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Cultural Life In The Occupied City Of Donetsk

By Stanislav Aseyev for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service

(October 7, 2016) According to local residents, life in the occupied part of Donbas is dualistic -- and cultural life in these territories controlled by the “DPR” is not an exception. The overwhelming number of cultural institutions and events in separatist-controlled territories are concentrated in Donetsk. If cultural activities are limited to local outlets in other cities like Makeyevka, Khartsyzk and Horlivka, in Donetsk everything is different -- cinemas, theaters and the philharmonic society are fully operational. They are the markers of what really concerns people here.

A rigid ideological filter has been imposed on the cultural institutions of “DPR”-controlled territories. The mission of the “DPR’s” so-called “ministries” of culture and education is the cultivation of the Soviet past in all its manifestations. In Donetsk, the only cultural events receive funding, be they exhibitions or a photo exposition, [are those that] reflect the heroism of Soviet soldiers and industrial workers, and the greatness of Russian history. All of this can be found in local schools, universities, and history museums.

But as soon as it comes to commercial interest, this “Sovietization” of these media stops. Despite the “official party lines,” cinemas, theaters and the philharmonic society continue to show and perform productions that were here before the occupation. And in this sense, the commercial sector demonstrates the real tastes of the local intelligentsia.

The Donetsk Drama Theater has successfully staged plays by Dumas, Slade, Sinclair, Gibson, Hervé and Claude Magnier. And yes, they also have plays by Gogol, Chekhov and Bulgakov. But there are no ideological twists or even attempts to show Bulgakov’s Soviet side. This I say as an audience member. The most popular performance is “The Show Must Go On,” in which actors do artful performances and sing western hits by Sting, Queen, Lara Fabian, and others. But at the same time – and this I know well – the performers and actors are mostly pro-Russian and actively support the “DPR.”

The situation is pretty much the same at the Philharmonic Hall and cinemas. For example, at the end of October, the Donetsk Symphony Orchestra will perform exclusively western rock hits by Mercury, “Nirvana,” and “Scorpions.” This stands in stark contrast to the commercial billboards near the Philharmonic Hall, which are covered with posters of Zakharchenko and Stalin advertising both a restaurant and slogans in the spirit of “our grandfathers won, and we will win too.” As for movie theaters like “Zvezdochka” or the Shevchenko cinema, they play exclusively western movies -- the viewer will simply not attend anything else.

In other words, there are two different realities in Donetsk. One is aimed at the propagandizing of everything Soviet in schools and other educational institutions where no alternative opinion is allowed. Here, the emphasis is on the younger generations, whose views are not yet formed. And then the other reality, linked exclusively to commercial profit, which reflects the real western tastes of the local consumer. Nothing that is directly connected with Ukraine is allowed; however, authorities look away from the stage and screen when it comes to western media.

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