Boycott Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky? Ukraine struggles with Russian art and culture

AP

For years she stood proudly on a plinth in the center of Odessa: Catherine the Great. Until today. The imposing statue of the eighteenth-century Russian tsarina must go. It has been taken to a museum.

It may seem like a small local political decision in the southern Ukrainian city, but it is one of great symbolic value. Since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, the country has struggled with how to deal with the country’s many references to Russian culture. Listening to Tchaikovsky’s music or reading Dostoyevsky’s work is no longer a matter of course for Ukrainians. It raises the question: should Russian art remain cancelled?

Yes, says the answer from Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkashenko. He calls it “an act of solidarity with Ukraine,” whose operas temporarily stop performing works by Russian composers. “Promoting Russian culture worldwide is also part of the ‘special operation’, or the war in Ukraine. They know that Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky represent Russian culture worldwide.”

We have no moral right to perform music from the country that takes the lives of our children and young men.

Opera director Tamara Forsiuk

Simply removing all references to Russia from the street scene is easier said than done. Especially in Odessa. The poet Pushkin’s face is depicted in front of the town hall. And a street has been named after Tchaikovsky, although that street name sign has recently been destroyed.

This also applies to the statue of Catherine the Great, which has been removed today. The perpetrator was taken to the police station. “But I got the lowest possible sentence,” he says News hour.

Historian Artak Hryhorjan understands that Odessa has decided to remove the statue. “It’s beautiful and it fits perfectly into the image of the square. But with everything that’s going on, we can’t keep it any longer.”

That Catherine has great symbolic value is evident from the fact that Putin regularly mentions her name in speeches. He says that the tzarina, who lived from 1729 to 1796, founded Odessa. Thus he implies that the city belongs to Russia. But the historian Hryhorjan contradicts that. “Catherine had virtually no ties to Odessa. She never visited the city.”

Opera cancels performances

A little further on in the opera house, the programming has changed considerably since the Russian invasion. The management decided not to perform works by Russian composers anymore. The ballet pieces The Nutcracker and Swan Lake have therefore been deleted. “The only right decision,” says director Tamara Forsiuk. “We have no moral right to perform music from the country that takes the lives of our children and young men.”

Meanwhile, she is busy with other pieces that are still acceptable, so without Russian influence. Much to the delight of opera goers. “It’s an escape from reality,” says one. Another: “In the darkest times, art and culture must stay alive. Otherwise we forget what we are fighting for and what the war is about.”

News hour

Director Tamara Forsiuk finds it completely understandable that she no longer performs Russian plays.

Incidentally, the impressive opera hall in Odessa is not nearly full. The bomb shelter is not large enough to protect a full room. And the management of the opera takes into account that Russian bombs can fall at any time. “So we don’t sell more tickets than there are places in the shelter,” says director Forsiuk.

The question of Russian art cancelled should be, causing discussion in Odessa. Because where is the limit? “Art stands for itself and should not be associated with war,” says a visitor to the opera. “I would like Tchaikovsky’s work to return to the theater after the war,” says another.

Not everyone is happy with the removal of the statue of Catherine the Great either. “It’s part of our city’s history,” says a man on the street. But a woman passing by a little later says: “For me it’s a logical story. We have to remove everything that refers to the Russian occupier in our country.”

The Odessa local government conducted an online survey about Catherine’s statue last month. The result reflects the division well: 50.2 percent of the population voted for closure.

Historian Artak Hryhorjan understands the struggle among his countrymen. “We look at it on a case-by-case basis,” he says. “To what extent someone is related to Odessa and to what extent that person had a negative view of Ukraine.”

‘The Netherlands must also boycott Russian art’

For some, the boycott of Russian culture cannot go far enough. As for Minister Tkashenko. As for him cancels not only Ukraine Russian artists and composers. According to the minister, all EU countries should.

The Netherlands has no intention of complying, says State Secretary Gunay Uslu for Culture and Media. “As a government, we are not responsible for the programming of concert halls, operas and orchestras. They are completely free to play the music they want to play.”

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