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14 DEC  16

Swift movement is being made on the proposal for a new arts 'conflicts' committee in Russia, headed by the conservative Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, as I reported the other day. Days after its proposal, Medinsky has diaried a session with the Theatrical Union head to discuss the formal establishment of the body.

Here is my translation of the report in TASS, the chief official news agency, of the rapid developments in this story. The cautious reactions quoted in favour of the conflicts committee by eminent theatre heads such as the Bolshoi's Urin, the Vakhtangov's Krok and the Chekhov's Tabakov may signal that the theatrical world is mustering its forces for a different sort of collective protection for artistic freedom than perhaps the noisy social conservatives envisage. In the 1930s the professional arts unions had some success in shielding their independence from interference by censorious bureaucrats and it's possible that this is the model some have in mind now, effectively to use collective might to back their integrity when controversies such as Leviathan and Tannhäuser arise.

At any rate, given that so many of Russia's top-level artistic directors have now been made to give their opinions, it's difficult to doubt that this committee is likely to be established before long, and that it will raise the spectre of state censorship, whatever the Constitution says.

Culture Minister to discuss new arts 'conflicts' committee

TASS, December 14, 2016, by Olga Svistunova

Russian Federation Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky and the chairman of the Russian Federation's Theatrical Union (STD) Alexander Kalyagin have agreed to meet at the end of this month to discuss the creation of a conflict commission, which would discuss controversial issues in the field of theatre, Kalyagin has told TASS.

The STD chief said the idea of ​​establishing the commission was put forward by the Alexandrinsky Theatre’s artistic director Valery Fokin at the joint session of the Presidential Council for Culture and Arts and the Presidential Council of the Russian Language, held on 2 December in St Petersburg during the Fifth International Cultural Forum.

"The idea of ​​a public council has been in the air,” said Kalyagin. “And recently when conflicts of this type have been coming up, the need for this kind of public body has become obvious as it’s clear that the solution should not come from bureaucrats but from our cultural leaders. So I welcome Valery Fokin’s idea, which we’ve already discussed with Vladimir Medinsky, and we agreed that at the end of December we will meet and set out the frame of work to be done.”

To recap, in a speech at the 2 December meeting, Fokin proposed the creation of a special conflicts commission to discuss controversial issues raised in theatrical productions. According to Fokin, "in the light of various tricky situations that have recently shaken the theatre world, it would not be a bad thing to form some sort of working council out of the artistic leaders of theatres from Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities of the country, which could resolve the most difficult questions by uniting in a mutual strength."

Fokin said, "It would be right that this council should be headed by two co-directors, the chairman of the Theatrical Union Alexander Kalyagin and the RF Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.”

Speaking to TASS, Fokin said that "it [the idea] has been approved by the President." "As for concrete steps to set upt the body, that depends on Kalyagin and Medinsky to decide.” he concluded.

Professionals divided

The artistic director and chief of the Chekhov Moscow Arts Theatre, Oleg Tabakov, made known to TASS his attitude to the Fokin proposal. “In general I concur. With some understanding. I support Fokin’s initiative,” he said.

There was also a positive response to the idea of creating such a council from the Bolshoi Theatre chief, Vladimir Urin. "It is a fully feasible option,” he said. “In the past there was a conflict committee during the perestroika period, which managed to resolve a whole range of conflicts because it was not bureaucrats but real theatre people, arts experts, who sorted them out. It seems to me that if this were to be a commission of true professionals who have worked for many years in the theatre and who have real authority in the theatre world, then the setting up of a body with them would not be a bad thing.”

The director of the Vakhtangov Theatre Kirill Krok was also in favour of the establishment of a special "conflicts" commission. “A committee like this is really needed,” he told TASS. “In any case, better if it’s there than if it isn’t."

Medinsky: Russia must resist decadence

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Arts fight threat of state censorship


' A committee like this is really needed. Better if it’s there than if it isn’t'

Arts 'conflicts' committee takes next step

Theatrical Union chief Alexander Kalyagin, photo Nikolai Galkin/TASS