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The arrest of theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov: what you need to know

The arrest of theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov: what you need to know
Prominent theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov was detained yesterday by Russian authorities. Image: Information Bag / Facebook

23 August 2017

A Moscow court has placed the prominent Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov under house arrest on charges of allegedly embezzling the equivalent of over $1.1m of government funds in a trial many of his supporters claim is politically motivated.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Basmanny courthouse in Moscow this morning, as Serebrennikov awaited the judge’s verdict as to whether he would be placed under house arrest or remain in police custody. Serebrennikov, who denies the charges, is accused of the alleged embezzlement of state funds in an investigation many have slammed as the latest salvo against dissent in the arts. Internationally acclaimed novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya and veteran journalist Leonid Parfenov were two of the many cultural figureheads in the crowd showing their support for the progressive theatre director, while a petition calling for the case against Serebrennikov to be dropped has been gathering signaures.

What happened on Tuesday 22 August?

- Kirill Serebrennikov is arrested in St Petersburg while shooting a film about the 1980s Soviet singer Viktor Tsoi and moved to Moscow

- According to Russian investigators, Serebrennikov stands accused of embezzling 68m rubles ($1.1m) of government funds, allocated for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Gogol Centre that authorities claim never took place

- Serebrennikov spends the night in jail before the court decides whether he will remain in custody or be placed under house arrest

Who else is involved?

- On 23 May federal investigators raid Kirill Serebrennikov’s home and theatre, the Gogol Centre, investigating the embezzlement of 200m rubles ($3.4m) from the state budget allocated to his theatre company Seventh Studio. Serebrennikov is interrogated, released, and made a witness to the ongoing investigation

- Former heads of Seventh Studio, general director Yuri Itin and chief accountant Nina Maslyaeva are detained on 24 May, in connection with the raid the previous day

- On 21 June, police arrest Alexei Malobrodsky, the former director of the Gogol Centre, as authorities claim the funding for A Midsummer Night’s Dream never reached the play, despite supposed evidence that the play was currently being staged at the Gogol Centre

- On 8 August during Maslyaeva’s trial, the chief accountant confesses to having helped Serebrennikov, Malobrodsky and Itin syphon off government funds allocated to theatrical productions, as embezzlement allegations increase to 68m rubles ($1.2m)

Background: the targeting of Moscow’s Gogol Centre

- The Gogol Centre is one of Moscow’s most famous theatres, known for its progressive, experimental productions, with a particularly anti-conservative stance

- Serebrennikov, the current theatre director, is particulary popular among left-wing activists, due to his public defence of LGBT rights and regular criticisms of the Kremlin. He also demonstrated against Russia’s actions during the 2008 war with Georgia and signed statements in defense of the renowned female collective Pussy Riot

- Many are calling the state investigation into the Gogol Centre a politically motivated case, as part of a wider government crackdown against the arts

- Opposition party leader Alexei Navalny wrote on his website that the case against the Gogol Centre should be interepreted as a stern warning to Russia’s cultural elite ahead of the 2018 elections, not to “play hard to get but instead run quickly to sign up to represent Putin”

How Russia’s cultural community is responding to his arrest

- Since the initial raid of Serebrennikov’s home and theatre in May, Russia’s cultural community has furiously rallied around the Gogol Centre director, arguing for his innocence and against the state’s allegedly unlawful intervention

- Vladimir Posner, and more than 20 leading cultural figures in Russia, including actress Chulpan Khamatova, animator Yuriy Norshteyn and director Alexander Sokurov, signed a letter arguing for the release of Alexei Malobrodsky at the beginning of August

- Following the announcement of Serebrennikov’s arrest on 22 August, novelist Boris Akunin lamented it signalled “a new stage of existence with new rules” in the country, suggesting the arrest could not have happened without Putin’s approval

- Actress Liya Akhedzhakova, has spoken out in support of Serebrennikov, comparing his plight to that of Meyerhold or Mandelshtam

- As of 23 August, 12,000 people have signed a petition published on calling for the case against the leading theatre director to be dropped