Propaganda has always played an extremely important role in the preparation and conduct of any military conflict. During the Nazi occupation of Crimea in 1941-1944, the local propaganda bodies, created by them, showed extraordinary flexibility and agility to sometimes prove the unprovable and justify the unjustified .
Currently, Crimean “socio-cultural organizations” created by Russia as the aggressor State are doing the same. Our Association has already written about the Russian show business, which is actively used by the Kremlin as a kind of “ideological weapon”, aimed at Ukrainians living in the occupied territories . Unfortunately, such a high and refined art form as theater did not escape a sad fate and was used by the occupiers to impose the “right system of views”. Associate Professor Andrii Chvalyuk will tell more about this.
The first stage of the Russian aggressors’ propaganda plan was marked by the cessation of all independent cultural institutions in the Crimea. The Russian invaders immediately “liquidated” in 2014 all 14 theaters, concert complexes and circuses, and on their basis they “created” 11 “new state organizations” of culture of the so called “Republic of Crimea”. The names of theaters as “organizations” were “transformed”, the words “Ukrainian” disappeared from them, and the prefixes “Russian” or “state” were added.
For example, the Crimean republican organization “Crimean Tatar Academic Music and Drama Theater” was “liquidated” by “prescript of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Crimea” of October 1, 2014 № 1008-r “On the liquidation of organizations and creation the organizations in the field of culture” . This “prescript” “established”, on the basis of the seized property of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, a “state autonomous institution of the Republic of Crimea” “Crimean Tatar State Academic Music and Drama Theater”. At the moment, this “institution” remains the only Turkic-language theater in Crimea and in fact it is the only “Crimean Tatar theater” in the world. The importance of this structure for the Russian invaders’ propaganda machine caused that the funding of this “institution” did not stop, and in 2020 the “overhaul” of the theater was announced, which was controlled by the invaders’ “Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Crimea” that has already “successfully mastered” about 50 million rubles on this issue. On December 8, 2021, at the “opening ceremony of the restored theater”, the “head of Crimea” stated that allegedly “much is being done on the peninsula to preserve the culture and traditions of the Crimean Tatar people and the history and culture of Crimea in general”.
However, the website of the so called “Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Crimea”, which “performs the functions and powers of the founder of the theater” , lists, among other things, completely different “tasks and functions” that the occupiers set before this alleged “Crimean Tatar institution”:
– “preservation and development of historically formed forms and phenomena of performing arts, which are the national heritage of Russian culture” and of so called “culture of the Republic of Crimea”;
– “preservation of the best traditions of the Russian theater’s repertoire”;
– “propaganda of theatrical part” in the so-called “Republic of Crimea and other subjects” .
These “tasks” perfectly reflect the Russian invaders’ attempts to appropriate the repertoire traditions of the Crimean Tatar theater, which has its history since 1901, to impose, under the pretext of their preservation, their own theatrical traditions, and to spread the invaders’ views and arguments both in the occupied Crimea and in territory of Russia, for which touring events are held. Due to the specifics of this theater, where performances are to be performed in the language of the indigenous people of Crimea, the participation of his troupe in mass tours in Russia is difficult to organize. After all, the picture needed for propaganda purposes may not work, but the occupiers have found a way out.
In the fall of 2018, this “Crimean Tatar theater” was sent “on tour to Orenburg”. After all, that Russian city, as the head of the Department of Culture, Arts and Educational Policy of Orenburg Vitaly Zimakov said, is “the birthplace of the professional Turkic-language theater movement:”. It feels like the PR departments of Russian cultural structures have received the same instructions from the Kremlin and are simply substituting the word “birthplace” in any speech on a “touring theatrical exchange” with Crimea. It is also noteworthy that Crimean artists who visited Orenburg were forced to stage the play in Russian, with Crimean Tatar inserts. As the artists later admitted, the game in their native Crimean Tatar language is more natural and authentic , but the organizers had to fill the hall for propaganda purposes, so they first changed the play itself, and then the language.
In the autumn of 2021, the Federal Directorate of Music and Festival Programs “Rosconcert” organized an “exchange of tours” of the “Crimean Tatar State Academic Music and Drama Theater” and the Bashkir Academic Drama Theater named after Majita Gafur . The Russian invaders’ press does not say what language the Crimean artists staged this time. After the expulsion Honored Artist of Ukraine Bilyal Bilyalov from the “Crimean Tatar Theater” as its so called “artistic director” for contrived reasons in 2018, followed by some artists , there are suspicions that the theater has become much less Crimean Tatar, but more loyal to Russian invaders’ “administration”.
