Playwright alleges Russia gagged political play

Fri Apr 11, 2008 12:46pm EDT
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By Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A British-based playwright has accused Russian authorities of Soviet-style censorship after her play, about a real-life hostage siege in Moscow, was cancelled on its opening night.

The play was based on events at Moscow's Dubrovka theatre six years ago, when Chechen insurgents stormed in as more than 700 people watched a musical. About 120 theatre-goers died in a rescue operation that victims' relatives say was botched.

Playwright Natalia Pelevine said that moments after the curtain came down on the play's first public performance in Russia, in the southern region of Dagestan, local officials told the director the play's first night would be its last.

"It was executed very much Soviet-style. Boom. Done. Tell them it's over. Tell them it's finished," 31-year-old Pelevine, who was born in Moscow and moved with her family to Britain as a child, told Reuters in an interview.

"The shameful thing is that we were so hopeful ... 'We live in a different society now in this country where something like this, it's not going to happen.' And it did."

Dagestan's President, Mukhu Aliyev, was in the audience for the performance. He denied he had ordered its cancellation, or that his administration practiced censorship.

"The banning of this play is either a provocation by someone or an ill-conceived decision by the republic (of Dagestan's) minister of culture," he said in comments on his Internet site.

But he added: "I did not like the production as a whole because, in my view, it romanticizes the image of the terrorists, it made them look heroic."   Continued...

<p>Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the memorial near the Dubrovka theatre in southeast Moscow, October 23, 2003. REUTERS/Pool/Sergei Ilnitsky</p>