The small independent theater Divadlo Líšeň requested permission from the Brno City Public Greenery (VZMB), which manages parks and public spaces, to stage its performance “Putin Skis” at the beginning of October in front of the Janáček Theater. The city organization rejected the request, stating that it is a politically motivated event. The theater sees it as censorship, while politicians consider it a misunderstanding. According to them, the performance will go on.
Divadlo Líšeň has been staging the play “Putin Skis” about Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and Russia’s direction towards totalitarianism for fourteen years. The play is inspired by the book “Russian Diary” written by murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. It is performed in a military tent around a large writing table serving as the setting for scenes from Russia.
This year in August, the theater requested the Brno City Public Greenery (VZMB), a municipal organization responsible for managing parks and public spaces, to allow them to perform the play in early October on the piazzetta in front of the Janáček Theater.
Last week, they received a response: “The theater performance ‘Putin Skis’ is a politically motivated show, and according to the decision of the VZMB Supervisory Board, we have been recommended not to express ourselves about such motivated events,” states the letter signed by Jozef Kasala, the director of VZMB, and made available to Deník N.
Artistic director of the theater, Pavla Dombrovská, considers the ban on the performance absurd, especially during the pre-election campaign when political promotion can be seen on practically every corner of the streets in Brno.
“It looks as if there is some kind of censorship authority that interferes with culture and determines what should be performed in public space. And this authority falls under the Public Greenery? Especially if Brno wants to compete for the title of European Capital of Culture, it should monitor such things so that culture can function freely in public space,” said Dombrovská.
“If there is a supervisory board of Public Greenery, it should be clear who establishes it, who sits on it, what powers it has, and what basis it uses to express its views on cultural events. Unfortunately, this board is untraceable, and you cannot find out if it really exists from the Public Greenery website,” added the artistic director.
“We didn’t ban it; we just didn’t approve it”
Director Kasala did not explain why the VZMB management considered the play based on the book by the journalist killed by a hired assassin due to her critical work towards the Russian president and government as a political action.
“I won’t answer that. We didn’t ban it; we just didn’t approve it. We respect the decision of the VZMB Supervisory Board, which we are subject to, and it is necessary to speak with them,” he said.
However, according to the VZMB statutes, there is no supervisory board; the only statutory body is the director Kasala, who has an informal advisory board at his disposal. This board has no executive powers, including the authority to approve theatrical performances in public spaces in Brno.
“We only issued a general resolution in this regard about four years ago, so that the director would have something to rely on when making decisions. Nobody consulted this current matter with me. Usually, we talk about investments or operations,” remarked Vít Beran (KDU-ČSL), the mayor of the municipal district Brno-Žebětín, who is also the chairman of the Advisory Board of VZMB.
The founder of the contributory organization is the city of Brno, namely its council. The politicians approached by the media mostly claim that it was a misunderstanding.
“The performance will certainly take place. I haven’t seen it yet, so I thank you for drawing my attention to it,” said Marek Fišer (Pirates), councilor for culture.
Deputy Mayor Petr Hladík (KDU-ČSL) even saw the play “Putin Skis” before, so he was surprised by the current development.
“I have no problem with the performance; I have seen it, and I really liked it. I support Divadlo Líšeň. I didn’t know about the resolution of the advisory board, and I don’t know how it came about. I have just talked to the director of Public Greenery, and he promised me that the staging of the play will be discussed in the advisory board at the next opportunity,” described Deputy Mayor Hladík, under whose authority VZMB operates.
Mayor Markéta Vaňková (ODS) informed Deník N that VZMB probably misinterpreted the annotation of the play on the theater’s website.
“VZMB followed the recommendation of the VZMB Board, which states that political events should not be allowed in the parks under the management of this contributory organization. However, it refers to events related to domestic or local politics, not artistic productions,” said the mayor.
“The ‘Putin Skis’ project is primarily about the suppression of human rights, propaganda, and totalitarianism, which are issues that our country has had a negative experience with, so public discussion on these topics is welcome,” added the mayor, recommending Divadlo Líšeň to approach VZMB again.
“We believe that Public Greenery will be able to