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The Serebrennikov case: a simple case of state fund mismanagement or Kremlin censorship

The eventual arrest in this summer of Kirill Serebrennikov, the disputable glamour Moscow theater director, on the allegations of misappropriation of about RUB 68m (approx. USD 1m) of state funding, has elicited traditional criticism and accusation of Kremlin censorship: the government’s encroachment on the freedom of speech or President Vladimir Putin silencing dissents from the so-called Moscow intelligentsia.
The intelligentsia and fans of Serebrennikov are not even interested in hypothetically contemplating the probability of the director actually committing the incriminated crimes. I dont know whether Serebrennikov is guilty as charged or not, or whether the Kremlin is out to punish him for some yet-to-be-disclosed heinous crimes as a special warning to all so-called liberals or so-called political dissents. These issues are, indeed, not the main purpose of this publication, but the negative interpretations of the events surrounding the director by the so-called intelligentsia and other like-minded individuals.
The aim of this publication is to remove the raw and unfounded negative emotions surrounding the director and try to analyze both sides positions on this multimillion-ruble theft case. This seems to be an objective approach. As an unflinching disciple of the supremacy of the “rule of law” and the centuries-old legal doctrine of presumption of innocence, I absolutely believe that Serebrennikov duly deserves to be considered absolutely innocent until unequivocally proved otherwise by the authorities. Fortunately, these same legal provisions have rightly put the onus of proof of this case on the government, rather on the director or the intelligentsia. This is exactly what the government is trying to do: carry out a really thorough investigation of the case, as Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky has put it.
So everyone interested in this case should hope for an unbiased investigation into these serious charges and free and fair trial, if necessary, via the jury system, so that the director will be judged by peers chosen from the general public. But instead of this logical approach, the intelligentsia and Serebrennikovs fans have adopted a totally different strategy: that the state prosecutors should just leave Serebrennikov because he is a famous and rich director, a social celebrity who produces artistic works that are enjoyed by the minority liberals, while hurting the feelings of the larger majority of citizens.

Interestingly, the arguments of this so-called intelligentsia are very simple, and to them, are unequivocally axiomatic: Serebrennikov, a priori, cannot be guilty as charged, because he simply cannot be guilty. To them, the director is as infallible as the Roman Catholic pope. The position of Serebrennikovs supporters was exemplified by a demonstrator Margarita Solomonitsa, who held a poster sign protesting against the directors arrest near a courtroom in central Moscow in August: I have great respect for [Kirill] Serebrennikov and Im sure he is a very honest person, and what is happening to him is outside the law. Short and simple…
The fact that Serebrennikovs subordinates, including high management executives, such as his accountant and several others at the Gogol Theater, the company at the center of the financial mismanagement accusations, had confessed to committing the incriminated crimes does not mean anything to them. These people are not interested in the case matter because anything put forward by the police, investigators or the prosecutors are automatically interpreted as completely dubious, totally fake or trumped up against the genius and infallible director.

Indeed, most Serebrennikovs supporters, if not all, are even aghast by the nature and procedural methodology of his arrest. Why should he be handcuffed and transported in a special vehicle traditionally used by the police for transporting people that have run afoul of the law to custody? The accused is Serebrennikov and, therefore, he deserves some special treatment from the police. That this is a standard police practice in the country of handling accused individuals does not mean anything to these people. Ditto the fact that other accomplices to the same crimes had already been treated the same way.
This is the core problem of some Russians who have self-styled themselves as neoliberal intelligentsia. To them, the universally accepted legal principle of the equality of all citizens before the law is anachronistic, a vestigial practice reserved exclusively for the poor and the less fortunate citizens of this great nation. The representatives of the neoliberal intelligentsia are ardent disciples of the Orwellian comedy doctrine of all animals are equal, but some are "more equal" than the others. The representatives of the neoliberal intelligentsia have completely refused to, or are not interested in, and/or incapable of, analyzing the case against Serebrennikov on its face value, on its merit.

