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Fired for speaking out Artistic director Dmitry Volkostrelov publicly opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His anti-war stance cost him his job.
On March 1, Dmitry Volkostrelov lost his job as artistic director of Moscow’s Meyerhold Center for theater and culture. A day earlier, the Meyerhold Center’s director, Elena Kovalskaya, resigned in protest over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to Volkostrelov, he was offered the “chance” to resign voluntarily — when he refused, Moscow’s Culture Department fired him without cause. In an interview with Meduza, Dmitry Volkostrelov recounts the circumstances surrounding his dismissal.
Please note. This interview was first published in Russian on March 1.
I accept Lena’s decision [to resign in protest] — I understand it on a human level. However, I decided not to follow Lena and leave, and to try and continue what we’ve been working on here instead. That same day [February 24], I wrote a text [denouncing the war] for the Meyerhold Center’s social media accounts. Then there was silence.
On Monday, [February 28], Lena and I went to the department [Moscow’s Culture Department]. Lena handed in her notice, which was accepted immediately, without any discussion. Natalya Drozhnikova [the head of the Department of Theaters and Concert Organizations] said that she respected Lena’s position, and that it was surprising how many people were carrying on in their roles while criticizing the government on social media. I told her how I had written such a post. We shared our thoughts about who we saw taking on the role of acting director and how we imagined the future of the Meyerhold Center without Kovalskaya. I suggested a candidate for the position of permanent director.
Right after that meeting, I got a call from the department and they scheduled a meeting for today, at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon. There, they immediately informed me that I was being fired.
They offered me the chance to write a letter of resignation saying that I was leaving of my own accord; they explained that I needed to leave on good terms so that there would be a possibility of continuing this relationship in the future. I refused to write such a statement. I was told: fine, read the termination notice. Officially, I was fired without cause. On both occasions, Drozhnikova spoke with me very openly, with a smile.
I have a wide range of emotions — not only in connection with the Meyerhold Center, but also with regard to all recent events. It’s painful, it’s insulting, and it’s shameful. As for being fired, I assumed that this would happen — yesterday, at the first meeting with Drozhnikova, I didn’t hide my position, nor did I pretend that I didn’t know anything.
I am scared and sad for what will happen to the Meyerhold Center now. To me, it seems the Meyerhold Center is a very important platform. Right now, it’s the only theatrical space in the country where I would accept a position as artistic director. I’m worried for the whole team that’s still there.
We are probably the canary in the coal mine. I don’t know for sure, but there are rumors that the department will continue to take similar decisions with regard to other theaters. Although, perhaps, it was possible to do this to me, because I don’t have any real bureaucratic influence — I don’t work out of an office.
I think that we should primarily be engaged in cultural work, putting on performances. This isn’t just important for artists such as myself, but also for spectators. It’s important for people to come together, to support each other, to be part of some other community, and not the one that seeks to dehumanize itself.
Translated by Joseph Livesey
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