"Country of unabolished slavery": Why is Gogol Center 'nightmarized'? 

"Country of unabolished slavery": Why is Gogol Center 'nightmarized'?
Kirill Serebrennikov is still a witness in the case

A high-profile case against the managers of Gogol Center caused an unprecedented resonance in Moscow society. To many, the actions of the security agencies, which came to search the theater as if to detain dangerous special offenders, seemed outrageous. There are still a lot of unclear details in the case. The CrimeRussia collected the most important information about the alleged theft of budget funds.

On May 23, the Russian Investigative Committee came to search Moscow's Gogol Center theater and the apartment of its art director and CEO Kirill Serebrennikov. Investigative actions took place within the framework of a high-profile case of embezzlement of budgetary funds in the amount of 200 million rubles (almost $3.5 million) in Gogol Center and the Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization Sedmaya Studiya (The Seventh Studio), headed by Serebrennikov. After the searches, the director was taken to the Investigative Committee for an interrogation, and in the evening of the same day he was released.

The law enforcement officers who arrived at the theater confiscated the mobile phones from the employees who were there, and did not let the troupe or the staff of the institution outside or in.

Serebrennikov taken for questioning in the Investigative Committee

Despite the fact that Gogol Center’s art director has not been officially charged, the events caused a huge resonance in the cultural world of the Russian capital. During that day, the most famous artists of Russia composed an open appeal, in which they expressed their support to Serebrennikov and the actors of his theater. The day after the investigative actions, art director of the Theater of Nations, Yevgeny Mironov, handed over a letter to Vladimir Putin in support of the head of Gogol Center with a request "to pay attention to this matter, to instruct the relevant agencies to conduct an investigation objectively, fairly and without extraordinary measures." The president commented on the actions of the security agencies shortly: "Fools, you know." 

How much was stolen?

On May 19, 2015, against the managers of Gogol Center and The Seventh Studio, a criminal case was initiated under part 4 of Art. 159 of the Russian Criminal Code (Swindling on an especially large scale). The case was initiated after a prosecutor's check conducted in cultural institutions on the appeal of the foundation Iskusstvo bez Granits (Art without borders). The foundation was indignant by the facts of "use of foul language, propaganda of immoral behavior, pornography in theatrical productions."

According to the case materials, in the period from 2011 to 2014 "unidentified persons from the management of the The Seventh Studio "stole budget funds from subsidies allocated by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation to support the development and popularization of contemporary art within the framework of the Platforma project." The amount of subsidies allocated to the Seventh Studio amounted to about 70 million rubles ($1.18 million).

At the moment, there are three persons of interest in the case: former CEO and accountant of the ANO The Seventh Studio Yuri Itin and Nina Maslyaeva, as well as ex-director of Gogol Center Alexey Maloborodsky. The case itself is very strange and contains a lot of inconsistencies.

Алексей Малобродский на заседании суда. Фото:ТАСС

Alexey Maloborodsky at a court session. Photo: TASS

The most ironic thing is the amount of stolen funds: the prosecution has not yet established how much money the persons of interest have appropriated. During the trial, Maloborodsky's lawyer Ksenia Karpinskaya pointed out that prosecutors cannot stop at one particular amount. Initially, the Investigative Committee claimed that it was more than 200 million rubles. Then, in the decision on naming as defendants, it is written that 68 million rubles ($1.15 million) were stolen. Prior to this, there were figures of 2 million 300 thousand rubles ($39 thousand). Life, referring to the investigation, made a detailed infographics showing how the suspects appropriated 1 million 200 thousand rubles ($20 thousand). However, there is no single accusation that says exactly how much money the managers of the theatrical institutions have stolen.

On June 5, it became known that the former accountant of The Seventh Studio. Nina Maslyaeva, testified against other defendants in the case. According to her, Maloborodsky was the organizer of the criminal scheme to steal funds allocated for the Platforma project. According to Maslyaeva, she was initially hired as an accountant for the cashing of the budget money. The e-publication Republic obtained an interrogation record, according to which the woman confessed in the withdrawal of 100 million rubles ($1.6 million) through fly-by-night firms. Some of these companies allegedly belonged to her friend Valery Sinelnikov, and the rest – to other persons close to the management of The Seventh Studio. According to Maslyaeva, for his services, Sinelnikov took 10-12% of the amounts he cashed out. In the list of state procurement, there is indeed a certain Sinelnikov Valery Arsentyevich: the theater bought 3D scenery worth 2.7 million rubles ($45.8 thousand) from him. According to the former accountant, mostly, the work of the invited actors and directors was paid in cash.

Нина Масляева. Фото: ТАСС

Nina Maslyaeva Photo: TASS

On August 9, Maslyaeva's daughters told the investigators that they noticed that someone follows them. In their view, former managers of their mother hired some people to spy upon them. "I think that these people could be hired by my mother’s ex-colleagues – (art director Kirill) Serebrennikov (ex-CEO of The Seventh Studio Yuri) Itin, (former director of Gogol Center) Alexey Maloborodsky and others," Marina Maslyaeva said during the interrogation.

