Breaking: Gergiev praises Putin’s cultural policies

Breaking: Gergiev praises Putin’s cultural policies


norman lebrecht

December 17, 2013

At a press conference in Munich, designed to allay criticism of his pro-Putin stance, Valery Gergiev said of Russia’s anti-gay law: ‘I do not know this law and I do not understand it.’

Gergiev has been criticised by Munich’s Pink List, a member of the city coalition, for supporting the ‘current hatred and persecution policy of the Putin government towards lesbian, gay and transgender people.’ He becomes music director of the Munich Philharmonic in 2015.

On other matters, our observer says that Gergiev offered praise – as he has done before – for the Putin government’s support for culture, a policy which has enabled him to build a second opera house within the Mariinsky complex in St Petersburg. It appears he yielded no ground to those who criticise him for supporting the authoritarian Russian regime.

For a first report, click here (auf Deutsch).

gergiev a certain madness


  • sdReader says:

    Tomorrow (Dec. 18) he faces promised hecklers at his first Munich Philharmonic regular concert since January, when he was appointed to his new post, which runs from 2015 to 2020.

  • Robt. Switzer says:

    Gergiev denies knowing anything about the anti-gay law or understanding it. Oh really? I don’t know which is more disturbing, whether he’s telling the truth or lying. Either way, he’s seriously out of touch with reality. Considering that he’s been asked about it many times, I think he’s lying, which makes his latest pronouncement all the more insulting.

  • Andrew says:

    He doesn’t owe anybody an explanation of the governments policies.

    Let’s grill Michael Tilson Thomas on why Guantanamo Bay internment camp is still open.

    • sdReader says:

      MTT didn’t campaign for George Bush, who, in any case, wasn’t acting against a minority by setting up Guantánamo but fighting a war.

      • David H. says:

        True, but the question for getting the analogy better would be:

        Were MTT heading a cultural institution in a country, where the subsidies his institution depends on fully are granted by the government, would he then maybe show signs of loyalty to the leadership? Would he on the other hand show dissidence (and risk the existence of a lot of people and a cultural institution)? I’m not sure what the answer would be…

        • sdReader says:

          No. He would know what side his bread was buttered. That doesn’t mean we in the West should accept his behavior.

          I’m coming to the belief that he should just stay in Russia, serving Putin, and not suck up our arts funding and salaries — meaning the Met, LSO, Rotterdam “Gergiev” Festival, and now Munich.

          I discovered this morning that he screwed Warsaw Opera this month as well, showing up late, forcing a concert cancellation, and handing over a brand-new production to another conductor after just one performance (though originally promising two).

    • MWnyc says:

      Thank you, Andrew!

      And Gergiev can do no more to change the Russian government’s (and society’s) attitudes toward gay people than MTT can to get Guantanamo closed.

    • Musiker says:

      If MTT had actively campaigned for George W. Bush’s re-election and made disingenuous remarks in support of Guantanamo, yes then he would have to be grilled about such views.

      • David H. says:

        But considering MTT lives in a supposedly more liberal country than Gergiev does, isn’t it his absolute duty to publicly speak up against violations of human rights like Guantanamo, simply because he can without fearing repercussions?

        • Musiker says:

          It’s an age-old tactic to divert attention from one particular issue to go off at a tangent and bring up a completely unrelated one.

          This is a discussion about Putin’s attack on the fundamental human rights of members of Russia’s LGBT community. And whether Gergiev’s silence on the matter — even after repeated questioning — means that he actually condones Putin’s actions or not.

          If you want to boycott or picket the concerts of MTT because of Guantanamo Bay, there is nothing stopping you.

          Go ahead.

          Start a separate thread about MTT and Guantanamo Bay elsewhere if it makes you feel better.

          But MTT and Guantanamo Bay have nothing to do with this particular discussion.

          • David H. says:

            I disagree. MTT and Guantanamo Bay have very much to do with this discussion. This discussion is about the self righteousness of people, who pick Gergiev for some reasons, but avoid other issues that are as ore more pressing and obvious.

          • Musiker says:

            It seems you cannot read. The topic of the discussion is clearly stated in the headline and in Norman Lebrecht’s article.

            Nothing about MTT or Guantanamo in either of those.

            Gergiev is not being picked on, but being challenged about his opinions in a political discussion that he himself started when he decided to campaign actively for Putin.

            There is nothing self-righteous about standing up for human rights.

            And for the members of Russia’s LGBT community there is nothing more pressing and obvious than Putin’s obnoxious new laws, I can assure you.

          • David H. says:

            I can read and maybe you can not comprehend. Norman Lebrecht’s article is all about self righteousness and responsibility toward voicing dissent to one’s home countrie’s anti-human policies.

