Ukraine slams Bolshoi Ballet tour in Korea

Russian Ballerina Svetlana Zakharova  in 'Modanse' / Courtesy of Happening People

Planned performances in Seoul by Russia’s state-owned Bolshoi Ballet are drawing criticism from the Embassy of Ukraine and diplomats from several European countries, who argue that Russia’s use of cultural events as a tool to justify war and genocide constitutes a form of cultural weaponization. The performances, occurring amid the prolonged war between Moscow and Kyiv, have the potential to ignite a diplomatic dispute, with critics warning that Seoul’s apparent indifference toward hosting artists who openly support Russian President Vladimir Putin could exacerbate tensions further. “Against the background of escalating hostilities, mass murders and destruction in Ukraine, showcasing the performers of an aggressor-state amounts to legitimization of Russian unjustified aggression and belittling the suffering of the Ukrainian people, which is absolutely unacceptable,” the Ukrainian Embassy said, Monday. “With all due respect to the pluralism of opinion and inclusive nature of cultural exchange, we call on our international partners to suspend cultural cooperation with the criminal Russian regime and its cultural representatives.”

In response, the Russian Embassy in Seoul rebuked the criticism, asserting in a statement, Tuesday, that culture and art should not be manipulated for political agendas. They denounced the critique as an “unexpected level of rudeness” and viewed Ukraine’s response as part of the West’s ongoing but ineffective efforts to isolate Russia. The dispute erupted as “Modanse,” a ballet collaboration with the fashion brand Chanel, is set to premiere at the Seoul Arts Center (SAC) from April 17 to 21, featuring Russian prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova, one of the world’s top dancers .Zakharova is a world-renowned ballerina who has won the “Benois de la danse” twice, known as the Oscars of classical ballet. Aside from her renown as a dancer, the Ukraine-born ballerina is widely known as a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin. She is a member of Russia’s dominant United Russia party, which endorses the Putin regime. In 2014, Zakharova signed an official letter supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Another performance by the Bolshoi Theatre, “Ballet Gala Concert,” is also scheduled to take place at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul from April 16 to 18, led by star conductor Valery Gergiev. A prominent supporter of Putin, Gergiev, was appointed as the head of the Bolshoi Theatre in December last year .The Bolshoi Theatre has long been regarded as a cornerstone of Russian artistic culture. However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the state-owned company has faced widespread boycotts from Western nations .”We oppose both (of the performances). The Bolshoi Theatre is headed by a personal friend of Putin who is sanctioned in Ukraine,” an official at the Ukrainian Embassy told The Korea Times, Tuesday. The official noted that a decision has not been made yet on whether to lodge a formal complaint with Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the ballet shows .In addition to Ukraine, the Delegation of the European Union to South Korea has also voiced opposition to the ballet shows.” We are protesting through various channels, expressing our disappointment to the planned performances and the wrong form of cultural diplomacy,” an official at the EU delegation told The Korea Times.

The Russian Embassy responded by saying, “The press release issued by the Ukrainian embassy in Seoul demanding the cancellation of cultural exchanges with Russia reveals that its officials seem to be captivated by abnormal emotions related to the scheduled Russian ballet performance in Seoul.” “While one might have grown accustomed to the impolite remarks from Ukrainian diplomats, it was a unexpected level of rudeness this time,” it added. The Russian Embassy also claimed that the scheduled shows are routine performances based on a direct agreement between the parties involved.” Any attempts to politicize cultural events and deny the Korean public the opportunity to experience world-class art would not be accepted by the Korean public,” the embassy said, adding that it actively support the continued development of cultural exchanges between Moscow and Seoul. Regarding the controversy, the foreign ministry said on Monday that “the performances are known to be organized and led by the private sector,” without 스포츠토토존 elaborating.

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