War in Ukraine: Backlash in Russia Against Anti-War Musicians

Russian rock legend Boris Grebenshchikov performs in Odesa in 2021
Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

A few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Media Group (RMG), one of Russia’s major media corporations, issued a statement explaining why specific musicians would no longer be played on its popular radio stations or music TV channel.

“The harsh words these singers made about Russia in the light of the tough situation between Russia and Ukraine were the grounds for this decision,” the statement stated.

It added that the company’s first goal was respect for its listeners and that the singers’ “arrogant and disdainful attitude toward Russian fans” left it with no alternative but to cancel its relationship with them.

Several Ukrainian musicians were on the list, as were three Russian acts, including the famed rock band Aquarium, whose lead singer, Boris Grebenshchikov, had termed the conflict “madness” in an Instagram post. Political pressure is nothing new to him.

Mr. Grebenshchikov told the BBC, “I’ve lived half my life under some form of prohibition.” “There were bans in the 1970s, and there were bans in the 1980s – it’s nothing new. The folks that banned you then award you awards.”

Oleg Gazmanov performed at a pro-Kremlin rally to celebrate the annexation of Crimea
Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES


Ukrainian musician Ivan Dorn posted a video on Instagram on the first day of the war, urging Russians to “stop this tragedy” and “not to join in this deadly war.”

Days later, he was added to the Russian Media Group’s list of prohibited performers, and his name appeared on yet another “black list” released to Russian media, requesting that some musicians be barred from performing due to their anti-war sentiments. The list was purportedly distributed to Russian music venues and promoters.

Mr. Dorn, on the other hand, told the BBC that being banned in Russia had no effect on him.

“Even before the revelation of any list, any collaboration with Russia was unthinkable,” he stated.

“Does anybody in the Russian state’s organs really believe we wish to collaborate with aggressors who are annihilating the Ukrainian country, murdering hundreds of innocent people, erecting a totalitarian dictatorship, and imprisoning their own citizens for dissent?”

Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

The origins of the “black list” are unknown, and the BBC cannot verify its validity, but music industry sources believe such records are not uncommon.

“There’s no name, phone number, email address, or official stamp to show where they came from. It might appear to be a forgery – a printed list of artists, authors, or comedians, for example, “Elena Saveleva, a music manager, told the BBC. On the list is her client, rapper Noize MC.

Regional security agencies, according to Ms. Saveleva, put pressure on promoters by showing up at music halls and threatening them with closures and penalties.

The paper, according to the art director of Moscow’s oldest club, 16 Tons, might be a forgery.

“I haven’t seen anything, and no officials have come to see me,” Pavel Kamakin told the BBC, “despite the fact that we are normally the first club they visit.”

Because of the ambiguity surrounding the list’s origin, promoters, musicians, and venue owners are unsure how seriously to take it.

Photo Credit: REUTERS

Whatever its roots, the list illustrates the increasingly volatile situation in which Russians who oppose the war find themselves.

For some musicians, this means that performing overseas is their only choice.

Russian rapper Oxxxymiron, whose name has been disseminated in Russian media as part of a “black list,” has canceled his planned tour in Russia and instead organized charity performances overseas dubbed “Russians Against War” to collect money for Ukrainian refugees.

At a concert in Istanbul, he raised nearly $30,000 (£22,760), and he’ll be in London later this week.

Oxxxymiron claimed that he couldn’t “entertain people while Russian missiles fall on Ukraine, while citizens of Kyiv are forced to hide in their basements and the subway, and while people are dying” on announcing the cancellation of his Russian tour.