            Nothing more pressing than Putin’s new laws? That’s a quite estranged comment my fellow human. Have looked at the world recently? Have you noticed the hundreds and thousands of innocent people that were killed, by the US, not by Russia? Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye, but not the beam in your own?

          • Musiker says:

            For the members of Russia’s LGBT community who get beaten to an inch of their lives simply because they are not heterosexual, with no recourse to help from police or the judiciary system, I can assure you that Putin’s new laws are pretty pressing.

            People who criticise Gergiev and Putin are not denying that human rights abuses go on elsewhere. It is a lie to assert that.

            But that doesn’t belittle or excuse the blatant human rights abuses increasingly meted out in Russia.

            Two wrongs don’t make a right.

            To use your own rather bathetic phraseology: YOU are the one who refuses to “see the beam in your own” eye, YOU are the self-righteous one. Nobody else.

          • Musiker says:

            For members of Russia’s LGBT community who get beaten to within an inch of their lives with no recourse to help from the police or judiciary simply because they are not heterosexual, there is nothing more pressing than Putin’s new laws, I can assure you.

            People who criticize Putin — and by extension Gergiev — are not denying that human rights abuses don’t occur elsewhere, least of all in the US.

            It is a lie to assert that.

            But two wrongs don’t make a right.

            To use your own rather bathetic phraseology, it is YOU who is blinded by the beam in your own eye, it YOU who is being self-righteous in belittling the very real dangers to the lives of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia.

            Saying that the fundamental human rights of those people is not an important issue is by far the stranger comment for a “fellow human being” to make and shows what sort of person you are.

    • Musiker says:

      I personally think you’re wrong about artists being unable to change a government’s or society’s attitudes. If that were the case, why is it that artists have consistently been repressed all through the ages.

      Art is political by nature, because it has the power to change society.

      If Gergiev and Netrebko want to play the apolitical card, all well and good. They’re perfectly entitled to do so.

      But then they shouldn’t wade into the political arena themselves in the first place and actively campaign for Putin’s re-election.

      No-one forced them to do that. They could have kept quiet then. But they actively chose not to.

      So, it’s completely disingenuous of them now to want to keep quiet on this particular issue and say “we’re not political”.

      Furthermore, the issue at stake here is not merely a party political one, but one of fundamental human rights.

      Artists, like anyone else, can vote for whomever they please, whatever political party and need not be called to justify themselves simply because they agree with that particular party’s tax policies, or social welfare policies.

      But what we’re talking here is the violent and brutal repression of people on the basis of their sexuality.

      That goes way beyond party politics. It’s about fundamental human rights.

      And in that area, if artists consistently, openly and publicly support a party which seeks to repress a group of people’s human rights, then of course they should be grilled about it, whether in the US, Britain, Europe, Russia or anywhere.

      • Halldor says:

        Musiker – well put. Hear, hear.

      • David H. says:

        You are wrong. Pitching ideas of homosexuality to minors is not a fundamental human right. I dislike the Russian law, but a fundamental human right is not concerned. There are much more fundamental problems in many countries, that concern fundamental human rights.

        Why don’t we talk more about the fundamental human right to privacy and protection from unreasonable surveillance by our governments?

        • Musiker says:

          Being able to live openly in a relationship with the person you love, no matter what their gender, without fear of repression, arrest, violence or murder IS VERY MUCH a human right.

          And quite what you mean “pitching ideas of homosexuality to minors” is beyond me, I’m afraid, but seems to reveal something of your overall mindset.

  • Tomas says:

    Good point, Andrew! I am quite conviced that nomatter what jis political opinion, Gergiev can’t criticise Putin out of care for the Mariinski theatre. He has had great support in rising its standards and that support is easily lost.

    • David H. says:

      You can say this 1000 times. The armchair self righteous and clueless people in the west will never understand what it means to live, have family, and leadership responsibility under a less than liberal regime in your home country.

      Btw, I wonder how much dissidence we hear from leaders of British or US cultural institutions about the more obvious violations of human rights in their countries in recent years. Anybody got examples?


      • Janey says:

        You suggest Russia is very different than the U.S. and U.K. We cannot understand. You then suggest that artists within these three countries should be judged with the same standards. Which is it?

  • Andrew says:

    As citizens of various nations, we are supposed to be able to have a certain level of “free speech”, especially when elections are being conducted. So, we are acting as voters who are members of the community. We see Hollywood stepping up for Obama, we see all manner of interest groups endorsing who, from their own perspective, are who they want to succeed. Notice I didn’t say “entitled”, as just saying anything one wants in any way is not protected speech, especially in other countries where things haven’t gone crazy with individual rights taking precedence over responsibilities.

