As reported by numerous sources in Russia, director Kirill Serebrennikov was arrested on August 22 on charges of large-scale embezzlement. As of August 23, Serebrennikov has been “released under house arrest” through October 19, at which time, presumably, another decision will be made. Further, according to TASS, a search is on for producer Yekaterina Voronova, who like Serebrennikov, Alexei Malobrodsky, Yury Itin and Nina Maslyaeva, is a person of interest in the case. Events are unfolding quickly. What follows are some news items and reactions.

TASS on the case against Serebrennikov

“‘Serebrennikov instructed the aforementioned individuals of the Seventh studio to enter into fictitious contracts with controlled entities and private entrepreneurs who allegedly fulfilled the obligations associated with the implementation of activities organized by the Platforma project. Under the guise of payment of these contracts, the money received from the Ministry of Culture of Russia was withdrawn to the accounts of these counterparties (some were so-called one-day firms), cashed and distributed by Serebrennikov among the accomplices,’ [Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana] Petrenko said.

“In total, the investigation believes, no less than 68 million rubles allocated from the federal budget were stolen. Serebrennikov was charged with committing a crime under Part 4 of Art. 159 of the Criminal Code (“Fraud in a particularly large amount.”) Petrenko clarified that the director’s fault in the organization of fraud is confirmed by the testimony of witnesses and financial documentation, as well as by the results of operational and investigative activities and other evidence. On August 23, the Moscow Basmanny Court will select a preventive measure against the director – arrest or house arrest.”

Echo.Moskvy website/Dozhd TV quoting KIRILL SEREBRENNIKOV

“He was ‘taken almost on location’ in St. Petersburg, without giving him an opportunity to change,’ Serebrennikov told Kogershyn Sagieva, a journalist of Dozhd television channel and a member of the Public Monitoring Commission who visited him in a temporary detention facility. The detention took place around midnight—Serebrennikov was transported to Moscow by minibus for nine hours, and around 9 a.m. on August 22 he was in the Investigative Committee; there he spent eight more hours. The director considers his detention a ‘show arrest,’ since, in his opinion, there was no sense ‘to go after him nine hours in one direction, and then to return another nine hours.’ He noted that he did not miss a single meeting with the investigator in the Seventh Studio case and he regularly fulfilled all requests of the Investigative Committee. […]”

Director NIKOLAI ROSHCHIN on Facebook

“All directors, throughout the entire country, must stop producing shows.”

VLADIMIR URIN, managing director of the Bolshoi Theater, on Meduza.ru

“The decision of detention can only be made by a court upon a petition of the Investigative Committee. Court has not yet been in session—and no such decision has yet been made. And I hope it will not be, even if the investigating authorities have some complaints about Kirill Semyonovich. This man is very gifted and very talented. The Bolshoi Theater considers him a great artist.”

GEORGY CHKHARTISHVILI (BORIS AKUNIN), bestselling novelist, on Meduza.ru

“Regarding the night arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov: Internationally resonant arrests of people of this level in our country occur only with the agreement, or even on the direct order of the Chief. No two ways about that. So let’s call things by their proper names. Director Meyerhold was arrested not by the NKVD, but by Stalin. Director Serebrennikov was arrested not by the Investigative Committee, he was arrested by Putin. And we’ll be happy if, for PR-purposes, the world-famous director is later shown the highest mercy and released under house arrest or under his signature [not to leave]. Because if it doesn’t happen like that, then Russia has moved into a new state of existence where new rules operate.”

The YABLOKO PARTY statement on Meduza.ru

“The Yabloko Party regards Serebrennikov’s arrest as an act of intimidation of the creative community. The guilt of the director raises great doubts—charges of embezzlement have become an ordinary tool of political reprisal and settling of accounts with opponents in today’s Russia. We are convinced that Serebrennikov is being persecuted for his art, that runs counter to the obscurantist state policy, all the forces of which Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky directs to create historical myths and cheap propaganda. Serebrennikov became an example of the independence of spirit, freedom and uncompromising creativity, and therefore was chosen as a victim of a new show trial.”

YELENA GREMINA in Teatral magazine

“I believe this is certainly a blatant offensive against the theatre. If we think of this as a kind of ‘message,’ it sounds very threatening: ‘Leave! There will be nothing good here.’

Moreover, since the beginning of the pullback from democracy in the direction of protective and reactionary cultural policy, everyone is talking about state money and if you have taken any, you must do what the authorities now want…”

KAMA GINKAS in Matters Like That magazine

“Oh, for F’s sake. For F’s sake. That’s my reaction. From there you can decipher numerous phrases in Lithuanian. What can I say? Are we really starting over? Are we really doing this again?”

