The case against Kirill Serebrennikov: the latest developments

The case against Kirill Serebrennikov: the latest developments
Kirill Serebrennikov. Image: Konkurs novoi dramaturgii "Remarka" / Facebook

5 September 2017

Since his arrest on 22 August, renowned theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov has been sitting under house arrest while the artistic community both home and abroad continue to denounce the criminal charges against him. Accused of embezzling 68m rubles ($1.1m) of government funds, Kirill Serebrennikov could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if found guilty, though protests for the director’s innocence have been overwhelming, with many slamming the charges as part of a wider state crackdown agasint the arts. While Serebrennikov is noticeably absent from public view, his presence continues to be felt through the mass support and media coverage that surrounds his arrest. Here is a roundup of the key points you need to know:

Vladimir Putin enters the fray

Vladimir Putin has broken his silence on the investigation into Kirill Serebrennikov, saying there was no “censorship or pressure” put on the Gogol Centre director, currently under house arrest.

The Russian President, who spoke from Xiamen in China today following the recent BRICS summit, added: “Despite the fact he is under house arrest, this does not mean his is guilty of anything. Only the court can determine whether he is guilty or not.”

Moving the focus away from the investigation into Serebrennikov, Putin recalled the cases against the Deputy Director of the Hermitage and the Deputy Minister of Culture, suggesting that the Gogol Centre director is not the only culture figure under investigation.

While Vladimir Putin had previously not commented on the proceedings, his chief spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and Russia’s culture minister Vladimir Medinsky have both stressed that the case against Serebrennikov is purely financial. Meanwhile supporters of the much loved theatre director, known for his outspoken criticsm of the Kremlin, are adamant that his arrest is a way for Putin to tighten his grip on the artistic community ahead of next year’s election.

Moscow court upholds house arrest

A Moscow court has rejected Kirill Serebrennikov’s request to be released on bail, but has softened the conditions of his house arrest.

Dmitry Kharitonov, Serebrennikov’s lawyer, had requested the court to release him on bail to the sum of 68m rubles ($1.1m), the exact amount the theatre director has been accused of embezzling.

Though the court rejected his bid, they did authorise the detained director to take daily evening walks, while further requests including visits from a yoga teacher and a Buddhist priest were thrown out.

Reminiscent of his original trial on 23 August, the court room yesterday was studded with stars of Russia’s cultural elite, including directors Mark Zakharov and Alexander Sokurov, singer Valery Meladze and model Natalia Vodianova.

Serebrennikov will remain under house arrest until 19 October, when he is next due in court.

Russian pranksters claim hoax letter from Serebrennikov to German actor

Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov have claimed responsibiltiy for a letter allegedly penned by Serebrennikov, that German actor Lars Eidinger published on his Instagram page yesterday (and has since removed).

The two tricksters, famed for deceiving Elton John into believing he was conversing with Putin, told Russian state TV on Monday they had dictated the letter to the German actor posing as Kirill Serbrennikov.

In the letter, Serebrennikov supposedly urged his supporters: “I ask you not to incite hatred in attempts to intercede for me and not turn people against each other,” while also claiming he had “received an offer from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to head a Ukrainian theatre and shoot a propaganda film with the financial support of the state”.

While Serebrennikov’s lawyer immediately refuted the authenticity of the letter, the story had “spread like wildfire on Ukrainian social media” according to one presenter on Vesti.ru.

The hoax appears to be a stab at both the detained director as well as Eidinger, who plays Tsar Nicholas II in Aleksey Uchitel’s controversial film Matilda. Due to be released in October, the film has drawn fierce criticism from Orthodox activists and some state officials, who have labelled the film’s content as offensive and slanderous.