    What we are seeing here is the PC mafia, the very tyranny of Soviet revolutionary thought-police that Russia shed, coming back from outside, to intimidate and silence them from having exercised their freedom. And no, ones efforts to harangue and impede someones professional life is not the same as exercising an endorsement of a political figure.

    This kind of in-fighting in classical music could be it’s undoing ultimately if artists are forced to wear their political positions on their sleeves and our patrons forced to choose concerts based on ideologies. Sounds awfully Soviet to me.

  • Pixy Harris says:

    I don’t care about Gergiev’s political views – he has never conduct concerts and “Tristan” to celebrate the fall of Paris to the Nazis, unlike…. What matters is that he is a very great conductor and I only want to hear him making music.

    • sdReader says:

      He campaigned for Putin, and it is clear you “don’t care” what happens to gay people in Russia.

      • Pixy Harris says:

        Putin has been good for Russia on the whole: he has raised the standard of living, introduced a national health service, saved the country from chaos and reduced crime. And no, I don’t much care what happens to gay people so long as they keep their affairs private.

        • sdReader says:

          Shame on you.

          • Pixy Harris says:

            Shame for what? For having a certain admiration for Putin or for not having huge sympathy for homosexuals? It’s not for you to pass judgement on my personal views.

          • Pixy Harris says:

            Shame for what? For having a certain admiration for Putin or for not having all that much interest in homosexuals. (Putin’s attitiude to them has been exaggerated.) It’s not for your self-righteous self to judge my opinions.

          • Pixy Harris says:

            You are a touch too self-righteous for my taste. Furthermore, I can’t see anything wrong with Russian law forbidding homosexuals spreading propaganda among minors.

          • Musiker says:

            What does “spreading propaganda among minors” mean?

            Define what you mean by “propaganda”.

            Society bombards us with heterosexual “propaganda” from the word go.

            Children are confronted with heterosexual pornography everywhere — on billboards, in newspapers, on television, in films.

            People grow up in families with heterosexual parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and STILL turn out gay.

            Others grow up with same-sex parents and STILL turn out straight.

            Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people don’t need or use “propaganda” to recruit anyone.

            It is a lie to say they do.

            Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are much more likely to be accepting of anyone’s sexuality, straight or otherwise, than you and your bigots are.

            It is YOU and the other bigots who try to force their definition of sexuality down everyone else’s throats.

            You and your bigots do infinitely more harm to a child’s mental and physical well-being than any normal tolerant, open-minded heterosexual or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person.

            It is YOU bigots who should be banned, nobody else.

        • Musiker says:

          Pixy Harris said: “And no, I don’t much care what happens to gay people so long as they keep their affairs private.”

          Well, you see, Pixy Harris, that is the difference between bigots like yourself and people who stand up for human rights: YOU would stand by and let lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender be beaten up and murdered on account of their sexuality, simply because you don’t like them.

          Human rights activists and lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (as well as normal, moral, decent, upstanding heterosexuals, too), probably don’t like YOU as a person.

          But they would all fight tooth and nail to enable you to walk down the street without fear of being beaten up or murdered. They would stand up for YOUR rights, no matter how pernicious, nasty, warped and twisted your beliefs, because they have moral fibre.

          You don’t.

  • Halldor says:

    Unfortunately, he has conducted at least one concert to celebrate a Russian military victory over a less powerful neighbour.

    Whatever you may think of Gergiev’s musicianship, there can be nbo doubt that he is a highly politicized artist, and has made no secret of his loyalties. Whether or not that affects your enjoyment of his artistry is a personal matter, but for him – or anyone – to claim that he’s apolitical (or to draw facile parallels with artists in other countries who have never openly given their support to a specific party or politician) is naive, at best.

    • PR Deltoid says:

      Why “unfortunately”? Gergiev is himself an Ossetian. It makes sense that he would have strong feelings regarding a war over his own homeland.

  • Halldor says:

    My comment was intended as a response to Pixy Harris’s initial post above, suggesting that Gergiev has never conducted concerts to celebrate a dubious military victory. Unfortunately for anyone holding that viewpoint, he most certainly has.

    It’s a matter of personal conscience, of course, and doubtless there are other eminent artists who endorse violent military solutions to political problems – it’s just not, perhaps, what one might expect from the music director of the “World Orchestra for Peace”.

  • PR Deltoid says:

    The “violent military solution” was Georgian president Saakashvili’s assault on South Ossetia, which Russia was taking action against. I suppose if you wish to regard this counter-attack as another equally reprehensible violent solution, that’s your prerogative. But I think Ossetians like Gergiev probably regard it as a welcome defense and have good reason to approve of it.