7 December 2021
A speech given by the laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Award, actress Liya Akhedzhakova, during the presentation of the Star of Theatre award in the nomination Legend of the Stage (6 December 2021)
I have a lot to say, but it’s too late. In the theatre you can talk about your innermost feelings and almost give a confession. Such is the beauty of the theatre. It has given me so much! Dramatists from Shakespeare… Gogol, Ostrovsky, and now we have Petrushevskaya, Liusya Ulitskaya and, the youngest of all, Renat Tashimov: he is the dramatist for me, I’ve been waiting a long time for material as significant as this.
On what stages have I played? … I was a nobody, a nothing, I started in the Youth Theatre. In which theatres did I appear? … For example, at the Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theatre in Kiev.This was my dream theatre and I was there with my partner Bogdan Stupka.
Then there was the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.. Whenever I played in the Alexandrinsky, I was given Nina Urgant’s dressing room, and I made up at her dressing table. I became friends with her, and I was supposed to meet her today, [ed: Nina Urgant died on 3rd December 2021] and I was so looking forward to it… but I know that we will still meet there one day…
I played with Oleg Pavlovich Tabakov and over ten years on the stage of the Contemporary I declared my love for him.
And then there’s the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre…When you play there, you walk past a huge portrait of Tovstonogov, and every time you apologize to him, and just hope not to make a fool of yourself. I’ve played across all of Russia from Sakhalin and Vladivostok to the Baltic States in the other direction…. What scenes and what amazing partners. Most importantly we tread the boards to convey ideas.
And then it’s time to say: To be or not to be? That is the question. Meanings have started to change. Now we have to stick to certain words and phrases, otherwise Comrade Bastrykin will …
And patriotism, what is the meaning of this word? It has a great meaning. But suddenly it turns out that a group of offended patriots, who call themselves SERB [South Eastern Radical Bloc/ Russian Liberation Movement], turn up at the theatre without watching the play, and demand that errors in the performance be deleted. And they threaten that, if they are not listened to (and as happened to me), then a person, a patriot, will come in to the auditorium and sprinkle faeces from a bottle. Like champagne. Or, as happened to Oleg Pavlovich Tabakov, they put severed pig’s head on the steps.
Or other patriots who call themselves “war veterans”… I just can’t even imagine it. But “veterans” write denunciations of performances that they have never seen, then an investigator comes along to the theatre to interrogate me. And I vouch for my theatre and for my playwrights. I trust them. And I vouch for the my opinions.
But what exactly is a foreign agent? Is it a spy? One who walks here, denounces us, someone who ruins our lives. But why is the label of foreign agent applied to the best people in our profession? To the very best! The best journalists, the best human rights defenders.
My friend Lev Ponomarev* is a foreign agent and my favourite [television network] Dozhd*, which never lies – they are foreign agents. And most importantly, our Memorial*.
Well, what is all that nonsense about? There is nowhere I can say this. But there are people in the theatre sitting right here, and I know that we understand each other. The fact that Memorial* is a foreign agent, and that the head of Memorial* in Petrozavodsk, Yury Dmitriev… has been sentenced to 13 years in prison, and now they have given him 15 years. All for reinstating the names of the thousands of people who were shot for nothing during the Great Terror. He is a hero of our time. And the whole of our country is watching… That’s in connection with the question and on this whole general issue: To be or not to be! That is the question.
*Included in the register of foreign agents
Translated by Graham Jones