The prominent theatre director of Moscow’s Gogol Centre, Kirill Serebrennikov, has been arrested on suspicion of embezzling 68 million rubles ($1.1m) of state funds, a crime which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
Investigators at Russia’s Investigative Committee claim that the money allocated for a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was taken by Serebrennikov, but that the production was never produced. Serebrennikov, however, maintains that the production was staged more than 15 times in Moscow, Paris and St Petersburg.
In what many are calling a state crackdown against the arts, Serebrennikov’s arrest is the latest twist in the unfolding investigation against the Gogol Centre, which many have decried as the latest victim in the Russian government’s crackdown against the arts. In May this year, the Rusian authorities raided the Gogol Centre allegedly connected to a corruption investigation into the theatre company, while its former director Alexei Malabrodsky was detained in June. To add further intrigue, Serebrennikov’s world premiere of Nureyev at the Bolshoi Theatre in July was cancelled at the last minute, causing many to speculate whether the production’s open exploration of the ballet dancer’s homosexuality played a role in its unexpected cancellation.
Prominent political and cultural figures in Russia, including director Vladimir Bortko, journalist Andrey Loshak and actress Liya Akhedzhakova, have spoken out in support of Serebrennikov, slamming his arrest as a premeditated act of state censorship.
“Awful news. This thing – it’s a ‘hello’ from Meyerhold,” said Akhedzhakova in comments published by Meduza, referencing the famed Soviet theatre director whose groundbreaking, often provocative, productions saw him arrested and eventually killed in 1940 during Stalin’s Great Purge. “After the search, they took away his foreign passport, their cunning isn’t known to the rest of the world. They have collosal experience: remember Meyerhold or Mandelshtam…”
Earlier this month, an accountant at the Gogol Centre, Nina Maslyayeva, was brought on trial who testified against the theatre’s director, claiming that Serebrennikov along with Malabrodksy and Yuri Itin, set up a scheme to fraudulently syphon off government funds.
Authorities are currently deciding whether Serebrennikov will be kept in custody or placed under house arrest.