Munich is no place for Valery Gergiev to hide

Munich is no place for Valery Gergiev to hide


norman lebrecht

November 10, 2013

Demonstrations in New York and London were only to be expected for a maestro who has hitched his chariot to the anti-gay tsar, Vladimir Putin. Munich, where Gergiev is heading next after leaving the LSO with short notice, is meant to be a softer landing, a city that protects artists from unwarranted intrusion into their political connections. That’s how it has always been.

No longer, however. The junior partner in the city government, where the social democrats are the largest party, is the Green-Pink List alliance. The city provides much of the funding for Gergiev’s orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic. Expect awkward questions.


pink list  munichUPDATE: More warning signs. The Süddeutscher Zeitung headlines Gergiev as ‘Putin’s hero on the podium’.



  • Mark says:

    There is something I don’t understand about the whole situation. For years Putin’s government has been abusing human rights. Why is it that only now, when he turns against gays (and frankly he has a strong defence case when even some EU countries have stricter anti-gay laws than Russia) the world suddenly wakes up?

    • “Mommy!! Billy did it, toooo!!!!” is now considered a defense?

      It didn’t work when I was 8 years old, and it doesn’t work now.

    • The reason “the world suddenly wakes up” is because the American propaganda machine has been mobilised against Russia, not out of any concern for human rights (funny how the Americans maintain good diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries with very dubious records on human rights), but because Russia has granted asylum to the whistleblower who exposed the far more serious abuses being inflicted by the Anglo-American axis of “intelligence sharing” (which British and American governments are still attempting to justify on the spurious grounds of “national security”, when what they mean is “industrial espionage” and more besides).

      That said, whilst the vituperation has increased significantly in the last few months, I get the impression that the Americans have always disliked Putin: note how the Western media always sanctify *any* opponent to Putin, even if they dodge taxes, commit embezzlement, or breach the peace in a place of worship.

      All of this is not to say that the rights of homosexuals should be ignored or overlooked; rather, that the issue should not be selectively appropriated to serve more sinister agendas.

      • There is a grammatical error in the third paragraph of my comment above; I meant to say: “note how the Western media always sanctify *any* opponent of Putin, even if he/she has dodged taxes, committed embezzlement, or breached the peace in a place of worship”.

      • Martin says:

        Yes, it might indeed be that the US lead global media is more anti-Russia than a few years ago.

        However, the, by opulation, 9th largest country enforces a law which discriminates millions (if 10% of the Russians are gay that’s over 14 million – not even taking into account bisexuals). The internet speards news fast, especially when people are emotionally touched.

        The law is also keeping the whole Russian population (over 2% of the world’s population) uneducated about different life forms, than the widely accepted and ideologized, but often failed, marriage between 1 man and 1 woman. Many in the West believe we should progess from this thinking and not strenghten a believe in something which so often fails.

        • ed says:

          Look, if one is an adult in Russia, and is homosexual or wants to engage in homosexual practices there, one can do it, ok? So, knock that one off the table. Are there rednecks in Russia? Sure, but so are there rednecks in Florida, and Arizona (remember Sheriff Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewer?) and New York (you couldn’t have forgotten New York’s Finest so soon, could you?). Do gay people want to encourage pedophilia? I wouldn’t think so. So, maybe the anti-pedophila object of the law ain’t so bad, either. From what I see, the big conflict is not over how to stop pedophilia (a practice that seems to have been developed into a veritable art form by the British school system- oops, will that comment now make me liable for sanction under PC Britain’s anti-annoyance and/or security laws?), but, instead, over how best to educate our children, and whether we should be able to talk about it, at least somewhere (e.g., in school) or have to shut up just because it may require some extra level of sensitivity when discussing it with kids. My own disagreement with the law is with regard to the education part (or rather the failure to educate part), since we are all ‘god’s chillun’ and part of a large family, and that, I think is where the focus should be. But then again, I’m not from Russia or its culture, and maybe I have no business trying to coerce Russians to believe everything I believe, even if I may be passionate about it. So, on that issue, am I going to invade their country, or demonize their President for a law their Parliament passed, or crucify by association everyone else who supports their President (even if that everyone may be a humanist on that particular issue)…..or throw a Hillary inspired ‘human rights’ tantrum in a concert hall? Maybe, ……….but I would have had to have had quite few drinks first.

      • MWnyc says:

        Sasha, you seem to be suggesting some sort of collusion or coordination among Americans and other Westerners – run behind the scenes by governments, if I understand you correctly – to discredit Putin and Russia by whatever means necessary.

        There’s no collusion. The huge number of people who would have to be involved disagree with each other on too much to collude on anything at all, much less on Vladimir Putin.

