Cancel Culture: Russian Musicians See Concerts Scrapped At Home Amid Crackdown On War Dissent
Pop icon Filipp Kirkorov’s problems didn’t start until he accused a state media boss and vocal supporters of Russia’s war on Ukraine of inflaming divisions inside the country. The 55-year-old performer took to Instagram on May 1 to lash out at RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan for asserting that popular comedian Maksim Galkin was hiding his sexual orientation through his marriage to Alla Pugacheva, a legendary singer 28 years his elder. Simonyan had attacked Galkin on national television after he spoke out against Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and left Russia for Israel along with Pugacheva. Kirkorov made the comments less than 24 hours after he finished a four-day performance at a venue inside the Kremlin before a combined audience of nearly 25,000, including members of the nation’s elite. The standing ovations signaled a promising start to what was scheduled to be a year-long cross-country tour. Two hours after publishing his video addressing Simonyan, in which he told her he had no doubt there are people ready to comb through her “dirty laundry,” the vocally pro-Kremlin actress Maria Shukshina reposted a short video from Kirkorov’s concert to her more than 350,000 subscribers on Telegram, insinuating that it was offensive to Russian Orthodox believers. Kirkorov’s concert features a new performance of his 2002 hit song Maria Magdalene in which he climbs onto the side of a large cross with a female model inside and sings the last 30 seconds of the song. In an interview with a pro-Kremlin TV station posted the following day, Shukshina, an anti-vaxxer who supports President Vladimir Putin and the war and regularly criticizes show business figures, accused Kirkorov of “trampling” on the cross at a time when Russian soldiers -- some of whom wear a cross on their chest -- are dying in Ukraine. Other state media soon picked up the story, claiming he “danced” on the cross, and turning it into a scandal. Now at least two of Kirkorov’s shows have been scrapped, allegedly due to concerns about offending religious sensitivities – a development that comes as Putin’s government is using legislation, propaganda, and other levers to try silence all opposition to the continuing invasion of Ukraine. Russian authorities and venue owners often hide political motives for canceling performances behind other pretexts, such as safety or health concerns.
Unlike other performers who are facing canceled shows, Kirkorov has remained silent about the war, and he had not been in involved in any recent public conflicts with the Russian authorities or state media prior to his criticism of Simonyan. Accepting a state award from Putin at a Kremlin ceremony in 2017, Kirkorov said it was “incomprehensible” how much the president had done for the country and its citizens. However, Kirkorov was “pushing boundaries, especially on topics of ethnicity and gender/sexuality” by speaking out against a pro-Putin journalist and by “speaking freely on his own terms,” said Clementine Fujimura, an anthropologist at the U. In protecting Galkin, Kirkorov was also defending the right to free speech, which activists say has been subjected to increasing restrictions since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The state also prohibits Russians from calling it a war, insisting on the term “special military operation. Putin’s critics say the Kremlin uses allies like Simonyan and Shukshina to rile up the population in support of its objectives, such as quashing dissent. In addition to Galkin and Pugacheva, several other performers have left the country since the invasion for various reasons, including disgust at the war and fear of prosecution. When asked about Kirkorov’s video statement, Boris Grozovsky, a columnist and editor of the Telegram channel Events And Texts, said it was a reflection that members of the Russian elite, including performers, are “freaking out” right now. “People simply cannot be sure of their personal safety, and…they are losing a lot of money” as concerts are canceled. “It is very difficult to deal with this calmly,” he told RFE/RL. Fujimura said the message delivered by attacks on performers goes beyond the individual artists.
“For citizens, the censorship and punishing of public personalities communicates that regular citizens should be afraid, very afraid, of protesting,” she told RFE/RL. As for Kirkorov climbing on the cross, it was “not the bottom-line concern” but merely “added fuel to the fire,” Fujimura said. Ironically, the crackdown on performers at home comes as the Kremlin has been strenuously accusing the West of “canceling” Russian culture amid the war in Ukraine. On June 5, Shukshina went after ethnic Tajik singer Manizha, who represented Russia in the Eurovision contest in 2021, for her anti-war views: On her social media page, the actress reposted a call for Manizha’s June 13 performance at a St. Two days later, Manizha announced on her Instagram page that the festival had scrapped her appearance. Last week, a Russian philharmonic canceled a concert led by conductor Vassily Sinaisky allegedly on the grounds of “health” issues. Sinaisky posted a statement on February 28 calling the war “vile” and defended Ukraine’s national identity. Two weeks later his concert at the upscale Barkhiva Luxury Village outside Moscow, less than 5 kilometers from Putin’s suburban residence, was canceled. Another longtime rock star who has criticized the war in Ukraine, Boris Grebenshchikov, had a radio program he presents cancelled by two state stations -- and then a commercial station that had announced plans to take on the show abruptly reversed course amid a pressure campaign and a reported threat of an office search by prosecutors. The pressure on Russian musicians today harks back to the repression some of them faced during Soviet times. “The history of canceled concerts in its native country is long for Mashina Vremeni,” Makarevich wrote in a social media post in April.
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