Russia: the government reinforces its takeover of culture

Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky was tried in absentia by the Russian authorities on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. © ANDRE PAIN / AFP

Text by: Anissa El Jabri Follow

3 min

In 2022, with the sending of soldiers to Ukraine, there was a schism in the world of culture, between those who protested and left on their own in the first months, some discreetly, others by making it known as loud as possible, and those who remained loyal. The government is now increasing its grip in all areas.


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In the sights of power, especially all artists who have an audience. This past week has given two examples. Writer Dmitry Glukhovsky, already classified as a foreign agent after leaving Russia, began being tried in absentia on Tuesday. The best-selling author is accused of forgery about the Russian armed forces and risks at least a heavy fine.

Classified as a foreign agent at the same time as the writer, also targeted by a trial in absentia this week, the rap singer Oxxymiron. For a long time, his protest lyrics, much listened to by young people, have been a problem for the government: one of his songs about school shootings has already been classified as "extremist" and banned. A second one could follow. She talks about St. Petersburg, but in code words – words that everyone in Russia understands very well – speaks of a country that one day will finally be free. An indicator of its huge success: YouTube is supposed to be banned in Russia, but since mid-September, the song on this platform has collected 15 million views.

What is easily listened to in Russia right now? Singers who have the favors of power, like the young and blond Shaman. This winner of a telecrochet lived until the beginning of the conflict, but now his song "I am Russian" is on all radio and television and he sings at official concerts, such as the one at the Luzhniki stadium to commemorate the first anniversary of what the government still calls "the special operation in Ukraine". His concert tickets are 30% more expensive than average, but it works: the new idol that the power puts forward for young people fills the halls. He also performs for free in the field in Donbass for the Russian army.

Pushkin Museum director fired

At the moment in Russia, it is better to know these artists. A case has thus marked the spirits in Moscow: a raid of the anti-riot police, the OMON helmeted and dressed in black, Friday, March 17 in the evening in two bars of the center. The owners are accused of collecting money for the Ukrainian army. During this raid, after the checks of the papers, numerous arrests, a customer was forced to paint the "Z" of the special operation on a window. And to top it off, the police also forced some young customers to sing, filmed, a song of "Lyubè", Vladimir Putin's favorite group.

This week also saw the dismissal of the director of the Pushkin Museum. She is replaced by a former member of the pro-Kremlin youth movement, also a former employee of the Ministry of the Interior. Already in February, two directions had already changed in two famous museums: the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Each time, it was personalities close to power who took the reins.

► READ ALSO: Support, criticize or remain silent, Russian artists face a choice fraught with consequences

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