When “High Culture” merges with terrorism

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2014/12/12 • Ukraine

Concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa should be a familiar name to readers of The Ukrainian Weekly from her performances at the Ukrainian Institute in New York, The Washington Group Cultural Fund music series and other Ukrainian organizations. Ms. Lisitsa continues to promote herself as “Ukrainian-born” and is one of the most recognizable names on the professional circuit. She is a self-made YouTube superstar of sorts, with 156,000 subscribers and over 72 million global views.

What might be less familiar to readers is the content of her Internet Twitter pages @ValLisitsa. Outnumbering the mundane photos of hotel rooms, airports and tidbits for her fans about her orchestra rehearsals, there is an unrelenting stream of disinformation and vulgar polemics, denigrating Ukraine in the most hateful terms, while praising Russian terrorists and Vladimir Putin’s invasions.

Starting on August 28, Ms. Lisitsa adopted an abhorrent racist tone in her anti-Ukraine hate speech. She repeatedly posted photos of spear-carrying, half-naked African villagers juxtaposed with Ukrainians in embroidered “vyshyvanky” shirts on her Twitter page. Her captions stated: “New school year begins in Odesa with teachers forced to wear Ukrainian tribal dress, a truly European custom.” What is abominable is her appeal to “high culture” to make Ukrainian patriotic feelings seem like barbarism, and also with the same brush to smear Africans and mock them as inferior to “Europe”.

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8/28 photo from Valentina Lisitsa Twitter, captioned: “Odesa teachers forced to wear Ukrainian tribal dress, a truly European custom”.

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8/28 Valentina Lisitsa Tweet photo linked with photo above

Who reads these tweets? Well, the 8,350 followers registered on Ms. Lisitsa’s Twitter include the nationally syndicated talk radio host John Batchelor, who retweets a number of her posts. Also listed among her followers are major international symphony orchestras, universities, professors, news networks, magazines, journalists, hordes of pianists, music teachers, students and devoted (and perhaps unsuspecting) music lovers and fans.

In addition to her own Twitter, Ms. Lisitsa is also credited as translator for 16 articles thus far on a second website: slavyangrad.org. This is simply another pro-Putin propaganda Internet hive dedicated to Ukraine bashing, legitimizing “New Russia” (Novorossiya), and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 conspiracy theories. Slavyangrad is itself partnered with a number of further similar blogs, like “The Unwashed Brain” and Anti-Maidan.com. The same bloggers appear and reappear, posting on several sites – a concerted action by Internet trolls, many operating under bogus names with manufactured identities and fake photographs.

The ValLisitsa Twitter pages take any opportunity to smear and mock Ukraine. Tweets include a maniac restrained by a straitjacket with the heading “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to her Heroes” and a photo (captioned “Darling I am waiting for you”) of a crazed, deformed girl in a blue-and-yellow dress, clutching an axe, about which the tweet says, “The mental state of Ukraine today… This photo kinda nails it.”

More Lisitsa tweets: “Quietly without complaining Russia is looking after 1 million refugees from eastern Ukraine”… “Ukrainians are notoriously unwilling to share, they owned long and proud history with Russia, threw it away and invented myths”… “Ukraine: a society sunk beyond redemption”… “Odesa was, is, and always will be Soviet”… “Cluster-bomber-in-chief [photo of President Poroshenko] gets standing ovation in US Congress… Go Novorossiya :-)).”

Such mean-spiritedness by Ms. Lisitsa is all the more disheartening when one compares the courage and integrity of major artists like violinist Nathan Milstein and cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich who always spoke out against the atrocities of the Soviet Union. Today, conductor Daniel Barenboim devotes much of his time to noble work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which includes Israelis playing side by side with Palestinians, in order to build bridges and promote understanding.

By contrast, the Russian Ministry of Culture website displays a letter “in support of Putin’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine” signed by 511 artists, musicians and directors of cultural institutions. High-profile conductors Valery Gergiev and Vladimir Spivakov, violist Yuri Bashmet, and soprano Anna Netrebko have all been quite forthright about their support for Mr. Putin and his regime. (Not to mention the pro-Putin solidarity of sports figures like hockey stars Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Semyon Varlamov and Pavel Datsyuk, and “King of Mixed Martial Arts” Fedor Emilianenko.)

