Theater Doc on the first night of the “Bolotnaya Case” production about politically motivated prosecutions of protesters, Moscow 2015

© Maria Sotskova, Novaya Gazeta

This month, police in Moscow launched an audit of Theater Doc, an independent theater in Moscow known for productions focusing on pressing societal issues in contemporary Russia. Authorities say they are looking for signs of promotion of terrorism, drugs, and “gay-propaganda” in three Theater Doc productions. 

One production, Coming Out, is about the challenges gay people in Russia face. Another, War is Near, tells a complex story of the war in Eastern Ukraine, government propaganda, and the case of Oleg Sentsov, Crimean filmmaker who spent five years behind bars in Russia on bogus terrorism charges. The third, Rave 228, deals with the stigmatization of drug-users in Russian society, fabrication of criminal cases against them, and brutal treatment methods. The productions were advertised with an 18+ age marker. The head of Theater Doc, Alexander Rodionov, who was interviewed by police this week, and his lawyer, told me authorities asked questions about the contents of the productions and demanded to see the scripts. 

According to media reports, the audit stems from a complaint by an MP who leads the Committee on Culture of the Russian State Duma and is a conservative theater critic. Rodionov said he’s “particularly wounded” that “the denunciation [was] made by a person of the theater.” Apparently in response to his online remarks and outraged comments by other theater personalities and aficionados, the MP wrote on Facebook that she “never filed any statements or requests to audit the theater with either the police or the prosecutor’s office” but the Committee on Culture received “an appeal from concerned citizens” and “sent [it] to “competent agencies for their consideration.”  

Russian authorities increasingly crackdown on artistic expression, in many cases supposedly in response to complaints by members of the public. They ban theater productionsfilms, and exhibits they deem out of line with so called traditional values and patriotic sentiment. They interfere with performances of rappers and other musicians popular with younger audiences, supposedly with the aim of protecting children from promotion of suicide, narcotics, and propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relations.” Their acquiescence, enables radical thugs to violently disrupt film screenings and art and photography shows.

Faced with governmental interference in its work, Theater Doc needs international support and solidarity. Russia should end its attacks on artistic freedom.