Russia is self-destructing with its war in Ukraine, according to film and theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov, who said domestic support for the invasion was the result of “many years of terrible propaganda.”
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Speaking to AFP in Berlin, his new home, Serebrennikov, the Russian son of a Jewish father and a Ukrainian mother, said he felt “just horror, sadness, shame, pain” about the invasion.
“I love Russia, I love the Russian people and I know that they’re really peaceful,” he said. “At the same time a lot of them, from what I read and what I see, are supporting this terrible division, and this terrible killing, which sometimes looks like self-killing,” he said.
“Culture and war are opposites and the people of culture can’t be part of the war, they can’t be dogs of war,” he said, but anti-war artists often find themselves in a dilemma about whether to speak up.
“Imagine if you say something tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, immediately the police will come and arrest you, and what to do?” he asked. “The people have their families, the people have their business, work, need to earn money for a living.”
There were “very brave people, very brave artists who, in spite of fear, in spite of all these cases and restrictions and criminal pressure, try to write something,” he said.
Examples were “a few good theatre makers” who refused their National Theatre “Golden Mask” awards, and an artist who went to prison for exchanging price labels in a shop for information about the war so people “might have the chance to read the truth.”
Others have kept quiet, or actively worked with the regime, Serebrennikov said, though he insisted it was not his role to judge.
“If you want to be Leni Riefenstahl, welcome, if you want to be Marlene Dietrich, welcome,” he said.
Riefenstahl was a German photographer and film director who made a key contribution to Nazi propaganda, while star actress Marlene Dietrich helped Jews escape from Germany, gave up her citizenship, and toured the US to shore up morale during World War II.
“It’s the choice of a person and let’s respect this choice,” he said.
“If people decide to live forever in Moscow and work for the power, it is their choice, they can do it freely, for me I don’t want to judge them at all,” he said.
His supporters say the conviction was revenge for his critiques of authoritarianism and homophobia. He was informed that, having served half his sentence, he was free to go.
“I have made my choice,” he said. “But I can speak only for myself.”
Serebrennikov said “of course it’s not easy” for most artists to leave Russia “because they have no money and they have no visa.”