The London-based Russian opposition group Govorite Gromche (Speak Up) has launched a petition to have the well-known Russian singers Alla Perfilova, also known by her stage name Valeriya, and Joseph Kobzon banned from entering the UK for their upcoming concerts due to their vocal pro-Kremlin support.
Accusing Kobzon of being “always deeply politically and ideologically engaged with the ruling regime”, the petition on Change.org urges the UK government to “stop Joseph Kobzon and other members of the Kremlin’s cheerleading team from entering the UK or any other democratic country”.
Referring to Kobzon’s close links to the State Duma, after he headed the culture committee between 2005 and 2007, Andrey Sidelnikov, the head of Speak Up, told The Calvert Journal: “I think that the problem is not about whether the political opinions of cultural figures should affect their career, the problem is about the way in which they are using their popularity to spread propaganda.”
He added: “It’s not that we take issue with their performances or songs — that’s a matter of taste — but we don’t want to see them here in the UK where human rights are not just words but something real.”
In March this year, both Kobzon and Valeriya added their names to an open letter entitled “Cultural figures in support of the president’s position on Ukraine and Crimea” following Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. The move, a response to an open letter signed by Russian cultural figures in support of Ukraine, caused Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister Edgar Rinkevich to ban both singers from entering the country, blacklisting them due to their “aggressive support” for the annexation of Crimea and “for repeatedly and publicly speaking disparagingly about the actions of Ukraine”.
In contrast to the sentiment of Speak Up’s petition, this week has seen a number of theatre producers from Russia, Lithuania and Germany, including Andrey Moguchiu, Valery Fokin and Luce Persival, sign a petition to protest against culture falling victim to political sanctions against Russia.
The letter reads: “Culture cannot serve one or any political, momentary goals. It is an independent sphere which has no temporal or geographical borders … Political conflicts may be settled in the short term, but lost culture will take decades to restore,” the letter reads.
The letter was written following the decision of a number of actors and producers not to have their performances staged in Russia. It continues: “We are sure that culture and art must be excluded from any sanctions, either economical or political. We are sure that a legitimate right of people for intercultural dialogue is indisputable. We believe that the beauty of art can heal wounds of the world.”
Russia’s cultural sphere has suffered due to worsening diplomatic tensions between Russia and the west, with a number of events cancelled due to withdrawal of funding and boycotts following the Ukraine crisis.