Press Release: Artists of War and Aggression Make Cultural Venues Worry About Reputational Damage (by Arts Against Aggression)

Since 2014 “Arts Against Aggression” engages in educating local communities about the ongoing aggression and war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. Our educational campaigns are aimed at raising awareness of the US public and cultural institutions of the Russian hybrid soft power war against the US, as well as exposing the Russian cultural elite who openly and vocally supported the war.

We write to update you on the recently concluded US tour of musician Igor Butman, one of the staunchest supporters of the current Russian regime, an open supporter of Russia’s ongoing aggression and war against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea which has caused immeasurable suffering and killed thousands of people in Ukraine. In March 2014 Mr. Butman was one of the signatories of an open letter in support of Russian President Putin’s policy of war, occupation and annexation in Ukraine and Crimea[1]. That policy was condemned internationally by many countries including the United States.

Mr. Butman, a US citizen, is a member of Putin’s “United Russia” party and has shown such undivided loyalty to the Russian regime as to advance and become a member of the Supreme Council of the party together with the highest ruling Russian “nomenklatura”.  US citizen Butman openly spoke of his disregard of the American oath of allegiance, saying that everyone says those words at naturalization and the reason he became US citizen was visa free travel.  US citizen Butman also served as President Putin’s reelection confidant during the Russian presidential campaign. Mr. Butman has made no secret of his performances in Crimea, possibly in violation of the US Presidential executive order imposing sanctions on the Russian-occupied region and prohibiting exports of US goods and services there.

In an eerie resemblance with the rewards the leaders of the Third Reich lavished on artists and musicians who openly collaborated with their regime, US citizen Butman’s loyalty to Putin’s Russian regime of war and aggression has been lavishly rewarded. As a few examples, his orchestra, as well as his newly opened Jazz Academy in Moscow, are funded by the Russian government.

By the time Mr. Butman started his US tour in 2020, his reputation has been already damaged to the extent that several jazz clubs canceled his scheduled US performances (such as Regatta Bar in Boston, the Blue Llama in Ann Arbor, and the Promontory club in Chicago) and cut short his whole tour. Those cancellations were the result of the coordinated educational campaigns of the “Arts Against Aggression” activists who wrote letters to the owners, managers and patrons of those venues and clubs, as well as to the media, informing them of the possible reputational damage of providing their venues to Mr. Butman. [2]

From the very beginning of Mr. Butman’s 2020 US tour in New York, his performances were greeted by four consecutive days of sustained protests and educational campaigns by our sister group Signerbusters. Dozens of people who had tickets to the performances decided not to attend, and some of them even choose to join the protesters. Mr. Butman dismissed the protestors as “not really adequate[3]. After New York performances, Mr. Butman’s next stop was Washington DC.

During his performance at the Russian Embassy in Washington, US citizen Butman made no secret that his US tour was a part of the Russian propaganda machine which used government-owned media platforms to announce and promote Mr. Butman’s US tour. For example, Russia Today, a propaganda channel registered as foreign agent in the US, ran an interview with Mr. Butman as a part of the promotional campaign of his tour[4].

Protests against Mr. Butman’s appearances continued in Boston where Jewish Educational and Cultural Center Makor gave him a venue after the Regatta Bar cancellation. As reported by The Boston Globe, Mr. Butman and attendees of his Boston show were greeted by «The real price of Russian Jazz” installation, a life-sized cardboard cutout of President Putin and visually striking stand-ins for Putin’s victims: free press, civil rights, freedom of expression, minority rights, free and fair elections, and the Constitution[5]. The installation emphasized that most of the price for this and other performances by Mr. Butman was paid by Russia’s civil society.

It is worth noting that Mr. Butman has repeatedly stated he is just a musician, that he brings his jazz music to people and that he does not engage in politics. This is shamelessly hypocritical, of course, because the principle of keeping art separate from politics may be a good one under democratic regimes and in peacetime, but, as Mr. Butman’s example demonstrates, it cannot function in an authoritarian reign of brutality and war.

Press in the US has done some coverage of reputational and other damage of accepting or acquiescing to the “soft power” exerted in the United States by unsavory foreign regimes or outright corrupt powers. There is nothing new about foreign regimes’ buying influence and reputation by exerting such soft power: Goebbels and the Third Reich have been notorious for doing that, from hosting the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to financing Berlin Philharmonic’s tours abroad. Two such articles were published by The Boston Globe in 2014 and 2017 on the Putin supporter’s recitals in Boston[6],[7]. There were two later articles published by The New York Times in 2019 aimed to disclose more facts and information on the unsavory foreign donations as disguised means of exerting influence and such power [8],[9].

For the first time since 2014 cultural venues in the US have come to an understanding that Putin’s Russia is actively using art and culture in waging a hybrid war against western moral and cultural values. Such powers are often exerted on some of the best and famous venues to provide access to those venues to Putin’s loyal cultural emissaries. While some of the venues in the US have started to refuse their appearances, we urge such iconic venues as Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, David Geffen Hall, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra to stop supporting performances of openly politically tainted artists including Valery Gergiev, Denis Matsuev, Anna Netrebko, Hibla Gerzmava, Vladimir Spivakov, Yury Bashmet and others. Their political actions and unequivocally damaged political reputation extend well beyond their musical activities.

[1] The website of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation: https://www.mkrf.ru/press/news/deyateli-kultury-rossii-v-podderzhku-pozitsii-prezidenta-po-ukraine-i-krymu20171009103201 .

An English translation is available here: https://russianartists4war.com/letter/ , Mr. Butman is signatory #63.

[2] Cambridge Day: Regattabar shouldn’t give time to Butman, Putin supporter, member of United Russia

http://www.cambridgeday.com/2019/12/09/regattabar-shouldnt-give-time-to-butman-putin-supporter-member-of-united-russia/

[3] Urdu Point: Russian Jazz Legend Butman Denounces Protest Against His Concert In Boston https://www.urdupoint.com/en/world/russian-jazz-legend-butman-denounces-protest-828695.html

[4] RT America: Russian-born jazz virtuoso Igor Butman discusses US-Russia relations and the power of music https://www.rt.com/shows/news-with-rick-sanchez/480090-news-with-rick-sanchez-february/

[5] The Boston Globe: Russian saxophonist met with protests in Brooklinehttps://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/02/13/lifestyle/pro-putin-saxophonist-igor-butman-met-with-protesters-brookline/

[6] The Boston Globe: Russian musicians’ support for Putin not playing wellhttps://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2014/06/13/pro-putin-classical-performers-facing-music-abroad/0wvZRpjd0hfzEmdMK3OWAN/story.html

[7] The Boston Globe: Pro-Putin musicians to face protests at Boston concert https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2017/05/31/pro-putin-musicians-face-protests-boston-concert/68dzMVAUBK8VHCRhkXMH8O/story.html

[8] The New York Times: Oligarchs, as U.S. Arts Patrons, Present a Softer Image of Russia https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/06/arts/russia-oligarchs-arts.html

[9] The New York Times: Has a U.S. College Given Russia Too Friendly a Platform? https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/arts/american-university-russian-influence.html

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