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Free Kirill Serebrennikov An editorial by Meduza

Source: Meduza
Petr Kassin / Kommersant

In St. Petersburg on August 22, federal investigators detained one of Russia’s most famous and talented living directors: Kirill Serebrennikov, the artistic director of the Gogol Center. Arrested on embezzlement charges, he joins Alexey Malobrodsky, the former general producer of Serebrennikov’s “Seventh Studio”, Yuri Itin, the studio’s general director, and Nina Maslyayeva, its chief accountant.

When we talk about the case against Kirill Serebrennikov, we often remember the director Vsevolod Meyerhold, who was arrested 78 years ago, in 1939, in Leningrad. After interrogating and torturing Meyerhold, officials charged him with counterrevolutionary activity and shot him. Fifteen years later, Meyerhold was rehabilitated, and the Soviet authorities admitted that he’d never actually committed a crime. Meyerhold wasn’t the first or the last Soviet director to be prosecuted on phony charges; a cursory search of the database of repression victims turns up many more names.

The case in which Serebrennikov has become a suspect also looks unconvincing. For example, prosecutors claim that the staff at “Seventh Studio” stole millions of rubles from the government instead of staging a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” But the play premiered in November 2012 and it was a hit. The performance has been photographed and filmed, and it was even showed at the Golden Mask Russian theater festival and in Paris. Dozens of theater reviews have been published in Russia and abroad, and it’s still being performed at the Gogol Center to this day. “A published article doesn’t prove that the event actually took place,” prosecutors have responded incredibly.

Many would likely object to the idea of comparing the case against the “Seventh Studio” directors to an execution from the Great Terror, saying it’s not only crude but inaccurate. After all, back then people were arrested for invented espionage and abstract ideological crimes, whereas Russian investigators today are operating on the basis of real documents. And nobody doubts that it’s against the law to take on an official position within the system and then pocket the money from the state.

But we know from the real way Russia’s laws are enforced that today’s criminalization of fraud isn’t any better than the USSR’s ban on counterrevolutionary activities. It’s the same effective and universal instrument for punishing anyone. The only difference is that nobody is shot. Olga Romanova, the head of the “Jailed Russia” group, has considerable experience with Russian criminal cases against entrepreneurs, and she says plainly that Russian law enforcement’s use of embezzlement charges is “one of the country’s biggest problems,” arguing that Russia’s existing laws against fraud ought to be excised from the Criminal Code “with a pair of scissors.”

We shouldn’t have to wait 15 years to rehabilitate the defendants in the “Seventh Studio” case. We believe the case against Serebrennikov and his colleagues strongly appears to be fabricated, making it just one of thousands of similar fabricated cases against others in Russia convicted of fraud. We believe this treatment of Kirill Serebrennikov is unacceptable, and consider it totally unfounded to assume that the creators of “Seventh Studio” were motivated by a desire to steal from the government. We do not know who exactly decided to launch this attack on Serebrennikov, but we will do what we can to find out.

Kirill Serebrennikov should be making films and putting on plays, not sitting locked up in jail.

The Meduza newsroom