(Gregoire Sauvage’s article appeared on France 24, 7/20/22; videos: Little Big and Boris Grebenchtchikov.)

The Kremlin has effectively taken over Russia’s culture industry as the invasion of Ukraine prompted intensifying repression – with cancelled concerts, theatre directors sacked and artists arrested. All this poses a dilemma for Russian writers, singers, directors and the like: do they leave to ensure their safety and free expression, or do they stay at all costs in solidarity with the Russian people?

Punk-rave band Little Big were among the latest figures in Russian culture to have to flee the country last month. The lyrics to the new song they released upon their exile says it all: “I’ve got no, I’ve got no / I’ve got no voice / Die or leave, die or leave / I’ve got no choice,” goes one verse in this tune, “Generation Cancellation”.

“We condemn the Russian government’s actions and we are so disgusted by the Kremlin’s military propaganda that we’ve decided to drop everything and leave the country,” the band wrote in a statement quoted by independent news site Meduza.

This hitherto apolitical band, formed in St Petersburg in 2013, are the latest in a stream of cultural figures who have left Russia after opposing the invasion of Ukraine – including rock star Zemfira, who recently fled to France, and Boris Grebenchtchikov, leader of the band Aquarium, who has described Vladimir Putin’s war as “pure madness”.

‘Our Caesar’s Napoleonic plans’

“Grebenchtchikov left because he thought he could express himself better abroad,” said Clementine Fujimora, a professor of anthropology and Russia analyst at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. “This way he can carry on playing concerts and post new songs on Telegram, Instagram and Facebook.”

The singer recently released two songs about the horrors of the war in Ukraine, “Obdidaba” and “Vorozhba”. In the latter, Grebenchtchikov sings about dark magical spells that make “coffins grow in our hearts”.

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