Other “Crimean theaters” are also actively involved in the implementation of the second stage of the aggressor’s propaganda plan – mutual penetration and mixing of cultures. From September 25 to 30, 2019, the city of Volodymyr hosted a tour of the Russia-controlled “State Academic Institution of Culture of the Republic of Crimea”, “Crimean Academic Russian Drama Theater named after M. Gorky” from Simferopol. At the same time, from September 24 to 29, the troupe of the Volodymyr Academic Regional Drama Theater, which arrived in Crimea contrary to the laws of Ukraine, showed their performances in Simferopol. “Creative exchange” took place within the federal program “Big Tour” .
In 2021, a “touring castling” of the “Crimean Academic Puppet Theater” and the Murmansk Regional Puppet Theater took place. Thanks to the “federal program” “Big tour for children and youth” Murmansk dolls danced on strings on the stages of Yalta, Yevpatoria, Simferopol and Sevastopol, and Crimean artists, led by Kremlin puppeteers, performed in Murmansk. While the actress of the “Crimean Academic Puppet Theater” Irina Berezhko told Russian journalists that “they came to Murmansk not as guests, on tour, but as friends”, her colleague, actress of the Murmansk Regional Puppet Theater Natalia Petrunina told the Crimean children that “the theater continued to operate during the Great Patriotic War and gave concerts for soldiers”.
Also, according to the Russia-controlled media, the so-called “State Academic Musical Theater of the Republic of Crimea”, formed by the Russian invaders on the basis of the seized property and facilities of the Crimean Academic Ukrainian Ukrainian Musical Theater, “successfully completed the autumn tour” in Novorossiysk . This “tour” was organized without embezzling funds from the “federal program”, only “with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Crimea” , which explains the relatively “modest geography of the tour”.
We would like to mention the regular participation of “Crimean theaters” in the “Crimean Spring” festival, an event dedicated to the anniversary of the attempted annexation of the Crimea by Russia. This “festival”, since 2015, is held annually by the aggressor State in major cities. The pandemic, of course, imposed certain restrictions on these propaganda “tours”, but from March 15 to 21, 2021, “seven theaters of Crimea and Sevastopol” still “presented their performances online on the Internet site” of the Orel State Theater for Children and Youth .
“Crimean theaters” also host Russian artists who illegally visit the Crimea. As the Deputy Director for External Communications of the Moscow Art Theater Maria Kublanova stated at the press conference, “Crimea occupies a special place in the history of the Moscow Art Theater, as the audience’s success began here, from Yalta, with the work of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov and the Crimean tour” . We marvel at the ability of Russian propagandists to keep silent about significant facts and glorify secondary ones. After all, before going on tour to the Crimea in 1900, the Moscow Art Theater managed to gain popularity in Moscow itself, playing Chekhov’s “Seagull” . However, so far the emphasis has been on the alleged historical “kinship” of the Moscow theater and the occupied Crimea.
Continuing this analogy, it is easy to say that the spread of the plague in the Middle East in 1346 was facilitated by an outbreak of this pandemic in the Crimea, where it was brought in 1345 by “touring” Genoese merchants . However, the situation turns out to be quite serious – various performances of the Moscow Art Theater, from modern drama “Resort Novel” to classics in the comedy genre “Not all Butter Weeks are for cats”, are regularly held illegally in the Crimea with the support of the Russian Ministry of Culture. In Sevastopol and Simferopol, “Moscow touring artists” receive the scenes in the aggressor-controlled “Crimean Academic Russian Drama Theater named after Gorky”, the “Palace of Culture of Fishermen” and the “Sevastopol Academic Russian Drama Theater”. In Kerch, newcomers from the Moscow Art Theater perform at the “Palace of Culture “Shipwright”, and theater director Sergei Glazkov says that “the team is always looking forward to touring in the Crimea”.
The aggressor’s propaganda claims that the “new theatrical season” of 2022 will be opened by the Moscow Theater “Moscow Lights”, which plans to give two performances in February in Yalta and Yevpatoria, the main role in the “Man for Intimacy” will be played by Russian actor Dmitry Orlov . It is also announced that Russian artists Fedor Dobronravov and Maria Ivanova will play the lyrical comedy “You’re Somewhere Near” in Sevastopol, Simferopol and Kerch in April 2022, hosted by the Russia-controlled Kerch “Palace of Culture “Shipwright”, “Palace of Fishermen’s Culture” and “Palace of Culture named on Gorky” .
