Cate Blanchett joins stars urging Russia to drop 'flimsy' charges against director

Leading arts figures sign petition calling on Moscow’s public prosecutor to end investigation into Kirill Serebrennikov

High-profile figures in the arts world have called on Russian authorities to drop a criminal investigation into a theatre director.

A petition penned by Thomas Ostermeier, the director of Schaubühne theatre in Berlin, and the playwright Marius von Mayenburg calls on Moscow’s public prosecutor to drop “flimsy” and “politically motivated” charges against Kirill Serebrennikov, who is under house arrest over allegations of embezzling government funds.

“The impression that Serebrennikov’s arrest is sending to the west is of a government scared of criticism,” Ostermeier said. “And if you can’t stand criticism, that’s usually a sign of weakness.”

The petition has been signed by the actors Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss, director Simon McBurney, artist Sophie Calle, novelist Elfriede Jelinek and playwrights David Harrower and Mark Ravenhill, among others.

The Russian arts world has also rallied behind the director, with dozens of leading actors and directors calling for the charges to be dropped, or at least for Serebrennikov to be released on bail.

Serebrennikov’s supporters have included figures who are usually apolitical or loyal to the Russian authorities. Even Vladimir Putin’s cultural adviser, Nikolai Tolstoy, called the arrest a “shameful episode”.

Cate Blanchett is among a group of prominent international supporters who have signed the petition.
Cate Blanchett is among a group of prominent international supporters who have signed the petition. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

However, Russia’s conservative culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, has denied any political subtext to the arrest: “This was not a political order. It also has nothing to do with Serebrennikov’s art. There are some people who like it and there are a very large number of people who don’t, but nobody here is targeting him as an artist,” he said in an interview with Russian channel NTV.

Moscow’s state prosecutor accuses Serebrennikov, 47, of having embezzled the equivalent of more than $1.1m (£850,000) of government funds between 2011 and 2014. Serebrennikov’s supporters say the trial is being used as a political tool to silence a director whose productions have openly criticised political conditions in Russia.

“The allegations fit the usual pattern by which unwanted artists are brought to a fall in Russia – not by censorship but under the pretext of easily spun charges of financial misconduct,” said Ostermeier, who has known and worked with Serebrennikov for more than 15 years.

The director has described the case against him and his former colleagues as “absurd and schizophrenic”, and insisted all the government money had been spent on theatre productions. In one Facebook post, he referred to a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was performed more than 15 times and nominated for awards. “Now the investigators tell us that it doesn’t exist and never did,” he wrote.

Serebrennikov is under house arrest until 19 October, during which he must wear an ankle tag, is not allowed to use the internet and is only permitted to see close family members.

On 22 October he was due to direct a production of Hansel and Gretel at Stuttgart State Opera. The theatre said the production would go ahead in spite of the trial, thanks to a team the Russian director would send over to Germany.


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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