(Theo Merz’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/10; photo: Serebrennikov was last year found guilty of fraud after prosecutors accused him and others of siphoning off funds intended for cultural projects. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images.)

Director writes that theatre is ‘more enduring than bureaucrats’ as Kremlin continues crackdown on dissent

The celebrated Russian stage and screen director Kirill Serebrennikov, convicted last year in an embezzlement case seen as retribution for his politically charged work, has been forced out of the Moscow theatre he led for eight years.

Serebrennikov transformed Moscow’s Gogol Center from a small, overlooked theatre into one of the capital’s most vibrant cultural venues with experimental updates of Russian classics and plays that indirectly addressed official corruption.

In the process, he earned the ire of the state even as he found success abroad, working on opera in Europe and directing a film that featured in competition at Cannes.

Moscow authorities this month announced they would not extend his contract to lead the Gogol Center, which receives public funding. Associates of the 51-year-old director said they believed the order to sack him had come from the security services.

The move follows pressure on other Russian artists and comes as the Kremlin continues its crackdown on dissent over the jailing of Alexei Navalny, the opposition figure who returned to Russia in January after recovering from a near-fatal poisoning.

“The Gogol Center as a theatre and as an idea will continue to live,” Serebrennikov wrote on Instagram as he confirmed his departure this week. “Because theatre and freedom are more important, larger, and therefore more enduring than bureaucrats of all kinds.”

Serebrennikov was last year found guilty of fraud and given a three-year suspended sentence after prosecutors accused him and others of siphoning off funds intended for cultural projects. The director denied the charges and the case at times descended into absurdity, such as when prosecutors claimed a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – which won plaudits and was seen by thousands of people – had never taken place.

Cultural figures in Russia and abroad, including Cate Blanchett and Sir Ian McKellen, called for what they saw as a politically motivated case to be dropped.

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