Vladimir Putin Debates Artistic Freedom on Russian TV

Russian President Valdimir Putin spoke out about artistic freedom on Friday, during a televised debate with actor and theater director Yevgeny Mironov.

Putin said that he would defend artistic freedom, and that efforts to interfere with art and theater were “absolutely inadmissible,” according to the New York Times. The sentiment came in response to Mironov’s concerns about government censorship, and actions against art exhibitions and theater shows, like a recent production of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar that was cancelled in Omsk, after protests by Orthodox religious groups.

“[There is a] very subtle line between what I would call dangerously outrageous behavior and creative freedom”, Putin said during the debate, according to AFP. “It’s a very subtle thing, a very subtle line. It depends on a feeling of tact, from all of us: officialdom on the one hand and people in creative professions on the other,” he added.

He then said that, although he respected artistic freedom, he believed people working in creative industries should be wary of provoking responses from religious groups, citing the attack by ISIS on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

“A question arises, did these caricaturists need to offend Islamic believers?” he reasoned. “Maybe the artists didn’t intend to offend anybody, but they did…We must bear that in mind, and not allow that, not split the society,” he added.

“Officials often act not because they want to block something… many don’t want tragedies like in Paris to be repeated here,” he explained. “We must keep this in mind and not let it come to that,” he said, placing responsibility on artists to know when not to “provoke.”

When pressed on the subject of the Ukranian film director Oleh Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014 in Siberia, Putin stated that the legal decision was just and correct.

Sentsov spoke out against the Russian annexation of the Crimea, where the filmmaker is from. He was arrested and found guilty on terrorism charges.

“I know this question is a sensitive one,” Mr. Putin responded, insisting Sentsov was put away for “dedicating his life to terrorist activities,” and not for making films.

Mironov told the Russian president, “Creative freedom is guaranteed by the law of our country.”

There are increasing numbers of religious protests and government interference in Russia when it comes to the arts. The director of a Siberian production of Wagner’s Tannhaeuser, for example, was put on trial last year for offending religious believers, but charges were eventually dropped.

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