Prominent Russian official resigns slamming “cultural isolation” of Culture Ministry

Prominent Russian official resigns slamming "cultural isolation" of Culture Ministry
Still from Partisan Songspiel, Chto Delat (2009). Chto Delat withdrew from art biennale Manifesta in St Petersburg last year in protest against the Russian government's policy on Ukraine

19 January 2015

A Russian public figure resigned from his post at the Ministry of Culture last week after accusing Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky of leading a crackdown on artistic freedom against those critical of the Kremlin. In a letter addressed to Medinsky, Yevgeny Savostyanov, former head of Russia’s Coordination Council on Intellectual Property Protection, criticised the minister for what he called a major crackdown on “matters of public interest”.

“The reason for this decision is the stance that you and the Culture Ministry have taken on a range of important matters of public interest, as well as some of your statement and remarks for which I am ashamed,” Savostyanov wrote in his letter.

Making reference to attempts to have Russia’s Oscar-nominated Leviathan banned from screening in Russia, Savostyanov told RFE/RL that the culture ministry “should be seizing the opportunity and declaring that ‘No, there will be no more bans!’” The official opposition to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film has been well documented in recent months, culminating in last week’s attack from Medinsky, who, rejecting the notion that the corruption and heavy drinking depicted in the film were specifically Russian tropes, dubbed the film “anti-Russian”.

Yevgeny Savostyanov, © savostyanov.com

Leviathan joins a growing number of cultural projects to have suffered at the hands of a Ministry of Culture increasingly intolerant to views which fail to toe the party line. In his letter, Savostyanov singled out and criticised Medinsky’s November decision to withdraw funding to Russia’s largest international documentary film festival Artdocfest due to its director Vitaly Mansky’s “anti-state” political opinions.

“When the minister said he would not grant funds to Mansky for his Artdocfest, I made amends by becoming a sponsor of the festival,” Savostyanov told Russian news agency Interfax. “But when the story with Teatr.doc began, I thought: ‘Why should I bear such mental costs?’”

Fearing a return to the censorship typical of Soviet times, Savostyanov told RFE/RL: “As we move further towards isolationism, it will impact the cultural and ideological sphere, too. We already went through this in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s … I’m very familiar with this atmosphere and I think it’s a huge step back. We haven’t seen anything like this since 1986-87…”

Since the political and military disturbances in Russia and Ukraine, Russia’s culture ministry has been increasingly intolerant to those who speak out against the actions of the Kremlin.