Recently, many people have become concerned over the arrest of the Russian director Kirill S. Serebrennikov. Until his arrest, Serebrennikov led the Gogol Center in Moscow, which produces a lot of politically charged plays.
The recent arrest could be a prelude to an even harsher crackdown on Russian artists who criticize their government. According to the European Film Academy, "There is every reason to believe that Kirill Serebrennikov's arrest is politically motivated." The academy has respectfully called on Russian authorities to have him released and to guarantee his free movement and artistic expression.
An article about Serebrennikov by the New York Times said that authorities accused him of embezzling money meant for such things as a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a production the authorities claim never occurred. Yet the Times claims the play not only ran in 2012, but that it got rave reviews and was even nominated for awards.
You would think the reviews would be enough to derail the government's case. History can't be re-written, right? Well, apparently the government is saying all those reviews were just "fake news" and the production never happened. According to an article in The Moscow Times, prosecutors said: "In itself, a newspaper article cannot confirm that the performance took place."
Artists in Russia are rallying around Serebrennikov, but the government seems to be going ahead with its charges nonetheless. Theatre critic John Freedman has called the charges a "show trial" and accused the government of using arrests ahead of an election year as a way to scare people in prominent positions away from criticizing the government.
In addition to directing plays, Serebrennikov is also a film director, and his movie The Student won a special prize at Cannes last year. He was making a new film about the Soviet-era rock star Viktor Tsoi when authorities arrested him in St. Petersburg and took him back to Moscow for questioning.
One of the productions Serebrennikov directed that caused a great deal of criticism was a staging of Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls. Authorities criticized it for depicting Russian authorities as incompetent and corrupt. Umm... but isn't that exactly what Gogol wrote in the nineteenth century?
And isn't that exactly what officials are proving true with these trumped-up charges?
Perhaps some things never change.