KSENIA LARINA of Echo Moskvy Radio on Facebook

“159.4 is the article under which all of the suspects in the Seventh Studio case have been arrested. They did it. Kirill is arrested.

As in the finest of Soviet traditions, they came for him in the night, at his hotel. In St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, his lawyer is in Vladimir.

In other words, all this time, from the moment of his arrest, and before any accusations are made, Kirill has been without an attorney.”

Director GLEB CHEREPANOV on Facebook

“…There is only one more protagonist of this foul-smelling story. And its name is Fear. Which has again returned to our heads, souls, and subconscious. It is already here, nearby, whispering in our ears. I especially think, for some reason, about the very youngest among us. Those who are younger than me. Those who are just entering life. Who are just now graduating from the Institute. Who are staging their first performances. Shooting their first movie. This signal is for them! As it turns out. It’s primarily for them. Look, guys, look how easily wings are cut off! In an instant. So sit still and do not rock the boat! Do not say too much. Do not stage plays, do not make films, and do not speak out on controversial or near-political topics. Do not spoil relations with the ‘necessary’ people. Do what people tell you. And – be silent! No matter what. Be silent! Always. Just be silent! […]”

YURY KLAVDIEV on Facebook

“‘He created a theater for the realization of a criminal plan.’ Excellent! Keep in mind that now they call criminal intent the alleged theft of money (we remember that earlier they were unhappy with non-existent performances, which, uncomfortably for them, actually did exist). But this is just now. Next, the play itself becomes criminal intent. Then a book. Then a research article. And then—and the individual himself. Because he was born to the wrong parents. We have already been through all this. Hang tight, Kirill.”

ALEXEI NAVALNY on Facebook

“In Essence. Make sure that the remainder of the ‘masters of culture’ don’t get frisky, but rather quickly run to register as a confidant of Putin. Elections are right around the corner. And may the most daring of them (they do exist, they won’t join the mass ‘sign-up’), not dare to even hint at supporting the opposition. May they keep silent with their universal formula of ‘I am outside of politics,’ which, in Russia is a euphemism for, ‘I’m a coward and I’m sitting on my budget money.’ Actually, Serebrennikov, with all due respect to him, constantly demonstrated loyalty, although he clearly pushed back in his work. As he did in private conversations—he hasn’t a bit of respect for the authorities. So they draw the new ‘double line.’ Your work must glorify [the authorities]. And don’t talk too much with your friends. It is very important to show that your success will not in any way stop you from doing reverence, and will not dim the enthusiasm in your eyes when you kiss the chief’s hand. Every one of them sits on budgetary money and, in reality, any one of them can be jailed. The laws are so stupid that it’s impossible to work in this system […]”

OLEG BOGAEV on Facebook

“This is why the premiere at the Bolshoi was postponed (closed), because the arrest of Kirill was planned in advance. The first question is how far will the system go, the second question is how closely will the cultural elite unite. If it is difficult to give a definite answer to the first question, the second answer is obvious – there will not be unity (because of grants, state support, collectives, families, loans). So Kirill will have to stay behind bars for at least six months. And this is the most terrible thing.”

A pithy point from MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY on Facebook

“Accusations of fraud are not uncommon when you’re on the wrong side of the FSB, but are we seeing some kind of split between Putin and the security services?

Shortly after the initial questioning of Serebrennikov in May, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was asked about the incident by an actor at a Kremlin reception. He responded: ‘Fools,’ apparently referring to the investigators. This was seen by some as a sign from the Kremlin to stop the campaign against the director; instead, Russian authorities have intensified it.”

Photographs from the courthouse

TEATRAL-ONLINE reports that “thousands of people” came to the Basmanny Court where Kirill Serebrennikov appeared to answer to charges of embezzlement. There are plenty of photos from inside and outside the courtroom.

An excellent photo gallery from inside and outside the Basmanny court, published by MEDUZA.

Actor TALGAT BATALOV on Facebook

“It’s simply disgusting and embarrassing. I hope we will see today’s ‘judges’ in cages in courtrooms. I really hope so. Every day I will make such a wish before going to bed. And we must not be limited to one trip out to court. We need a protest from the entire community.”

MARINA DAVYDOVA on Colta.ru

“I have a lot of letters in my mail. I have no answer to the question, “What do I do now?” I have no answer. I’m afraid no one has one. But I know exactly what can not be done!

