As the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, more former Eurovision artists are dealing with fallout if they dare speak out. Moscow-based authorities have clamped down on any criticism of the war in Ukraine, handing out fines and prison sentences to dissenters. Many Russian artists who denounced the conflict had their shows cancelled.
Alla Pugacheva (1997) has spoken out against the war in Ukraine and the “death of our boys for illusory goals”. Her husband, Maxim Galkin, joined journalists, human rights activists and Kremlin opponents in being labelled a “foreign agent” last week for opposing the war. Pugacheva, 73, has sold more than 250m records and became hugely popular during the Soviet era and has remained so over a career spanning more than 55 years.
Addressing the Russian justice ministry, Pugacheva told her 3.4 million Instagram followers: “I am asking you to include me on the foreign agents list of my beloved country.
“Because I stand in solidarity with my husband, who is an honest and ethical person, a true and incorruptible Russian patriot, who only wishes for prosperity, peace and freedom of expression in his motherland.”
The couple left Russia for Israel shortly after the war began in February: Galkin, 46, is eligible for Israeli citizenship under the country’s law of return, which gives people with Jewish roots the right to acquire Israeli citizenship.
Pugacheva, however, appears to have returned to Russia with their two children ahead of the new school year, attending the funeral of the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in September.
The singer has met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, several times, but she has never publicly supported him.
For Russian artists, there’s no easy way to navigate a treacherous terrain, whether they work outside or inside Russia, or consider themselves ambassadors of higher causes and blanch at the conflation of art and politics. Touring artists can make a lot of money, so many tend to choose silence to protect their personal brands even in the most compromised circumstances. But now they face pressure to speak out, which can cause trouble for them or their families back home, and in any case doesn’t inoculate them against cancellation.
This has led some artists to silence themselves rather than be silenced by the government. They refuse to perform, expressing resistance by rejecting the public sphere.
Mumiy Troll (2001), one of Russia’s most influential rock bands of the past 30 years, announced an indefinite live hiatus: “music went dead”, they postedon Facebook. “We have decided to stop all of our concerts. For more than two decades, our work has been to write songs that unite listeners in Russia, Ukraine and other countries.
“Peace is needed immediately. We will have to start from scratch. We will seek understanding and love through pain and suffering again and again. Maybe this music will help to heal.”
The self-described “punk-pop-rave band” Little Big was also Russia’s pick to go to the cancelled Eurovision Song Contest in 2020. Leader Ilya Prusikin’s life has turned upside down — he is in self-imposed exile for expressing his horror at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He lives in fear that he will never again see his home.
“They are depriving me of a right to say that I don’t agree with murder,” said Prusikin, speaking via Zoom from an apartment in Los Angeles.
As Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Little Big posted a “No War” message on its social media channels in Russian and English. Less than a week later, Prusikin, 37, along with the band’s female vocalist Sonya Tayurskaya, 31, left their home in Moscow for the U.S.
The band has since released an “anti-war manifesto” — a new song and video that takes direct aim at the government. “This was a scream from the heart for us,” Prusikin said. “We just wanted to speak out.”
Manizha Sangin who represented Russia at Eurovision in 2021 found herself targeted by a cyberbullying campaign over her opposition to the war in Ukraine, after calling it a “fraternal conflict” that goes “against the will” of Russian people.
Many of her concerts were scrapped after details of the organisers were posted on social media urging people to “write in” and “demand to cancel the performance of Manizha, saying that she opposes the Russian army”.
The singer, whose fiancé is half-Ukrainian, has repeatedly spoken of her “despair” over Russia’s invasion.
“I want nothing but peace. Children, women, soldiers are dying here and there,” she wrote on Instagram. Her opposition is partly based on her childhood experiences of fleeing the civil war in Tajikistan. “When you see these tragedies from the inside, your position is crystal clear: You never want this to happen to anyone ever again,” she told US news network NPR.
Soon after Russia’s invasion, she released a song called Soldier, originally written about the war in her homeland, which contains the repeated refrain: “Stop the war.” It lead to calls for members of the public to report Sangin to Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs as someone “who has committed public actions aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”.
When she flew to France, she found herself labelled a ‘traitor’ who only returned to make money from concerts. Sangin explained her trip to Paris came after her sister, who lives there, was seriously injured in an accident. The singer has also announced a series of concerts this autumn, dubbed the Uncancelled Tour, with performances scheduled in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Mystery surrounds Sergey Lazarev, once a staunch Putin supporter who represented Russia in the 2016 and 2019 Eurovision Song Contests. Earlier this year, he made a passionate plea on his Instagram account, posting a black image and calling for the war to stop: “Sit down at the negotiating table! Let the people live! Nobody supports the war! I want my children live in peace!”
Shortly after this, he deleted his account due to numerous threats and cancels a planned tour, insisting he had no fear of sanctions, blaming the decision on logistics issues caused by closed borders with neighbouring countries.
Out of the blue, his online accounts returned along with the announcement of a rescheduled tour. And no mention of the war. After many followers questioned this sudden about turn, his online account stated: “I understand that now the news agenda is completely different, and I thought for a long time whether this post and concerts in general are needed now! So, in my opinion, all this is necessary, even extremely necessary! To not go crazy! To distract from the endless stream of heavy news for at least two hours.”
He went on to blast what he called rumours about his loyalty to Russia. “I am Russian! And I’ve never been ashamed of it!
“These are difficult times. The pressure on our country and people is enormous! Incredible anger and Russophobia. Our task is not to quarrel, not to blame, not to become angry. We must be united today more than ever and support each other! I myself am a very emotional person and take every information to heart, but do not be fooled by provocations and fakes! Health, peace, patience, strength and kindness to all of us!”