        And most of the people concerned enough about gay rights and human rights to protest Gergiev-as-Putin-surrogate are likely to be fans of Edward Snowden, not people who want to punish a country for giving him asylum.

        • Neil van der Linden says:

          #MWnyc: I indeed favour with Snowden and at the same time support any sound action exposing the human rights situation in Russia, and in similar cases anywhere elsewhere. I am sure that Snowden has found a part-time refuge in Russia not because of Russia’s support of free speech and human rights, but because he is a pawn in the international political game. The moment Russia would fine it beneficial to trade him for something that would benefit them more, he would be dropped. Just rights of asylum seekers, though not ideal and under threat every day, are better guaranteed in the law based states of the West.

        • ed says:

          MWNYC and Mr. van der Linden – I think you may have missed the point and failed to look at the NGOs funding this protest movement or “Pussy Riot”, or at the geopolitical agendas these NGOs really are in business to promote. You may be right that some, even many, people in the trenches also support Snowden, but they themselves are more often than not pawns in the kitsch game of ‘soft power’ reformulated by ‘apparachicks’ like Suzanne Nossel and her buddy, Hillary. And are you so sure that the protestors have read the law and understand its intent, or realized that our own country, including such liberal States as California (and even our vaunted Supreme Court) has been split on these issues and needs its own ‘reeducating’? After all, what was the first law that the SCOTUS DOMA holding this past June overturned? Wasn’t it a statute passed by a California referendum- i.e., from ‘democracy in action’? And lest one forget, the murderer of Lou Rispoli has still not been found in our very own NYC, and part of the reason for that has been the lack of interest by Hizzoner Iron Mike, New York’s “Finest” and…. its “Paper of Record”. So, maybe these issues are, instead, rife with contradictions that should call for a more nuanced response rather than an epileptic fit or existential panic. As for Snowden being a ‘pawn’ in Russia (and nowhere else?), maybe, maybe not, but who made it so?

  • “hitched his chariot to the anti-gay tsar”


  • Mike Schachter says:

    Germany of all countries might be rather cautious about questioning the beliefs of artists. They have previous after all, as we might well remember on 9th November.

    • Listener in Munich says:

      Anyway, Gergiev doesn’t start here until Sept. 2015. Until then we have Maazel. This issue will evolve and the dumb homophobic law may even be repealed in the interim.

      I think NL is just being a good journalist on a slow-news Monday!

  • A. Penner says:

    Ah, guilt by proxy.

    So much for independence and freedom.

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    A good case. But support for this case implies understanding that the connection between political affiliations and arts and drawing consequences from it can be made in other cases too.

    It also proves again that the highest artistry does not exclude taking the wrong political stance. It also means that a musician one does not agree with suddenly can be an artistic disaster too.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    On the other hand, Gergiev might not have such an easy ride. The Germans love going onto the streets to demonstrate about all kinds of things. There are far, far more protests and citizens’ action groups than in the UK, for instance. If gay groups in Germany get their act together, Gergiev will have nowhere to hide.

  • Munich has a history of going to great lengths to obtain and retain good conductors for the Philharmonic even when moral compromises are necessary. If a case were made one way or the other, it would likely be the politicians on either side who would end up in an awkward position.

    Bavaria has been ruled by the Catholic oriented CSU since the war. The State of Bavaria also provides funding for the orchestra. So views about Gergiev would be mixed. There is also a fairly strong tradition in post war Germany of politicians not interfering in the arts, especially involving questions of conscience in artists — and all the more so when they are powerful. My guess is that not much will happen. It will be interesting to see what transpires.

  • Marguerite Foxon says:

    Leave the guy alone. I think its outrageous to hound him. THe point has been made.

    • Agree totally. I’m no fan of his conducting, but he doesn’t deserve to be treated this way. The intolerance of the self-righteous PC Brigade is nauseating.

      • Yes! How DARE they advocate for basic human rights!?

        • David H. says:

          Lot’s to do in your own backyard. Protest the unlawful murdering and ethnic cleansing by drone strikes your criminal government is doing. Protest the totalitarian espionage activities your government is engaging in, to gain economical, political and industrial advantages even over so called allies. Lot’s of issues to get outraged, go ahead.

          • Stay on topic, please. Stop trolling.

          • The same peoplewho are protesting Russia’s anti-gay law are protesting the things you list.

            …And “totalitarian” might be a a convenient buzz-word, but it doesn’t mean, “any governmental action of which I disapprove,” and it’s inaccurate in this case.

          • Martin says:

            Norman, I don’t think David H. is far off topic. There are indeed very important issues which remain undiscussed.

            We have enough people in “our” part of the world we could personally attack, instead of choosing a conductor who happens to be close to a powerful man who’s made a decision we don’t like.