In the case against the managers of The Seventh Studio, a large number of violations were committed. In particular, it turned out that the former CEO of Gogol Center spent a month in a pre-detention center illegally, since no criminal case had been initiated against him.

One of the accusations is especially absurd: the prosecutor considered that the suspects stole 2.3 million rubles ($39 thousand) allocated for the production of the Midsummer Night's Dream performance. According to the prosecutor, the performance was never produced. Maloborodsky’s lawyer Yulia Lakhova said that this statement is easy to refute, because the performance was a great success and got positive reviews from critics. The prosecutor said that the written reviews cannot serve as evidence of the event, as "the article can be written about anything." This statement amazed those present at the hearing so much that the bailiffs had to escort out two people who could not resist and burst out laughing.

Theater enthusiast from Rostov

A description of Gogol Center without mentioning his creator Kirill Serebrennikov, who is a theatrical and cinema director, established both in Russia and abroad, would be incomplete. He has won a number of prestigious awards in the field of theater and cinema, and his last prize – "Europe – a new theatrical reality" – was given to him in absentia after the criminal case was instituted. The director could not get it: his passport was seized by the Investigative Committee staff "for technical and forensic examination."

In addition, Serebrennikov has also been nominated for the Golden Lion award (the main prize of the Venice Film Festival), the independent award of Francois Chalet, the prize of the international festival in Karlovy Vary, as well as participated in the international Wiener Festwochen and the 69th Avignon Festival.

The future head of Gogol Center was born on September 7, 1969 in Rostov-on-Don. In 1992, he graduated from the Faculty of Physics of Rostov State University with distinction. Since 1991, he has worked extensively on television and in the theaters Angazhement, the Academic Drama Theater named after M. Gorky, the Academic Theater of the Young Spectator, in the TV companies Yuzhny Region (Southern Region), then in the State TV and Radio Company Don-TR. In 2000, he moved to Moscow, where he continued to work in the field of television broadcasting. In 2006-2007, he hosted the show called Drugoye Kino (Different Cinema) on the TV-3 channel.

In 2008, Serebrennikov recruited an experimental acting and directing course at the Moscow Art Theater School-Studio. Graduates of this course then formed the very Seventh Studio, whose management was accused of swindling the budget money.

In August 2012, Kirill Serebrennikov – without the announcement of an open competition – was appointed the new art director of the Moscow Gogol Drama Theater. Under his leadership, the theater was reformatted into Gogol Center, which opened on February 2, 2013.

In the media, Serebrennikov's appointment to the post of artistic director of the theater is associated with the then head of the Department of Culture of Moscow, Sergey Kapkov. He was one of the first to comment on the detention in Gogol Center. The former official was outraged by the situation and noted that the security agencies "miraculously did not disrupt two performances" to which about 700 tickets were sold. Despite the fact that Serebrennikov was never charged, Kapkov believes that the main consequence of the actions of the siloviki will be a blow to the director's reputation. 

How Gogol Center was made

It is worth noting that the reformatting of the theater was difficult and painful, and also was followed by a series of scandals. The policy denoted by the new head of the theater, shocked not only ordinary spectators, but also the staff of the institution. In one of the first joint interviews with Kapkov and Serebrennikov, the director stated that "his project is connected with fairly radical actions that would turn the theater into something completely new, taking into account the changing cultural situation." He also added that in his activity he wants to align with such "creative clusters as Artplay, Gazgolder, Arma, 35 mm." Serebrennikov expressed his confidence that the actors of the Gogol Theater will find a place in the new center.

However, many performers met the innovations with hostility. The staff sent a written protest to the Moscow authorities against the new management. The troupe noted that it learned about the change of the 'format' the day after the new season was opened and the previous manager Sergey Yashin told about the theater's creative plans. The actors said that such a radical change of course threatens "the loss of the great traditions of the Russian theater school." In addition, according to the artists, the appointment of Serebrennikov contradicted the order of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, according to which "a person cannot manage a theater without a higher drama education."

In September 2012, the troupe turned up the heat and organized rallies. In October, Serebrennikov, who returned from Germany where he had staged an opera, held a press conference in which he promised the actors to preserve the work, social guarantees and repertoire traditions of the theater. At this point, the actors and the manager reached the compromise.

Finally made it

In as little as a month after the opening of the 'reformatted' theater, Gogol Center got under the MIA attention. On March 1, a check of the play Hellions based on Zakhar Prilepin's book Sankya started. The director of the theater said that the reason for the check were denunciations, which contained complaints about the "vicious content and corrupting influence" of the performance. As a result, the conflict ended futile – the MIA did not report the results of the check and did not develop the topic.

