Elena Kovylina

Dying Swans

The former Soviet state made special efforts to control the cultural representation of itself both domestically and abroad. Ballet, the Bolshoi Theatre, Dmitri Shostakovich, Pjotr Tchaikovsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy became the indispensable attributes whose function was to maintain the country’s positive image, as well as, to de-emphasize the problematic ideological aspects in favor of the politically neutral sphere of the sublime and the beautiful.

The USSR presented to the western and domestic audiences a professionally crafted Socialist picture of reality that was based on a reduced version of the classical culture. Beginning with Joseph Stalin’s death and continuing with each Soviet leader’s passing, every channel on Soviet television would broadcast Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, while the radio transmitted Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. During the failed 1991 coup d’etat, TV once again took up the unfortunate Tchaikovsky ballet with its popular hit, The Dance of the Little Swans.

After the Union’s demise, culture in Russia stopped fulfilling the role that had been previously assigned to it. With the bloody shoot-outs of the 1990s and the continuous division of state property (privatization), the authorities failed to assert an articulate cultural image of the country, either for foreign or domestic consumption. Even today, now that the division of property is complete, issues around culture are pushed into the background by more pressing social problems. The nouveau-riches in power seem to actually believe that their limitless and demonstrative consumption and binge partying at luxurious western resorts symbolizes Russia's well-being. The most effective instrument of creating a positive image of the country is the control over mass media. Persecuting free press and silencing the regime’s critics are the power’s main tools. In the past ten years, about 200 journalists were killed or went missing.

Similarly to the way the Dying Swans from the Tchaikovsky ballet died out and dropped from the media broadcasts, many representatives of the opposition press left us. I would like to dedicate my project Dying Swans (2008) to those journalists.

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