Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Russian Ban on British Play

In Your Hands, by Moscow-born British playwright Natalia Pelevine, has been banned by the Russian authorities after only one performance. The play recreates the 2002 ‘Norde-Ost’ theatre siege by Chechen militants of the Theatrical Center of State Ball-Bearing Plant Number 1 in the Dubrovka area of Moscow. During the second act of a sold out performance, 42 armed men and women ran onto the stage and took approximately 850 people hostage. After a 2 ½ day siege, Russian forces pumped an unknown chemical agent into the building's ventilation system and raided it. Officially, 39 of the terrorists were killed by Russian forces, along with at least 129 of the hostages (nine of them foreigners).

The play includes actors dressed as terrorists running through the audience to recreate the events. The play opened in the southern city of Makhachkala, which is the capital of the Dagestan region. This was a controversial choice of venue for the play, because it was the invasion of Dagestan by Chechen forces in 1999 that was one of the triggers for Vladimir Putin's second Chechen war. The UK ‘Independent’ reports,

“On the opening night, the theatre got a last-minute call saying that Mukhu Aliev, the Dagestani president, would attend. Mr Aliev arrived with his security detail and, just before the curtain rose, says Pelevine, someone thought to warn the bodyguards that the play involved actors dressed as terrorists running on to the stage. "Lucky you told us," said one guard, "or we would have shot them dead immediately."

Ninety minutes later, there was hardly a dry eye in the theatre and the performance received a standing ovation. But one man didn't enjoy the show. President Aliev stood up before the end and, without applauding, swept out of the theatre with his entourage.

Mr Aliev then denounced the play, accusing it of glorifying terrorism, and further suggested that itwas part of a sinister plot based in Britain, pointing out the play was first put on in London.

"Dagestan is the place, after Chechnya, that enemies of Russia want to destabilise," said Mr Aliev.

Pelevine says she intends to sue over the allegations and will try again to stage the play in Moscow. "This is the first case of theatre censorship since Gorbachev came to power," she said.

"There's every desire to keep this going. People in Moscow are very concerned and think that now is the time to speak out."

Here is a link to an article from Radio Free Europe and another article from 2006 in The Moscow Times about the London production.

No comments: