Kirill Serebrennikov. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP.

Cultural Figures Petition Russia to Drop Charges Against Kirill Serebrennikov

A petition written by playwright Marius von Mayenburg and Thomas Ostermeier, the director of Berlin’s Schaubühne Theater, is asking that Russian authorities drop the charges brought against Kirill Serebrennikov, the beleaguered director of Moscow’s Gogol Theater who is now under house arrest after being accused of embezzling $1.2 million in government funds, reports Philip Oltermann of The Guardian. “The impression that Serebrennikov’s arrest is sending to the West is of a government scared of criticism. And if you can’t stand criticism, that’s usually a sign of weakness,” said Ostermeier.

The petition has been signed by a number of well-known cultural figures, such as artist Sophie Calle, Théâtre de Complicité founder Simon McBurney, actors Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss, and novelist Elfriede Jelinek. Many within Russia’s creative circles are also demanding that Serebrennikov be released, including Vladimir Putin’s cultural adviser, Nikolai Tolstoy, who is calling the director’s jailing a “shameful episode.” Serebrennikov says the embezzlement accusation is “absurd and schizophrenic,” as all the funding had been spent on the theater. In a Facebook entry, the director describes a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that had been nominated for prizes and performed many times: “Now the investigators tell us that it doesn’t exist and never did,” he said.

But Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s conservative culture minister, says that Serebrennikov’s arrest has nothing to do with politics: “This was not a political order. It also has nothing to do with Serebrennikov’s art. There are some people who like it and there are a very large number of people who don’t, but nobody here is targeting him as an artist.”