Russian conductor Valery Gergiev was the focus of a noisy protest last night at the Barbican concert hall in London. Ukrainian campaigners and allies accused the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) of "supporting President Putin's tyranny, the invasion of Ukraine and the persecution of gay Russians."
Ahead of the protest, they delivered an open letter to the board chair and managing director of the LSO, Lennox Mackenzie and Kathryn McDowell. It stated that Gergiev's support for Russian intervention in Ukraine and for discriminatory anti-gay legislation renders him unfit to be the LSO's lead conductor and to receive public funding.
The LSO, which employs and pays Gergiev, receives over £2 million in Arts Council public money every year. It was also on the receiving end of protesters wrath. They accused the orchestra of collusion and urged supporters to bombard the LSO with protest emails.
The open letter challenged the LSO to explain:
1) Why is the London Symphony Orchestra employing a man whose public support for anti-gay policies and illegal military action clearly goes against the values of diversity, tolerance and respect that the UK's artistic community prides itself on? This anomaly can only serve to be detrimental to the reputation of the London Symphony Orchestra, and by association, the Barbican, Arts Council England, and DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) as providers of funding.
2) How can the London Symphony Orchestra justify using public money to employ Valery Gergiev as principal conductor when he is still publicly allowing his name to be used in support of Putin's military aggression in Ukraine, and is yet to row back from his endorsement of president Putin and his regime's active discrimination against gay people? Arts Council England lottery money is meant to be distributed to 'good causes'. How can a man prepared to publish messages of support for a regime like the one currently in the Kremlin be considered a 'good cause'?
3) Intolerance, aggression, disregard for the rule of law and democratic processes - are these the values we want reflected in our leading cultural institutions? How many people in audiences at the Barbican would support Gergiev's unquestioning endorsement of a militaristic authoritarian like Vladimir Putin?
The letter concluded:
"It is our view that Mr Gergiev's current position is untenable and he should be suspended with immediate effect until he officially withdraws his name from the list published on the Russian Culture Ministry's website and fully explains his position on the Anti-Homosexual Propaganda Bill.
"If he decides he is not prepared to do this, his employment should be terminated as he is not an appropriate person to be in receipt of UK public funding. He supports discriminatory legislation which goes against the UK values of equality and diversity, and he supports Russian military action which the prime minister and foreign secretary have unequivocally condemned."
Gergiev is one of more than 500 celebrity signatories of a recent statement on the Russian Ministry of Culture's website that backs the Russian president's policies in Ukraine and Crimea.
He has defended Russia's anti-gay law which prohibits gay visibility or advocacy; falsely claiming the law is a crackdown on paedophilia, not homosexuality.
Gergiev is a long-time supporter of President Putin and endorsed his 2012 election campaign; publicly stating that he was voting for Putin.
Indeed, he released a video entitled: Why I am voting for Putin.
Andrew Lewis, head of public affairs at the Ukrainian Institute in London, said:
"With the full extent of Valery Gergiev's support for Putin now known, the London Symphony Orchestra really has to make a decision about his future as its principal conductor. If Mr Gergiev is not prepared to remove his name from the letter in support of Putin's illegal military invasion of Ukraine, or to clarify his controversial position on Putin's discriminatory anti-gay legislation, this confirms he is a wholly inappropriate person to be receiving public arts funding in the UK and should be replaced with immediate effect by someone far more deserving."
Protesters last night condemned Gergiev for supporting "neo-imperialism in Ukraine." They also berated him for backing Putin, despite the Russian president's repression of civil liberties and the victimisation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Putin's regime incarcerates political prisoners in jails that resemble gulags. It harasses journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders. Peaceful protesters, environmentalists and opposition leaders are arrested, often on trumped up charges, in a bid to silence and intimidate critics.
Gergiev is a great conductor but he colludes with an expansionist tyrant. He seems to have little respect for freedom and equality. He is not fit to conduct the LSO.
Thursday night's protest was organised by London EuroMaidan, with the support of the Ukrainian Institute, the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
Photo credit: Peter Tatchell Foundation
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