As the European Union continues to mull possible sanctions on Russia, artists across Europe are actively rallying in defense of Ukraine following the deployment of Russian troops on its territory.
The cultural fallout from President Vladimir Putin's move to seize the strategic Crimean Peninsula is already palpable. A growing number of foreign artists are canceling performances in Russia amid mounting calls for a cultural boycott of the country.
One of them is Alvis Khermanis, the director of Latvia's New Riga Theater, who has withdrawn from a joint project with Moscow's renowned Bolshoi Theater. His theater has called off an upcoming tour in Russia and appearances at festivals in St. Petersburg and Omsk.
"Russia's military aggression against Ukraine has created a situation in which no Latvian citizen can remain neutral," the theater said in a statement. It called for a boycott of all cultural events in Russia.
Konstantin Doroshenko, a Ukrainian art critic and curator, says many artists are reluctant to showcase their work in Russia for fear of helping lend legitimacy to Putin's actions in Ukraine. "The authorities should realize that the world is changing fast and that art is not always willing to serve the interest of governments," he says. "Art is a platform for a serious, critical examination of reality. Art is not intended to decorate cities and attract tourists."
Noted Polish theater director Krystian Lupa has also canceled a visit to Russia in protest at the military occupation of Crimea.
No 'Colorful Show' For Moscow
Russia's festival of independent films, Artdokfest, also appears to have been hit by the boycott. Viktoria Belopolskaya, the festival's program director, says Canada's Cinematheque Ontario and the Czech film festival Flahertania have both scrapped joint projects with Artdokfest.
Another high-profile event to be targeted is Manifesta, the EU-funded European Biennial of Contemporary Art. A group of Dutch and German artists has launched a petition calling for Manifesta, which is scheduled to kick off at St. Petersburg's Hermitage museum in late June, to be postponed until Russian troops are withdrawn from Ukraine.
"My European colleagues are worried that Manifesta may turn into a colorful show that reinforces Russia's current regime, just like the Sochi Olympics," Doroshenko says.
The petition urges all artists, curators, organizers, and sponsors to show "solidarity with the Ukrainian people." According to its signatories, which include a number of participants in previous biennials, participating in cultural activities with Russia amounts to "acceptance of Russian aggression towards the democratic nation of Ukraine."
Written by Claire Bigg in Prague based on reporting by Dmitry Volchek
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