Russia and Ukraine: Musicians caught between conflict, bitter rhetoric and outright bans

by    /  October 21, 2014  / No comments

As the conflict in Ukraine unfolds, political borders turn into cultural borders, and artists on both sides suffer the consequences. Russians are banning Ukrainian artists from performing, and vice versa.

By Masha Egupova

On September 25, as Russian singer Andrei Makarevich was performing at the House of Music in Moscow, members of the unregistered nationalist party Other Russia disrupted the show, yelled “Traitor!”, threw eggs and leaflets, and released pepper spray into the theater.

Makarevich recently performed in Donetsk, which, in light of the increasingly aggressive nationalist tensions building from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, is enough to brand Makarevich a Ukraine sympathizer in the eyes of pro-Russian activists.

The Russian and Ukrainian music scenes have always been intertwined. Young Ukrainian artists would come to Moscow looking for fame and fortune, while Russian celebrities would go to Ukraine on tour. The two countries have been connected through culture, languages and history. But as nationalist rhetoric gets more heated, cultural exchange is suffering.

Russian artists denounced

Together with some Ukrainian artists, Makarevich, leader of the well-know Russian rock band Mashina Vremeni (‘Time Machine’), performed for children of refugees in Donetsk in the beginning of August 2014.

Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine, has been at the center of the summer’s Russia-Ukraine conflict, ever since it was taken over by pro-Russian separatists in April 2014. Although an official ceasefire was declared in September, violent clashes continue.

After Makarevich returned to Russia, he wrote a column about his trip for Russia’s Snob magazine, which ignited heated debates in pro-Kremlin Mass Media. Headlines accused Makarevich of performing for Ukrainian occupation troops. Well-known Russian figures used their platforms to publicly denounce him.

“[There is no point in] saying that democracy allows everyone to have their own opinion,” said Joseph Kobzon, an iconic Russian singer and politician. “Your opinion – yes, but democracy doesn’t allow you [to become] a traitor of your country.”

Member of parliament: deport Makarevich

Russian MP Yevgeny Fyodorov suggested revoking all the state awards that Makarevich has previously received. Another MP, Dmitry Livintsev offered to deport Makarevich from the country.

“Andrei Makarevich has been working with fascists for a long time. He made this choice a while ago, when he came to the side of the enemies of the Russian Federation,” Fyodorov told a Izvestia newspaper.

After Nashe Radio, the organiser of the rock festival Nashestvie, announced that Mashina Vremeni would perform at the closing concert of the festival, its website was flooded with angry comments and calls to boycott the festival. (Nashestviye itself had a strong military presence, including tanks, soldiers in uniform, and a recruiting station.)

After three weeks of bullying, Makarevitch wrote an open letter to Vladimir Putin asking him to “stop this [witches’] Sabbath.” He has since postponed a forthcoming Ukraine tour, claiming health reasons.

Nine concerts of Arbenina cancelled

Nochnye Snaipery, another well-known Russian rock band, is no longer welcome to perform in several Russian cities after Diana Arbenina, the band’s leader, was accused of expressing sympathy with the Ukrainian people.

Diana Arbenina believes that her October concert in Vladimir was cancelled because her band performed in Kyiv in July 2014. At least nine concerts of Arbenina have been cancelled in the past few months.

During her concert in Kyiv, Arbenina said:

“I support the idea that nothing can separate us and split our people. […] No one asked me to do this. In the face of the Almighty, I want to ask for forgiveness for my colleagues, for those people who play rock and roll, and for some reason haven’t yet supported you in the worst time for Ukraine.” (Source: Youtube.com)

After her concerts were cancelled all over Russia, Arbenina issued a video message on YouTube.com where she said:

“Reasons why [my concerts were cancelled] were different: a leaking roof, club renovations or the city suddenly decides to occupy the venue for its needs. And of course all of this is a lie. I want to say that we will still come. Please wait for us. We will do everything we can to normalise the situation. So that all this political nonsense […] would end.”


Arbenina discusses tour. Video from Diana Arbenina’s YouTube-channel

Ukrainian artists banned in Russia

Conversely, some Russian MPs have expressed their desire to create a list of Ukrainian artists who are no longer welcome in Russia.

Last spring, Okean Elzi, a Ukrainian band, and Lyapis Trubetskoy, a Belorussian band, had their Russian concerts cancelled. Both of the bands were accused of supporting the Euromaidan movement, even though the artists have repeatedly denied such accusations.

Vopli Vidoplyasova is a Ukrainian band that has been popular in both Russia and Ukraine since 1986. In August 2014, their concerts were cancelled in Moscow.

“We cannot go to Russia. We had two concerts planned in Kuban and Moscow. They were cancelled because we are Ukrainians,” Oleg Skripka, the band’s frontman, told Echo Moskvy. He called this ‘war of lists’ a severe disease, which simply needs to be endured. “So far it looks like nonsense; it will calm down later,” he added.

Proposed ban on Russian performers

Ukrainian politicians have also jumped on the bandwagon of hatred. In his recent interview, Bogdan Chervak, director of the information policy department of Ukraine’s State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting, said that Russian performers and their songs may soon be banned on Ukrainian television and radio channels.

“[It’s repulsive that] the content of [radio stations] is mainly based on the performances of so called Russian ‘stars,’ many of whom are disgraced by publicly supporting the aggressive and expansionist policy of Putin. [They don’t] hide their hatred towards our motherland,” Chervak told Komsomolskaya Pravda in Ukraine.

“We are now preparing a list to ban entry to Ukraine for over 500 Russian artists who approved the Crimean annexation and the separation of Ukraine. I believe it is not right to let them earn money on concerts in Ukraine. Let them perform in the Crimea before seagulls, on empty beaches,” Anton Gerashenko, advisor to the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, wrote on his Facebook wall.

Ukrainian nationalists mirrored the attitudes of Russian nationalists by declaring famous Ukrainian singer Ani Lorak a traitor after she received two music awards in Russia in May 2014. Protesters boycotted her concerts and vandalised posters depicting her face. When Lorak recorded a patriotic song by renowned Ukrainian composer Ivasiuk, Euromaidan activists accused her of trying to “profit from blood”.

In May 2014, Maidan activists disrupted her performance in the Ukrainian city of Odessa and tried to break into the nightclub where she was performing. More than 200 armed police officers were called in to stop the protesters, and the situation escalated into violence.

Gerashenko wrote an in-depth Facebook post responding to the event which ultimately came to the defense of Lorak and the police.

“I do not approve of Ani Lorak’s behavior in relation to Russia,” he began, but went on to say, “I don’t think Ani Lorak’s guilt is so big that we need to prevent her from performing in Ukraine. As far as I know she didn’t make any statements supporting the annexation of the Crimea or the division of Ukraine. She just went to some music award ceremony in May. I think she shouldn’t be executed for that.”


Clashes at Club Ibiza – video published on 6 August 2014 by YouTube-user ClikaTV

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has crossed the borders of just a military operation – right now the war is waged in the media, online, and in the cultural spheres. Because of how close-knit the two countries’ ties have been historically, the conflict is in many ways a civil war. As the back-and-forth vilification of culture-makers continues, it goes to show just how personal the conflict truly is.

This story was commissioned by Freemuse, the leading defender of musicians worldwide and Global Voices for Artsfreedom.org. The article may be republished by non-commercial media, crediting the author Masha Egupova, Freemuse and Global Voices and linking to the origin.

Image op top of page: Andrei Makarevich wears a ribbon with the colors of the Ukrainian Flag in the March of Peace in Moscow on 15 March 2014. Image from Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published on freemuse.org October 20th, 2014

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