Below are some few questions that Serebrennikovs supporters need to answer themselves before accusing the government of a foul play against the beloved director.
First question: The charges in the case relate to the period between 2011 and 2014 when a theatre production studio led by Serebrennikov received the government funding. This is a relatively fresh period and there should be lots of people – both on the government and directors sides who could still vividly remember how the grant was awarded and how it was later spent and on what. The application for the grant and terms under which it was awarded should be on public display, along with what exactly was done with the grant by the director.
Second question: what type(s) of existential threat does Serebrennikov pose to Putin and his highly stable sky-high electoral ratings of between 80% and 90% less than a year to the next presidential election? An unbiased answer will be absolutely none.

Third question: what has Serebrennikov done in 2017 that he had not done before? His liberal approach to, and unique way, of interpreting classical artworks have always been a big issue that lies on the boundaries what is allowed and enjoyed by the minority liberals and completely detested the orthodoxically conservative majority of Russians.
The fourth issue: the intelligentsia has christened Serebrennikov a dissent and strident critic of the Kremlin and its policies. That is their right, but it also begs this question: why should a harsh critic of the Kremlin take multimillion-ruble grants from the government to execute his projects. It does not make sense to take governments money and be critical of the same government or use the money on projects that run counter to states policies.
One cannot eat his egg and have it back. By agreeing to take a state grant, Serebrennikov has, by default, ceded his artistic independence to the government, because it is the one that pays for the music that gets the best dance. On a personal level, someone that borrows money from his friend usually does not go about challenging his friends points of view at every nook and corner. Both common sense and ethics dictate that one keeps off from any type of criticism, especially those that could be qualified as unjustified or unconstructive, of such creditor-friends, even when their opinions are egregious, to say the least. This is because eliciting their anger could lead to unwanted or undesirable consequences, since such behaviors could lead to a demand for early repayments of such debts with all its associated repercussions. The government also has the full right to act the same way if the issue of Serebrennikov criticism of the Kremlin was central to these charges.
The fifth issue: the media and its coverage of the case. The intelligentsia has, a priori, seen the major mainstream broadcasters and other media outlets covering the case as propaganda tools of the Kremlin against the director. Their argument the mainstream TV broadcasters are state-owned media outlets and are hence are ever ready to do the states biddings. This is also logical point, by all standards. However, it is often amusing to hear the same intelligentsia say they prefer to watch alternative privately owned broadcasters, such as the Dozhd TV Channel and Internet-based media, which are vehemently anti-Putin or anti-Russia in their coverage.
But the intelligentsia has completely forgotten that the private owners of such so-called private or independent and/or alternative media outlets also have their own hidden or overt agendas, which might be different from those of the Russian government, as well as those of the intelligentsia. But to the latter, the old adage the enemy of my enemy is my friend takes precedence over common sense. It seems the intelligentsia has forgotten that there is no absolutely free press, even in the so-called civilized western states. The coverage of the recent US and French presidential and Dutch general elections and the Brexit and Catalonia referendums in the UK and Spain are living testimonies how the mainstream western media could broadcast highly biased contents against those challenging the existing political status quo.
The problem with the Russian intelligentsia is the fact that any person can now classify him or herself as an intelligentsia, either because he/she does not agree with the Kremlins official policies, show utter disdain for traditionally Russian cultural values or is an unrepentant believer that the West and its values are far much better than those of Russia. So the quality of the Russian intelligentsia has also deteriorated since the deaths of the representatives of the bonafide Russian intelligentsia, otherwise known as the conscience of the nation, such as Nobel laureates Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as well as Dmitry Likhachev and Daniil Granin, or our contemporary Ludmila Alekseeva amongst others.
These people, their moral willand readiness to defend what they have believed to be true, their relentless struggle for justice for all and, finally, their borderless scopes of life wisdom and human knowledge are complete embodiments of the notion of the true intelligentsia. It is, therefore, completely embarrassing to see people that classify themselves today as Russian intelligentsia is a disservice to these moral luminaries and absolute reflection of the depreciation of the term, intelligentsia, in our times.