker and director, currently under a ban on leaving Moscow, has openly displayed his opposition to Vladimir Putin’s regime for several years.

For its part, the management of the Cannes Film Festival, which is to be held from May 17 to 28, indicated in a press release its decision “not to welcome official delegations from Russia nor to accept the presence of any authority linked to the Russian government”. This is the line of conduct that the cultural world in France seems to have generally adopted: no systematic boycott of Russian artists but a refusal to receive Putin’s supporters.

This choice particularly concerns the world of classical music where Russian artists invited to French stages are usually numerous. The Philharmonie de Paris, which unveiled its 2022-2023 season on March 22, has thus canceled the arrival of conductor Valeri Guerguiev, close to Vladimir Putin, and the Mariinsky Orchestra. “We will do the same for other artists who have, in the past, had positions in favor of the current Russian power without having denied them since, explained to The cross its director, Olivier Mantei. On the other hand, we will not ask an artist to take an official position against the Russian government before inviting him, at the risk of putting him in a delicate, even perilous situation. »

Do not punish all Russian artists

Not to break the link with the artists and not to get the wrong target: this is also the concern of René Martin, artistic director of several important events such as the La Roque-d’Anthéron festival and La Folle Journée de Nantes. . “Given the current context, we have decided not to invite artists who have positioned themselves in favor of the regime imposed by Vladimir Putin, he said in a statement. However, it seems important to us to emphasize that the majority of Russian musicians are in no way responsible for this horrible war, which they often openly oppose, taking many risks for their loved ones and families. It therefore seems essential to us to continue to invite them to come and play in France as vectors of peace. »

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For their part, Sarfati Productions have decided to suspend their representation in France of the world-renowned pianist Boris Berezovsky, whom they have been following for almost twenty years, after his appearance on March 10 in a talk show of the pro-Kremlin channel Pervyi Kanal. Referring to the people of kyiv, he said “I understand that we pity them, that we do things delicately, but couldn’t we stop worrying about them, besiege them and cut off their electricity? » Remarks “which shocked, hurt, and left all who know the artist and the man in utter amazement”, commented the office of Productions Sarfati, announcing the suspension of its links with the artist.

Created in 1946, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the International Council of Museums invited in a statement “to maintain cultural relations between museum communities and to defend culture as a means of building lasting peace”. Asked by The crossits managing director, Peter Keller, explains: “It is neither our wish nor our role to call for boycotts or cancellations of exhibitions. It is up to museums to assess and decide what to do. A cancellation has legal and financial consequences and risks cooling cultural exchanges in the long term…”

A pas de deux sometimes difficult to hold

At the same time, Icom has just launched a call for funds to support Ukrainian museums and museum professionals. “Since the start of the conflict, our national committees, particularly in neighboring countries, have mobilized a great deal both to send equipment to Ukraine to pack and protect the collections, and to welcome professionals forced into exile”, emphasizes Peter Keller. Regular contact is also maintained with the Icom committee in Russia, which published a press release calling for “the restoration of a peaceful dialogue” and at “strict respect, in these difficult days, for the protection of museums and historical heritage in accordance with the 1954 Hague Convention”. A rather courageous declaration given the damage already caused by the Russian bombardments on the populations and very many civilian buildings.

→ ANALYSIS. War in Ukraine: Russian conductor Valery Gergiev banned from classical music

The pas de deux – firmness with regard to Russian artists compromised by their support for Putin and solidarity with others – nevertheless sometimes proves difficult to maintain for cultural institutions, particularly in the cinema, where the financing of films often involves Russian public funding. Some French festivals have thus chosen to cancel their programming, such as the 30th Russian Film Festival in Honfleur, the 26th Russian Tourski Festival in Marseille and, most recently, the cinema festival Univercine which was to present Russian films in Nantes from March 31 to April 3.


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