Открытие «Гоголь-центра»: Фото: Buro 24/7

Gogol Center opening. Photo: Buro 24/7

At the end of 2013, there was another scandal, which led to a conflict between Serebrennikov and his patron – the head of the Moscow Department of Culture, Sergey Kapkov. The art director of Gogol Center planned the screening of the film called Demonstrative Process: The Story of Pussy Riot dedicated to the well-known group. Outraged Kapkov sent an official letter addressed to Serebrennikov, in which he demanded in a rather mild form to cancel the screening of the documentary feature and the consequent conversation planned with the members of the group. "However, I draw your attention to the fact that the theater entrusted to you is a state institution funded from the city budget. The city cultural institution should not be associated with the names of people who cause such an contradictory reaction and whose activities are based on provocation of the society," said Kapkov.

Serebrennikov's answer was very emotional. He posted a received letter on his social network page, to which he added his unflattering comments. "Until recently, I repeated in all interviews as a mantra: "There is no censorship in the theater, there is no censorship in the theater, there is no censorship in the theater..." That’s it, f... it, there is censorship in the theater! Cynical, senseless and stupid," was fuming the director.

On March 10, 2015, a new boss came to the Department of Culture of the Russian capital: Sergey Kapkov was replaced by Alexander Kibovsky, the former head of the Department of Cultural Heritage of Moscow. The new boss immediately expressed complaints against the managers of Gogol Center, Serebrennikov and Maloborodsky. Kibovsky said that the theater's debt is 80 million rubles, of which 60 million rubles are actual debt, and the rest is based on the payment of wages and utility bills to be yet made. It is noteworthy that ex-director of the Gogol Center Alexey Maloborodsky, who was fired from the theater in late 2014, denied the fact that Gogol Center had ever had debts in this amount.

Alexander Kibovsky

Alexander Kibovsky

How the debt was paid off, it is not known (considering that the Department of Culture refused to give the theater this money), but on February 2, 2017 (the fourth 'birthday' of the theater), Serebrennikov noted in his speech that Gogol Center exceeded the state task on attendance and quantity of performances. According to the director, "for every ruble invested by the state, the theater earned two." Also, the head of Gogol Center said that in 2016 the employees were paid a year bonus for the first time. The important news for the theater was the inclusion of Gogol Center in the list of mandatory places to visit in Moscow – according to foreign media, such as The Guardian and the German Spiegel.

With a constant smile

On July 9, Kirill Serebrennikov spoke on the occasion of the season closing at Gogol Center. In the video published by Medusa, one can see former head of the Culture Department Sergey Kapkov, businessman Roman Abramovich, Polina Deripaska (daughter of Valentin Yumashev, the former head of Boris Yeltsin’s Presidential Administration), as well as journalist and writer Mikhail Zygar. In his speech, the director made ironic references to the criminal case against his colleagues. "Yesterday, it was amazing: I came from the performance that will not take place, to the performance that has never taken place," the head of Gogol Center joked. 

Serebrennikov's speech at the season closing at Gogol Center

Humor is undoubtedly very important, but the case is still far from the end, and it is not known how it will end for Serebrennikov himself.

A well-informed source commented on the high-profile case against the managers of Gogol Center. According to it, the whole situation is the result of a long-standing conflict between the Moscow authorities, who regard the subordinated institutions as a personal resource, and director Serebrennikov, who, without mincing words, criticized the actions of both the Moscow and federal leaders. Both before and after his appointment to his post, Serebrennikov was not afraid to express his opinion, different from the agenda of the federal mass media, on acute topics. In particular, in 2008, Serebrennikov was going to walk through Moscow with a poster saying "I'm Georgian" – in support of Georgia during the South Ossetian conflict. In 2014, in an interview, Serebrennikov called Russia "a country of unabolished slavery" and added that it "now behaves like a penniless bully who has gone mad from grief."

According to the source, such liberties were forgiven to the director thanks to the patronage of Sergey Kapkov, who, in turn, has close ties with the oligarch Abramovich since their work in the Chukotka Autonomous District. After Kapkov, Alexander Kibovsky became the head of Department of Culture; he is a former military man, who holds much less liberal views. He began actively to disperse the 'team' of the managers of the subordinated institutions appointed under Kapkov. At the same time, Kibovsky was so zealous in layoffs that he received a scolding from above – from the Moscow vice-mayor Leonid Pechatnikov, who temporarily banned the head of the Department from making personnel decisions on his own. As it was said above, Kibovsky held it against the art director of Gogol Center, which later could play a significant role in initiating a criminal case.

The only thing in this affair that remains unclear for our interlocutor is why the attack on Gogol Center was initiated only now. However, the source is sure that the purpose of the resonant case is to get tough with the brash 'theater enthusiast' and also to remind him that he is a servant not of art, but of the state. 

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