9 May 2023
by Nana Grinstein, Nika Parkhomovskaya and Yury Shekhvatov
This press release is published in the original English
On May 4, 2023, Russian theatre director Evgeniya (Zhenya) Berkovitch and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk were detained in Moscow as part of a criminal case on «justifying terrorism», and were given the status of suspects. On May 5, a court remanded both of them in custody for two months, until July 4, 2023. They were charged under Article 205.2, Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation «Public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism», which involves punishment in the form of imprisonment for up to seven years.
The reason for the criminal case and the arrest of Zhenya and Svetlana is the play and performance «Finist the Brave Falcon». The play was written in 2019, the performance was staged in 2020. The heroines of the play are Russian women recruited by terrorists through social networks under the pretext of romantic relationships and marriage, who left Russia and joined the terrorists, then were detained and found themselves on trial in Russia. Documentary interviews and court records are intertwined in the play with the plot of a traditional Russian fairy tale. The main idea of the play is that stereotypical sexist myths associated with the expectation of love and the recognition of the primacy of men in relationships, destroy the psyche of women and make them easy prey for terrorists. Both the play and the performance carry a clear anti-terrorist message. The play was staged by the independent theatre company «SOSO daughters» with the involvement of state funding. In the spring of 2022, the play received the «Golden Mask» national theater award (established by the Union of Theatre Workers of Russia) for «The best work of a costume designer», and Svetlana Petriichuk got the award for «The best work of a playwright».
This is the first criminal case in Russia against artists, where the act of creativity itself becomes the reason for repressions. This precedent definitely gives any cultural institution a signal about the new – punitive – nature of censorship. It is no coincidence that a play and a performance of a feminist nature became the target. The patriarchal way of life, its protection and final rooting for the Russian authorities today are the most important tool for influencing the masses, which is also enshrined at the legislative level (Decree N. 809 «On the approval of the foundations of state policy for the preservation and strengthening of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values» dated November 9, 2022). The fact that Svetlana and Zhenya are being judged precisely for feminism is also indicated by the fact that there is not a single fact in the case file confirming the accusation, except for the «destructological examination», which equates feminism with terrorism. This examination is not only anti-scientific, but is also procedurally unacceptable, since it was carried out by an organization that isn’t authorized to carry out expert activities for the court in Russia. Despite the protests of the lawyers, it was attached to the case materials.
Faced with this new act of intimidation of the artistic community in Russia, committed in violation of the constitutional principles of freedom of speech, we ask the international community to support Zhenya and Svetlana.
Evgeniya (Zhenya) Berkovitch, born in 1985 in Leningrad, is a Russian theatre director, playwright and poet. She graduated from St. Petersburg Academy of Theatre Arts and the Moscow Art Theatre School (class of 2013 under the direction of Kirill Serebrennikov). In particular, she worked with the «Platform» project, the Gogol Centre, the Bolshoi Theatre, the Moscow Theatre of Young Spectators, the Aleksandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Berkovitch took part in many charitable projects, including «I’m not alone» festival for kids from orphanages. In 2018, she founded an independent theatre company «SOSO daughters». In January 2023 she, always active in the field of inclusive theatre, started working with deaf and hearing impaired people in a drama project of the GES-2 House of Culture, opened by V–A–C Foundation in 2021.
Svetlana Petriichuk, born in 1980 in Bishkek, is a Russian playwright and screenwriter. She graduated from the Konstantin Raikin Higher School of Performing Arts (Kama Ginkas workshop). In 2018, and participated in the Mikhail Ugarov drama laboratory at Teatr.doc. She has been laureate and finalist of various drama competitions and festivals, in particular Lubimovka, The First Reading, Remark, Culmination. In her creative work, she constantly addresses gender, civic and social themes. Performances based on her plays are performed in many theatres in Russia. Besides the Berkovitch performance, readings and shows of the play «Finist the Brave Falcon» were held in various theatres and institutions, including a women’s correctional colony.