30 November 2022
By Aleksandr Podrabinek
The war against Ukraine, political repressions, mobilization, price rises, and the population’s noticeable impoverishment—all this could drive anyone, even the most balanced resident of Russia, into depression. Which, as psychologists, sociologists, and psychotherapists note, is in fact what’s happening. The atmosphere in our country is grim, to put it mildly.
Grounds for optimism are so few that many are simply voting with their feet. Hundreds of thousands of draft-age men have left Russia in the last couple of months to avoid mobilization and the front. Even those not threatened by mobilization are leaving the country, not wishing to bear moral responsibility for the state’s criminal decisions. The majority of opposition politicians and journalists have also rushed to evacuate and are now heatedly and bravely denouncing Putin from abroad.
But not everyone, not everyone is celebrating the coward escaping to safety or voluntarily limiting their free speech to kitchen conversations. The magnificent actress Liya Akhedzhakova, being neither a politician nor a journalist, is openly criticizing Vladimir Putin and has no intention of ending her theatrical activities. True, performances involving her are often canceled in Russia or removed from the repertoire altogether.
Just such a fate befell Journey Into the Whirlwind and First Bread at the Sovremennik theatre, for example. This is nothing surprising. Once upon a time, the KGB confiscated Evgenia Ginzburg’s autobiographical novel Journey Into the Whirlwind during searches, and Soviet times are now returning and old bans are spilling out with new force.
‘MY GRANDSON VENIAMIN‘
My Grandson Veniamin, based on the play by Lyudmila Ulitskaya and with Akhedzhakova’s participation, is enjoying success with the public but by no means with the Russian authorities. The theatrical enterprise is constantly being removed from theatrical spaces in one city or another. Culture officials don’t like Akhedzhakova herself, who does not try to hide her political views and at the same time is popular with audiences.
From the state’s standpoint, this is outrageous because Kremlin propaganda asserts the unanimous approval of Putin’s policy, and pig-headed little Akhedzhakova spoils the whole picture for them.
On 27 November, My Grandson Veniamin was performed to a sold-out audience in the Vyborg Hall in Petersburg. All the seats were filled, and the performance was a great success. One has to think that pressure was also put on the Vyborg House of Culture administration, but they did not succumb and the performance went on.
A PRIVATE CONCERT HALL
On 4 December, the theatrical enterprise was supposed to be taken to Nizhny Novgorod, where it was to be performed in the Yupiter concert hall. Vigilant Putinists had already informed the regional cultural ministry that this was an outrage. After all, Akhedzhakova was criticizing Putin for the invasion of Ukraine! To which the cultural ministry replied that they had recommended that the concert hall cancel the show, but this was only a recommendation, inasmuch as “the Yupiter concert hall is a private venue.”
Meanwhile Yupiter’s press service clarified that they were not going to cancel the performance, regardless of the regional cultural ministry’s recommendations.
Seemingly a normal position in a normal rule-of-law state: everyone has their own sphere of responsibility. But that’s in a rule-of-law state, not ours! One can imagine the kind of pressure they put on the private concert hall, the kinds of threats they made. We don’t know whether the theatre people in Nizhny Novgorod will hold up in the face of the pro-state scum’s aggressive pressure, but even their present intransigence attests to a bravery and readiness to defend their values to some point. At least in their profession they are trying to stay honest, something you can’t say about many of our other fellow countrymen.
Liya Akhedzhakova herself is demonstrating a courage that our political class lacks. She has no plans to surrender and no intention of leaving the country. “I’ll stay here to the end, no matter what happens,” she says.
Translated by Marian Schwartz