The tide is incrementally turning. Violinist Gidon Kremer enlisted his colleagues pianist Martha Argerich and Mr. Barenboim for an anti-Putin concert in 2013, and in November the Saar International Music Festival in Germany announced it was removing Mr. Gergiev from a concert with the Munich Philharmonic because of his outspoken support for Mr. Putin.

Netrebko and Novorossiya

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Photo posted by Oleg Tsariov on his Twitter page, with Anna Netrebko displaying the “Novorossiya” flag

On December 9, Austrian Airlines announced it will no longer be an advertising partner to opera superstar Anna Netrebko, and dropped her promotional ad campaign, stating they want to “distance ourselves from extreme political positions and the use of armed violence.” Ms. Netrebko had just announced her 1 million rubles (about $18,500) gift to the Donetsk Opera. She gave the check to Oleg Tsariov, posing with the Novorossiya flag. (Mr. Tsariov, a former national deputy of Ukraine, had been expelled from the Party of Regions and is wanted by Ukrainian police for terrorism and violence.) According to Deutsche Welle, Ms. Netrebko later said: “The presence of the flag was unplanned and caught me off guard; I actually did not recognize it at first and realized only later what it was.” It remains to be seen how much of that money Mr. Tsariov will use for new trombones and how much for new Kalashnikovs.

Ms. Netrebko is scheduled to appear with Valery Gergiev for numerous performances of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanthe” starting January 26, 2015 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

“Material Evidence”

Moreover, all those Lisitsa tweets were not an isolated event. On September 21, an art exhibit titled “Material Evidence” opened at the Art Beam Chelsea in New York for a three-week run, following a previous tour in Berlin. This exhibit, heavily promoted on the sides of buses and subway platforms, was basically a photo gallery of recent events in Ukraine.

The exhibit described the Maidan as “…an upsurge of nationalists-banderovtsy groups, which… could not be ignored by the eastern parts of Ukraine, which are mostly populated with Russian-speaking people, who… strongly oppose ‘benserovtsy’ [sic] and ‘Westerner [sic] Oligarchs’ who had come to power. Accordingly the Autonomous Republic of Crimea held a referendum on the separation from the Ukraine and its reunification with Russia.” In other words, typical talking points of Kremlin propaganda and its trolls. It is frightening that such an exhibit was formally visited by students from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Who was behind this? Well, Mat Babiak, an editor at EuromaidanPress.com posted an investigative article about this exhibit. It turned out “Material Evidence” was organized by an anti-Ukrainian Moscow newspaper, Journalistic Truth (Zhurnalistskaya Pravda). This newspaper also offered cash prizes for journalism via the “Material Evidence” site totaling over $93,000. Their editors have disturbing connections with the extremist National-Bolshevik Party (a Nazi-Communist hybrid) and the notorious Izborsky Club, which advocates a “Eurasian Empire,” and trueman-lab.com, an ugly racist and anti-American website.

After Mr. Babiak’s article appeared, the Lisitsa site defended the “Material Evidence” exhibit in typically vitriolic tweets, tried to cover up all its dirty handlers and attempted to smear Euromaidan Press.

On September 20, outraged demonstrators gathered in front of Heinz Hall to protest the Pittsburgh Symphony’s engagement of Valentina Lisitsa as piano soloist for the opening concerts of their 2014 season. Complaints about the hiring of Ms. Lisitsa had previously been e-mailed to the Pittsburgh Symphony management, principal donors and local media. Protesters from Pennsylvania and New York carried placards and handed out information leaflets to ticketholders, orchestra members, pedestrians and passing motorists. True to form, the ValLisitsa pages subsequently attacked these concert protesters (among whom was this writer).

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Demonstrators against Valentina Lisitsa’s appearance with Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall

Ukrainian communities might be interested to greet Ms. Lisitsa at her upcoming concerts in Quebec, the Netherlands, Paris, Washington, Leipzig, London, Cincinnati, Stockholm and in April, 2015 with the Toronto Symphony. Her current international tour schedule can be found at: http://www.deccaclassics.com/us/artist/lisitsa/ontour.