          • What color to paint the living room is “a decision we don’t like.”

            Denying people basic human rights is a bit more than that.

  • It seems some self-proclaimed democratic activists would like nothing better then to see an ideological opponent be subject to an abject spectacle of self-abasement the kind of world has seen during the cultural revolution in China.

    • David H. says:

      Absolutely right. The totalitarian smell and the smell of intolerance in the wake of these self-righteous self-proclaimed “activists” is quite unpleasant.

  • DavisA says:

    Interesting that during the communist era with its gross violation of human rights, Russian artists sponsored by the state were welcomed with open arms by the liberal establishment.

    • Neil van der Linden says:

      That is a paradox, and yet there is a sharp difference between building bridges with artists on the other side, who were moreover mostly half or fully opposed to the regime (Rostropovich, Shostakovich, many GDR theatre directors and Czechoslovakian writers, to name a few) and criticising ‘befriended’ nations on our own side (in principle Russia now) and artists who align themselves with such nations, as according to many Gergiev for instance does to a much to large extent.

      The intellectual mutual outreach movement during the communist was probably one of the main factors in helping bringing the Iron Curtain down, plus the economy.

      • DavisA says:

        I think that is sheer nonsense having lived through the era when tyrants like Lenin were practically worshipped on university campuses and communism advocated strongly by left wing academics.

        • Neil van der Linden says:

          I myself did not see my remark as sheer nonsense. Apart from the fact that even a majority of the the self-proclaimed Marxix-Leninist minority did not exactly have what had become of Russia in mind, and were too under-informed or blind to see what was going on in China, it were not those who invited Rostropovich (who left the USSR early), the young Kissin and Mravinsky and programmed Shostakovich, and recorded with the Dresdner Staatskapelle, nor programmed the films by Tarkovski in film theaters, nor invited GDR stage directors like Harry Kupfer, Jürgen Gosch and Fritz Marquardt to West-European theatre and opera stages. Finding ways to keep the channels open with like-minded on both sides of the curtains and walls helped to bring them down. And even to make the landing more soft. West- and East-Europe intellectually and artistically were no aliens to each other when the barriers broke down.

        • Absolutely! There may even have been as many as, oh, 5 or six “academics” who did as you describe.

  • harold braun says:

    Oh please,stop it….!!!

  • Musiker says:

    For the hated-filled thugs and homophobes (I won’t name names, you know who you are) who read and comment on this thread and related threads on this blog, take some time out to watch part 2 of Stephen Fry’s BBC documentary “Out There”, which deals specifically about the situation in Russia for gay men and women.

    Gay rights are not about being politically correct or having a “cause du jour”.

    They’re a matter of life or death.

    Here’s the link:


  • We’re not hate-filled thugs or homophobes. Get a bit of perspective on your heros’ methods.

  • Musiker says:

    You haven’t the faintest idea who my “heroes” are.So quite which “methods” you’re referring to is quite beyond me, I’m afraid.

    But hatred and homophobia never make sense anyway, so why should hate-filled thugs and homophobes be expected to be able to string a logical sentence together?

    • You allow yourself to call a complete stranger a ‘hate-filled thug and homophobe’ just because he doesn’t happen to agree 100% with what you’re advocating. Congratulations.

      • This is something I do not understand. Bigots often claim that they’re being denounced merely for “disagreeing”, when it’s patently obvious that they’re being criticized for denying others their basic human rights.

        So…if they understand that bigotry is wrong — which, obviously, they do, or they wouldn’t try to minimize the reason for their opponents’ opposition — why don’t they just, y’know, stop being bigots?

        • Musiker says:

          Jeffrey, you don’t think that the bigots have the brains to be able to follow such logic, do you? Read the comments by the homophobes on this page. Such thought processes are simply beyond them.

          • @Musiker – How come only you people have the right to call others bigots, thugs and the rest? Jeffrey – where have I advocated that gays should be denied basic huan rights? All I’ve said is that I find these bully-boy tactics nauseating. If that’s reason enough for you to go name-calling, then good for you.

          • OK, enough of the name-calling, everyone. Stick to the issues, please.

      • Musiker says:

        Anyone who seeks to deny someone else a basic human right via words or physical violence is a hate-filled thug.

        The homophobes of this world seek to deny a gay man or woman their basic human rights because of their sexuality.

        People who align themselves to such thugs and homophobes are no better than them.

        You take umbrage at the fact there are people in this world who speak out against oppression and hatred and violence and murder.

        Speaking out against injustice is also a basic human right.

        What is more you belittle gays and lesbians for doing so, for not passively accepting the discrimination and violence they have to suffer and endure on a daily basis.

        You dismiss their fight for basic human rights as a “cause du jour” or a petty case of political correctness.

