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Russian cultural luminaries including Valery Gergiev, Yuri Bashmet and Denis Matsuev have made a collective statement supporting President Vladimir Putin’s position on Ukraine and the Crimea.
“In the days when the fate of Crimea and our countrymen is being decided, the Russian arts community cannot remain cold-hearted and indifferent observers,” the statement reads. “Our common history and roots, our culture and its spiritual sources, our fundamental values and language have always united us. We would like the commonality of our people and cultures to have a solid future. This is why we strongly support the position of the President of the Russian Federation on Ukraine and the Crimea.”
At the head of those signing the collective letter was leading Putin supporter and Chief Conductor of the Mariinsky, Valery Gergiev. Other notable musicians keen to tow the party line included the pianist Denis Matsuev, violist Yuri Bashmet, conductor Vadim Spivakov, A. Sokolov – director of the Moscow Conservatorium. Head of the Bolshoi Vladimir Urin and the filmmaker Fyodor Bondarchuk were also prominent on the list of names.
In the first retaliatory fallout, the Lviv Conservatorium, one of the Ukraine’s premiere music educational institutions, has stripped Yuri Bashmet (a former pupil who grew up in Lviv) of his Honorary Professorship.
Denis Matsuev, meanwhile, who was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador only last week, came in for a degree of criticism in the media. In his defence he has written a lengthy explanation on his own Facebook page. “I was deeply hurt and offended to be condemned for my decision to sign an open letter,” he said, going on to explain that he “unequivocally opposes any aggression and, God forbid, a quarrel with the fraternal Ukrainian people”.
Of the violence in Ukraine he says: “For me, these events were a personal tragedy, I experienced them with tears in my eyes, with deep pain and anxiety for the fate of the people of Kiev… Ukraine, for me personally, is one of the most beloved and fraternal countries in the world. It is home to my mother, who lived there for nine years… Ukraine has produced numerous great world-class musicians such as Richter, Gilels and Oistrakh ”
“I repeat and emphasise that Russia has only peaceful and friendly intentions towards Ukraine, as it should be when it comes to brotherly peoples. Any problems should be resolved peacefully through. No aggression, no armed confrontation. Many of those artists, who signed the letter along with me, were born in Ukraine, and care about her fate… and they, like me, believe that Ukraine deserves to hear music, not shots.”