Why Canceling Cultural Figures Is Assault on Free Speech & Another Display of Russophobia

© AP Photo / Olga BalashovaThis photo provided by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, shows the concert at the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra, the central city of Homs, where renowned conductor Valery Gergiev leads a performance by the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Syria, May 5, 2016.
This photo provided by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, shows the concert at the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra, the central city of Homs, where renowned conductor Valery Gergiev leads a performance by the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Syria, May 5, 2016. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.03.2022
Numerous cultural events involving Russian artists have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely in Europe and the US as part of the Russophobia that has flared up after Moscow announced a special operation in Ukraine, and the cancellations appear to be much more than merely an expression of solidarity.
Ultimately, what do we have left to defend against prejudice and intolerance, if not culture?
Amid the wave of anti-Russia hysteria, world renown stars have been slammed over their failure to “denounce President Putin”, with even those who remained politically neutral coming under fire.
Among the latest victims of mass cancellation is Superstar opera soprano, Anna Netrebko, who earlier called for peace on her Instagram. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City removed on Thursday her performances from its program, explaining that she “refused to publicly distance herself from Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
The opera diva was scheduled to perform in Puccini's "Turandot" this spring, as well as Verdi's "Don Carlo" next season.
In addition to that, Milan's La Scala Opera House removed on 1 March Anna Netrebko from her March performances. La Scala attributed this to the singer's illness, according to Italian media, but Netrebko wrote on her Instagram that this is not true and she is absolutely healthy.
The Bavarian Opera also ended its relationship with the singer, despite collaborating since 2003, citing the supposed lack of public condemnation of the special military operation in Ukraine.
Her representative said that she had decided to suspend her activities as the current situation does not allow her to fully engage in her work.
“Forcing artists to make political statements, demands or come out with some slogans and generally use the voice of art for political purposes is categorically wrong,” he said. “At the moment, Anna has decided not to perform.”
Earlier on her Instagram, Netrebko wrote that she loves her homeland and does not support the war in Ukraine, as the suffering of civilians breaks her heart.
“However, forcing artists and any public figures to publicly express their political views and condemn their homeland is unacceptable,” she wrote, adding that such statements, in her opinion, should be a free choice of everyone.

Gergiev & Matsuev

Apart from that, La Scala is also looking for a replacement for Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who was also suspended from taking part in the “Queen of Spades” opera. The decision followed a statement by Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who urged Gergiev to condemn Russia's special operation “if he wants to continue his collaboration with Teatro alla Scala.”
“We have been asking him, with the theater's superintendent, to take a clear position against this invasion and, if he will not do it, we will be forced to end this collaboration,” he said.
Gergiev was also removed from his post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. This decision was taken by the mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, who said that he demanded that the conductor “clearly and unequivocally distance himself” from the Russian military operation, despite the fact that latter had remained silent about it so far.
The Paris Philharmonic also has canceled the April concerts of the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, led by maestro Gergiev.
A paralympic athlete crosses the finish line during a training session for the men's downhill sitting event at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre in Yanqing ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games on March 3, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.03.2022
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Earlier, Carnegie Hall in New York canceled performances by Gergiev and world class pianist Denis Matsuev. The concerts were to take place from 25 to 27 February.
The Vienna Philharmonic has also appointed a new conductor, Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has replaced Gergiev despite the fact that orchestra’s chairman Daniel Froschauer said two weeks ago that the Russian conductor is “going as a performer, not a politician.”
Nevertheless, the musician, who was designated by UNESCO as an Artist for Peace in 2003, appears to have been punished for his personal views. Years ago, he did not condemn the law banning LGBT propaganda among minors, supported the accession of Crimea, and back in 2016 gave a concert in the Syrian Palmyra, cleared from Daesh* terrorists by the Russian military. The latter was not seen by some European influencers as a message of unity and peace that would overshadow the dreadful violence, but as an “effort to nurture pride in Russia’s military role abroad.”

Attack on Russian Classical Culture

Numerous other Russian artists have faced cancellations in Europe, including the UK, where the London theater Covent Garden has canceled the tour of the Bolshoi Theater.
An unexpected move came from another cradle of culture, Greece, who in a fit of Russophobic madness suspended “any implementation, cooperation, planning or discussion of events with Russian cultural organizations,” according to a statement from Greek Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni.
“The already postponed event of the Gala Opera, which was scheduled for Thursday, 3 March, is canceled, as is the broadcast of “Swan Lake” as part of The Bolshoi Ballet Live from Moscow, on Sunday, March 6, at Athens’ Concert Hall Megaron,” the statement says.
In Poland, authorities decided to ban Russian music and plays in the Polish philharmonic societies, including the Petr Tchaikovsky and Dmitry Shostakovich symphonies. In addition, performances based on the plays of Anton Chekhov would also not be staged in theaters across the country and the prohibited list of Russian musical and literary works is expected be supplemented and expanded.
Lastly, some days ago, the Italian State University of Bicoca in Milan decided to cancel lectures on the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The author of the course and renowned writer Paolo Nori described the decision as censorship, and said on Instagram that the university sent him an email notifying him that the course was canceled, without explaining the reasons.
“Now it is forbidden even to be Russian, sentenced to death, like Dostoevsky. I want to cry,” the writer told the Repubblica newspaper. “What is happening in Italy right now, it’s just ridiculous, the censorship of the course is ridiculous,” Nori continued. “Now in Italy it is a sin not only to be a living Russian, but also a dead Russian, who was sentenced in 1849 to death because what he read was forbidden. I can't believe an Italian university forbids a course on an author like Dostoyevsky."
However, the ban immediately sparked outrage across Italy and was reversed. According to Corriere della Sera, Nori has already received invitations from other Italian universities to lecture on Dostoyevsky. Students whom Nori teaches Russian literature noted that “Dostoevsky, the pillar of world literature, cannot be suddenly discounted just because he is Russian... At a heartbreaking moment for humanity, we believe that Russian literature is a drug, not a poison.”
All these actions, with, apparently, no real political consequences, have taken Russian culture and sports as hostages, something that wasn’t expected in Moscow. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “we were ready for sanctions, but we did not expect that athletes, representatives of culture, actors, journalists would fall under their action.”
* A terrorist organization banned in Russia
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