However, the “cultural value” of such illegal tours is at least questionable. For example, the Moscow Region’s “Ballet Theater” has already illegally visited the Crimea. In 2021, his artists “performed in Sevastopol, Yalta, Simferopol, Kerch and Yevpatoria”, where they presented the ballet “Swan Lake” and the performance “Sleeping Beauty” , but they were not sold out. Moscow Art Academic Drama Theater named after M. Gorky also “distinguished” in the Crimea by the “interregional program” “Big Tour” in the autumn of 2021, where “performances with stars of Russian cinema and theater” of their “second freshness” were held illegally in Simferopol, Sevastopol and Kerch .
However, if we talk about the “second freshness” of Russian theaters’ propaganda products in the Crimea, we can mention Moscow’s Independent Theater with the play “Master and Margarita” directed by V. Bilyakovich, who makes tours on the peninsula. But if until 2014, these Russian theater and ballet artists visited the Crimea en masse “for a long hryvnia” and only in the midst of the theater season, then since 2016, their illegal tours have become year-round. Ukrainian journalists suggest that “many touring travelers go to the peninsula on the orders of the Ministry of Culture of Russia” . We share this view. It seems that the Russian invaders’ “administration” uses as a guide the action of the ancient Roman satirist poet Juvenal “Bread and spectacles”, and imitation of “active cultural life of the peninsula” with the participation of minor Russian actors, as a theatrical backstage, trying to cover real problems – for example that the actual bread is already running out.
The government of the aggressor state is trying hard to create the specter of “legitimacy” of the attempted annexation the Crimea in the eyes of the world community. First, Russian and not-so-famous singers and musicians were brought in, then Russian-friendly entrepreneurs who promised to “infuse the economy of the occupied Crimea” with “multibillion-dollar investments”. And now Russian theater actors are being used by the aggressor State as fuel for the propaganda machine.
By the way, some Russian actors have refused to tour the peninsula. For example, the play “Love on Mondays” will not be presented to the public in Yalta, Sevastopol and in several other cities of the Crimea. One of the troupe’s representatives, actor Andriy Chernyshov, asserted that “this decision is not related to possible sanctions from Kyiv” and that “the main reason for refusing to travel is the financial component” . The actor wisely remained silent about other, not the main, reasons for canceling the tour.
Artists from third countries are also in no hurry to visit Crimea, despite all the “attractive invitations” of the Russia-controlled “authorities”. In April 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine banned Serbian musician and composer Goran Bregovic from entering Ukraine. As a result, his previously scheduled concerts in Kyiv and three other Ukrainian cities were canceled by the organizers. This was an adequate reaction to Bregovich’s illegal concert in occupied Sevastopol and to the subsequent interview in which the artist declared the “greatness of Russia” . Attempts to influence public opinion through idols are not innovations, so the Russian invaders do not give up trying to bring Russian and foreign media personalities to Crimea to declare their support for Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea. This, in our opinion, is the third stage of the Russian invaders’ propaganda plan.
As many popular Russian artists refuse to visit Crimea, in part for fear of losing the touring market of mainland Ukraine and the European Union, the aggressors have begun to educate new, less demanding and more obedient lyceum students. The “Let’s Go” tour, organized with the support of the Russian Presidential Grants Foundation, has already brought together eight theater teams in four Russian cities. They have not yet “reached” the occupied Crimea, but as the project involves “independent theaters” of low “artistic quality”, without future big tours for the European Union or mainland Ukraine, it is most likely that the aggressor State will send illegally theatrical “youngsters” to the peninsula.
We will add that in 2021 the “federal program” “Big Tour” made an attempt to recreate the “single touring system” of the Russian Federation. The plan was implemented “throughout Russia” and it includes two large-scale programs – “Big Tour” (theater tour) and “We – Russia” (tour of national groups) . It is noteworthy that the Russian invaders could not, despite their obvious desire, drag any band from the occupied Crimea to participate in the “tour of national groups” . However, given that according to the aggressor’s propaganda statements that both programs will cover “all regions of the Russian Federation”, some of the declared 258 theatrical troupes are being prepared to perform in the occupied Crimea illegally. Therefore, the officials of Ukraine and the European Union, responsible for sanctions, will have to work hard .
So, having analyzed the situation with the theatrical life of the occupied Crimea, we can distinguish three stages of the criminal plan of propaganda measures implemented by the aggressor State. It is an artificial erasure of the glorious long history of the cultural institutions, “reorganized” by the Russian invaders, from the memory of the Crimea’s population. It also promotes the artificial interpenetration and mixing of theatrical cultures of the Crimea and Russia, in particular through the organization of “cross-tours”. It is also the organization of public statements by Crimean, Russian and other artists in support of the attempted annexation of Crimea. This list does not claim the title of a complete one, because the audacity of the Russian invaders and the infiltration of the ideology of “Russian world” in all spheres of life on the peninsula, give ample space to analyze and find ways to counter this form of Russian aggression.