        It isn’t. In many countries, including Russia, it’s a matter of life and death.

        To deny this or turn a blind eye to it, is hate-filled thuggery and homophobia.

        • John Hames says:

          I hate to interrupt a good rant, but where are “the homophobes on this page”? No one has expressed anything other than distaste for the situation in Putin’s Russia. You throw around words like “homophobia”, a word only invented in the late 1960s, thinking it relieves you and everyone else from actually having to think about the issues. It’s a convenient “fly-swatter” word like racist and sexist, enabling you to dismiss any views you can cram in under those headings. In that sense it *is* political correctness, thought-fascism, etc. Certainly “speaking out against injustice is a basic human right”, but I suggest you try it outside the Kremlin and marvel at the way your feet barely touch the ground on the way to the nearest slammer. It’s a matter of tactics. Those you seem to advocate — shouting at near-dictators from a safe position in the west — may make you feel at your age, which I estimate to be very young, that you’re doing something for good, but I don’t somehow think Putin is going to hear you and think, “Jeez, yes, Musiker is right, I now see the error of my ways, especially as they’re giving my pal Valya a hard time: I must repeal these inhumane measures immediately.” If only life were that simple.

          • Musiker says:

            Challenging homophobia — the word may be a modern coinage but that doesn’t mean to say that the phenomenon is — is “thought fascism”?


            Are you saying that everyone who speaks out against Russia’s new anti-gay laws and violence towards gays is only entitled to do so on Russian soil?


            And just because Putin isn’t likely to repeal the laws, people should say nothing?


            What tactics would you suggest would be better? Shut up and say nothing?

            Accept the status quo?

            I really don’t understand how the people on this page can take offence when others speak out against injustice, even if it’s not happening at their front door.

            Should we only concern ourselves with domestic political issues?

            Great tactic! That’s gonna solve every single one of the world’s problems.

            What a wise old man you are.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    According to todays Guardian over half of the Commonwealth countries have anti homosexuals laws and indeed Australia only relaxed its laws in 1997!

    Are musicians from all those countries being persecuted because of their leaders views?

    • Neil van der Linden says:

      #Elisabeth Owen. “Are musicians from all those countries being persecuted because of their leaders views?” Persecuted is a big word, also in comparison with the situation of those who are persecuted in such countries. But yes, if people are closely associated with such leaders and reap the benefits of the close association, it is not unfair to confront them elsewhere with their stance, especially when they clearly directly or indirectly are part of the goodwill machine around such a leader. Gergiev in this case is no innocent bystander.

  • MWnyc says:

    I still don’t understand what the people who are protesting against Gergiev because of Putin’s and the Russian government’s treatment of gay men and women hope to achieve.

    Does anyone seriously think that Putin and his government would change a policy they consider advantageous – especially when that policy has support from a sizable portion of Russian society – just because a musician spoke out against it? I can’t see it happening, even if the musician is as famous as Gergiev is.

    (How much change in government policy, beyond the decision to expel rather than imprison or execute one famous author, did Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya bring about?)

    Now consider the bad things that might potentially happen – to Gergiev himself and to the Mariinsky – if Gergiev were to publicly criticize or embarrass Putin. (Not to mention that the two men have reportedly known and liked each other for decades.)

    Seems to me that the protesters are demanding that Gergiev take an action that could potentially cost him and even people and institutions he works with a great deal but would accomplish practically nothing. And this action is about an issue that may or may not even be important to Gergiev.

    I support the principles the protesters are fighting for, but I think there are probably more effective targets of their efforts.

    • Neil van der Linden says:

      #MWnyc: In the end the Rostropoviches and the Vichnevskaya’s and Sacharovs and Havels and Tarkovski’s and Kupfers and Wajda’s and Szabo’s and Müllers helped to bring down the system, from the inside, even if some left to the outside. The movie Das Leben der Anderen based on a real-life situation pictures this in a moving way. But Sacharov doesn’t even need a movie to prove his point, posthumously. There is no need to drive Gergiev to the extreme, who knows what he is discussing behind the scene, even if it were only for worries about his reputation in the West. But asking attention for the topic with some pressure can’t do much bad.

  • @Norman Lebrecht, above – I was. Someone needs to control the rainbow taliban.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Szabo as in Istvan Szabo? He imself admitted that he was an informer for the Hungarian secret police. On top of that he did not make a great film since Colonel Redl – a gay themed filmed BTW. OK , he did make some decent ones recently but none great.

  • Musiker says:

    Here’s what Peter Tatchell himself wrote in a piece for the Spectator.

    Very reasoned, rational, calm, good-natured and fair.

    But I dare say the white heterosexual male Taliban on these pages won’t read it.