[…]

The opening of the season is right around the corner, and here is what we can not do in the near future—we can’t tell about new plans, announce festival programs, present various projects, conduct some ‘young director school’ as if nothing has happened.

The first and main item of all press conferences, all presentations, all interviews delivered by artistic directors to the press, at all theatrical ‘events,’ must now be the ‘Kirill Serebrennikov case’—regardless of the outcome of today’s trial.”

Journalist and human rights activist SERGEI PARKHOMENKO in The Moscow Times

“This is a two-act performance which has been going on in Russia for a long time.

The first act is that everyone is guilty. In Russia, anyone who receives state funding is trapped, because it is impossible to comply with all the regulations, and consequently they’re hung up by several hooks.

The second act is such that is that any of these hooks can be pulled at any moment, either to exact bribes or to make a political statement.”

Publisher and philanthropist IRINA PROKHOROVA in RBK news

“I am prepared to raise bail so that a truly great person does not go to jail. From my point of view, Serebrennikov is an outstanding director and theatrical figure. And he is—this is an indisputable fact—the pride of our nation. His project [Gogol Center] made Russia an advanced theatrical power. I can say this is a crystal-clear, honest man whose goal in life is artistic creativity.”

IRINA PROKHOROVA in Teatral magazine

“Note that audits and searches have become synonymous. Both audits and searches involve people wearing masks with machine guns who frighten young ladies at computers. This lack of distinction says a lot. [The authorities] do not distinguish where they have come—to a theater, where cultural people sit, or to a terrible den of iniquity filled with armed criminals. This is a picture of the world we live in, and of the attitude, we have to the individual. This is the worst thing. Everything else follows from this—how the investigation is conducted, what decisions are made, despite huge numbers of circumstances, including a person’s reputation. This is our difficult heritage, which we can not get rid of. But it’s time to get rid of it.”

VIKTOR MINKOV, Artistic director of Priyut Komedianta Theater in St. Petersburg

“This is for you—Kirill Serebrennikov. I can not be silent! When they arrest a comrade of ours—one who is talented, creative, easy-going, wise and pleasant—it is scary! Of course, it’s scary that any of us who run theaters can, at any time, find ourselves in a situation where common sense and logic do not matter. We spend every day signing documents, conducting full renovations of our theaters, and as one who has overseen numerous projects and new productions, I, of course, think about this a lot. About many things! But this is my home—the Priyut Komedianta, as well as my city Petersburg and my country Russia. Just like for Kirill—his home is Gogol-Center, etc., etc. I want to shout—we are not thieves! Not thieves! We are doing our work honestly! For little money. Not comparable to other millionaires and billionaires. We do our business with a terrible bureaucracy, imperfect laws, with no motivation for rich people to support the theater. We have no other business. We have our country, our city, our theater!!! And we will continue to do business! Fairly! In a noble manner! No matter what!!! I embrace you, Kirill, and I wish you great courage.”

My own comments (JOHN FREEDMAN)

I offered these comments as answers to two questions from Question.ru.

What is your reaction to today’s arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov in Russia?

I think my reaction is best described as angry and fed up. The cultural conservatives, who hold power in Russia and have for some time, continue to wage war against diversity, against experimentation, against an approach to art and to life that posits honesty, integrity and inquisitiveness as indispensable. It is not, as the authorities call it, a case of embezzlement. Such charges are laughable and easily disproved. In fact, we have been moving toward this day for four or five years now. We have seen innumerable signs that this was coming. The authorities continue to demand “traditionalism” and loyalty; some in the artistic community fight back, but the power of authority is great, and it keeps marginalizing the efforts of some brave and independent artists. Then there is a whole other problem—this situation is extremely complex – that many in the arts community will be happy to remain silent as long as the whip misses them. The arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov is a hard and awful day.

What can the international community do in such a situation?

Obviously, there is little that the international community can do other than to make noise. It will soon be necessary to make noise. But I believe strongly that this must be done in an organized way. Obviously, any voice of support for Kirill and the others who are implicated in this trumped-up case will fall on grateful ears. But in order to actually influence the course of affairs in some way, the organization will be needed. There is a good committee of activists in Russia who have been responding to this case for months now. I would expect some leads to come from them. Anyone interested in this situation—and anyone interested in art, politics, and freedom of expression must be interested—should keep an eye on what is coming out of Russia by way of Facebook (a tremendous tool in Russia) and the press. I will be following this on my Facebook page and website, but I will hardly be alone. Become a part of the community and respond when the time comes. I would expect that to be not far off.

Gogol Center logo, Photo: John Freedman

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.