For more information about the Valentina Lisitsa scandal, please visit Valentina Lisitsa Performance 
[This article first appeared in The Ukrainian Weekly, vol.LXXXII, no. 50. December 14, 2014]

– graphics for ‘featured image’ photo of Ms. Lisitsa at the piano by Katya Mischenko-Mycyk

Source: The Ukrainian Weekly

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  • Paul P. Valtos

    Some people say things being patriotic and others will say anything for money. The arts are susceptible to demanding money for little work and those who have little talent who act in grade “B” movies for money and those who spout anti this or that for the same. Its all money whether it be rubles, dollars or Euros. Poniatowski became King of Poland to be supported by Catherine of Russia in rubles but he should have been paid for checking her oil instead with that service. In turn he resigned so that Catherine could take over that part of Poland . Yeah, most people have a price but some have principles and cannot be purchased.

  • Michel Cloarec

    Kolera,ebola, disease,blackpest, nostalgy of urss , deep inside too many !
    Lynch förbidden ? pity !

  • http://peterbkor.wordpress.com/ Peter K

    Hatred towards Ukraine by “cultural figures” is unfortunately nothing new. Russians especially but other nationalities too – Poles, Germans, Hungarians, Romanians, basically anyone who coveted Ukrainian lands – made the argument that Ukrainians were somehow “backwards” or “barbaric”, and that therefore they didn’t deserve or couldn’t handle independence. Obviously, their slander has never been true. It’s good we can count on patriotic and sympathetic individuals like this article’s author and the others at Euromaidan Press to disprove chauvinistic lies and to protest their actions. Their efforts are more important than we can know or guess.

  • disqus_aJpixObjG7

    posted to one of lisitsa’s youtube posts:

    Hey lisitsa- “foxy,”

    Ukraine bore you, nurtured you, trained you, promoted you and gave you your
    massively privileged foundation in life.

    How do you thank Ukraine in return?

    Now, instead of thanks, in the typically russian manner, you spew racist
    hatred, murder and genocide against Ukraine. You wish to see those people who
    nurtured and blessed you mass-murdered; destroyed.

    Typically russian in your mentality, you reside now in America and the
    West from whence you have all your incredible privileges and your
    Marie-Antoinette lifestyle.

    How do you thank the USA & the West in return?

    You traitor- here too, just like against your nurturer, Ukraine- you spit and
    draw your dagger against them- on those who blessed you. With your active
    warfare against the Ukrainain people, by inference you support genocide, and
    racial murder against them too, which is the prevailing russian mindset- russia
    über and against alles.

    Move yourself to your beloved terrorist occupied “Donetsk and Luhansk
    people’s republics” that you so love and support. Be true to your words-
    settle there.

    Why do you stay in the West eating caviar when you could be living
    in the criminal mafia/fascist banana republic that you uphold viz. russia &
    its invaded territories in Ukraine?

    Play piano there in your true home. Your God -given talent excuses you of
    nothing in this regard. On the contrary – noblesse oblige. As a supporter of
    neo-fascism and racial genocide, you are nothing other than a neo-nazi
    yourself- a contemporary female Arno Brekker.

    Hopefully you will receive your just reward soon- that the democratically
    minded and tolerant people of the West will wake up, recognize you for who you
    really are and will boycott and cancel all your performances in your hated
    West.

    You racist neo-fascist, together with your neo-fascist comrades Valery Gergiev,
    Vladimir Spivakov, Yuri Bashmet, and Anna Netrebko et al- GO HOME to your idol
    neo- fascist mass murderer Putin. Play for him and his murderous gang. They
    have ears worthy of you.

  • Michel Cloarec

    Artists should not support TERRORISM . Period !

    • LTJ

      An odd statement. Who are you accusing of this?

  • Ambassador

    Like the US stooges in Kiev, the article brings discredit to itself and to Ukraine by calling 7 million poeple in the southeast, “terrorists.” Also, rather than babble about Putin’s supposed 27-odd invasions, none of which are backed by evidence, the author would be better off discussing the yoke of the US occupation of Ukraine. If any person should think that the US – the world’s main threat to stability according to former CIA head Robert Gates – is concerned about the welfare of the people of Ukraine, the person has much to learn. $5B was spent to destroy Ukraine; how much is being spent by the US for the welfare of the Ukrainian people, today? Virtually nothing. A little for arms, not much else. This should tell Ukrainians a llittle about their new masters.