Russian pianist is manhandled at Balkan border

Russian pianist is manhandled at Balkan border


norman lebrecht

December 27, 2019

Today’s travel alert comes from the distinguished pianist Andrey Gugnin:

I was held on the border between Slovenia and Croatia. Policemen made me hold my hands behind the back and threw me on the ground face down. The border was closed for two hours, and long lines of cars formed on the both sides. They interrogated my girlfriend separately and didn’t let her see me. She called the Russian consulate in Lublana where they told her they cannot find anything out at the moment since the police doesn’t give any explanations. They held me for over two hours in handcuffs, hands behind my back, explaining nothing.

As it emerged, the scanning machine at the security checkpoint identified in my bag something that looked like a bomb. Literally – with detonators and all of that. The police didn’t have the right to open my luggage, and they called for an expert from Ljubljana. When he arrived, it emerged that they talked about a Bluetooth pedal for my iPad. Namely, about a device I use for my work to turn music score pages (in my case – Airturn 105). This pedal has many parts that for the X-ray look very suspicious.

I want to warn my colleague musicians about it so they would avoid such unpleasant incidents. Carry these pedals only in carry on bags. When all of it became clear, the policemen were glad no less than I. They apologized, brought me coffee, and were very friendly. They showed me a photo from the X-ray machine and explained what exactly on the inside of the pedal looks like detonators, batteries, and sim-cards. To be honest, I’d think the same and do the same being in their position.
Be aware, colleagues!


Был сегодня задержан на границе Хорватии и Словении. Полицейские заломали руки мне за спину, быстро увели и положили на землю, лицом вниз.
Граница была закрыта на два часа, с обеих сторон образовались многокилометровые пробки. Мою девушку допрашивали отдельно и не пускали ко мне. Она звонила в консульство России в Любляне, где ей сказали, что не могут пока ничего выяснить, так как полицейские ничего не объясняют.
Меня держали в наручниках, с руками за спиной, ничего не объясняя, более двух часов. Позже выяснилось, что при security check, рентген увидел в моем багаже нечто, очень напоминающее бомбу. Буквально – с детонатором и всем прочим. Полицейские не имели права сами вскрывать мой багаж, был вызван эксперт из Любляны. Когда он прибыл, быстро выяснилось, что речь идёт о педали от айпеда. То есть о механизме, который я, как и многие музыканты, использую в работе, чтобы переворачивать страницы нот. (В моем случае — AirTurn 105). Изнутри эта педаль снабжена различными деталями, которые на рентгене выглядят очень подозрительно.

Я хочу предупредить коллег музыкантов об этом, чтобы они могли избежать таких неприятных инцидентов. Возите педали исключительно в ручной клади и сразу доставайте ее во время security check. Когда все выяснилось, полицеские были обрадованы не меньше моего, они очень извинялись, принесли мне кофе и вели себя очень по-человечески. Они показали мне фотографию с рентгена, подробно объяснили, что именно внутри педали выглядит как детонатор, батарея, и симкарта. Могу сказать, что, если честно, на их месте я бы поступил точно так же.
Будьте осторожны, коллеги!



  • Robert Holmén says:

    I was surprised to read that there was a border check between two EU countries however it turns out that Slovenia is inside the “Schengen Zone” but Croatia is not.

    Also, several Schengen Zone countries have set up border checks anyway to ferret out ne’er-do-wells.

  • Alviano says:

    He should be very glad he was not black or muslim and entering the United States or passing through security in an American airport.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    How fortunate that Mr Gugnin’s hands weren’t injured; and how civilized, on all sides, was the ultimate resolution of the matter.

  • NYMike says:

    Here in NY, iPads with pedals are proliferating rapidly at chamber concerts.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Hah! That’s what you get for using a screen instead of printed music. Give it up.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    At least they apologised at the end. If a similar incident occurred in a country like Turkey, for instance, there would have been no apologies.

  • Been Here Before says:

    Croatia and Slovenia are not Balkan. They were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Brush up your history!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Huh? Croatia certainly is “Balkan” in the sense in which the term is used to describe countries in SE Europe. The “Austro-Hungarian Empire” intruded into the Balkans.

  • Krzesimir says:

    Where did this happen? Both Slovenia and Croatia belong to the EU. Do they still have a border? Or was it an airport security check? Yes, that AirTurn pedal also worries me whenever I travel with it.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The EU have border checks between countries to see who is travelling through the border. Schengen (something which some EU states participate in) means that some individual borders have no checks. There are also no border checks in the “common border area” which includes Britain and Ireland (this predates either joining the EU).

      EU countries do not have custom checks, but this is a different issue than border checks.

  • Anssi Karttunen says:

    Recently it has become necessary to show the AirTurn pedals at the security check to avoid long delays. When I have forgotten to do that, bomb specialists have been called in at Paris and Vienna airports, luckily no handcuffs. In any case I wouldn’t put them in the suitcase for fear of the suitcase being lost. It is true that those cables must look worrying in the x-ray.

    But then, Steinway pianos have been taken apart, bows, violins and cellos confiscated. The extra seat for cello is rarely booked just like the person at the check in counter would like it. The stewardess may still refuse the instrument in cabin even with the ticket and we’ve all seen the pictures of broken cellos.

    There are so many ways of getting it wrong.

  • SVM says:

    Next time, use good old paper… (that way, feet can be used for actual pedalling; difficult page-turns are better mitigated by fold-out pages and other tricks, such as writing the first few notes of the next page in the margin and, for single-sided printouts, a craft knife to move bars/systems from one page to another).

    • CommonSense says:

      With the amount of music that Andrey has to learn, you think he has time for that and a busy travel schedule for concert tours? Lost touch with reality.

    • Glenn D Hardy says:

      I can imagine some similar advice being given to concert artists in 1900 whose newfangled horseless carriage had broken down on the side of the road.

  • CommonSense says:

    The number of people suggesting “Just use good old paper” is simply ridiculous. The amount of music that Mr. Gugnin must currently be learning is huge. Why would he damage his back by carrying around heavy books? Some serious fossils on this site…

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I recall a video featured here on SD where the pianist had his music on an electronic tablet… but still had a page turner at his side to poke the screen when he nodded at her.

    No scary foot pedals!