Kirill Serebrennikov was removed from the Gogol Center in Moscow Theater

Russian director and filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov will no longer remain at the helm of the Gogol Cultural Center as of February 25, the date his contract as artistic director of this remarkable Moscow cultural institution expires.

The news was spread this Tuesday by Serebrennikov himself, who announced his departure from Gogol in an Instagram post and published the letter in which those in charge of the cultural department of the Chamber of the Russian capital informed him about the non-renewal of the contract. “However, the Gogol Center as a theater and an idea will live on,” adds the director, arguing that “theater and freedom are more important and therefore more permanent than any kind of bureaucrat”.

This “dismissal” of Kirill Serebrennikov from the direction of one of the admittedly most important centers of contemporary artistic creation in Russia is not surprising given the recent history of the relationship between authorities and political power in Russia between Vladimir Putin and the USA.

Serebrennikov, 51, is currently on a three-year suspended sentence after being convicted in June last year by a Moscow court that found him guilty of fraud and misappropriation of public funds between 2011 and 2014.

During the trial, Serebrennikov, who was under house arrest between 2017 and 2019, denied the charges and convictions and vowed to continue to “fight for the truth.” His process was accompanied by a great movement of solidarity with the artistic director from Russia and several Western countries.

In addition to three years in prison with suspended sentence, the sentence included a ban on moving and leaving the country, a ban on running a Russian cultural institution during this period, and paying a fine of 800,000 rubles (more than ten thousand euros).

New solidarity messages

In his message this Tuesday, Serebrennikov urged his friends and supporters “not to be discouraged”. “There is no life or no freedom in discouragement,” he wrote. And this new case in his trial sparked several critical reactions to Vladimir Putin’s power, as well as new messages of solidarity with the director.

“What is happening today in Russia as a country and in its cultural life is a very sad picture with the decrease in freedom and the increase in violence on the part of the authorities,” responded Russian writer Ludmila Ulitskaya in a quoted email from the New York Times . The writer, who is usually on the list of favorites for the Nobel Prize in Literature, paid “tribute and respect” to Kirill Serebrennikov, considering him “a true representative of Russian culture”.

Another reaction from the New York daily was that of the artistic director of the Berlin theater group Schaubühne, Thomas Ostermeier, who saw Serebrennikov’s dismissal from the Gogol Center as a “clear message” [na Rússia] The artistic freedom is reduced to zero. “

Navalny case

This episode with the director of the Gogol Center takes place at a time when Russia is under the control and control of the democratic world, given the arrest and conviction of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s political opponent, a week before his return to Russia in mid-January after a five-month recovery in Germany, where he was treated for poisoning attributed to the Kremlin – which Russian authorities had denied.

This conviction also led to massive protests in the country, including those of other prominent figures in the local art scene, such as members of the band Pussy Riot and rapper Oxxymiron.

During his career, Kirill Serebrennikov was censored several times and faced negative reactions to his scenic creations and to the program he promoted at the Gogol Center, which freely and critically dealt with topics such as politics, religion and sexuality.

It remains to be seen what the director – who has continued to work for western opera companies such as Zurich (Switzerland) and Hamburg (Germany) even in his own country – will do next. In his Instagram message, Serebrennikov urged his staff at the Gogol Center and his fans, “Try to make sure the theater is still alive. You know what to do. “