The Norwegian Opera and Ballet in Oslo is just one of the many cultural institutions around Norway literally lighting up in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. They’re not only showing support for Ukraine, but also actively cutting ties with Russian artists who are backed by the state.
The decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine and set off a destructive and bloody war against a neighbouring country is also being widely condemned within Norway’s cultural sector. Theaters, concert halls, orchestras and museums all over the country have long had solid cooperation with their Russian counterparts, but Putin ruined that when he sent troops into Ukraine.
Several cultural institutions are now either evaluating full or partial boycotts that will lead to cancelled performances and exhibitions. A British production of the Russian ballet La Bayadère may still open at the Opera in Oslo later this month, but leaders of Norway’s Opera and Ballet have initiated a national movement to halt projects and performances involving Russian state-financed emsembles and other players representing Russian authorities as long as Putin’s war on Ukraine continues.
They feel it’s important to distinguish between individual Russian artists, many of whom oppose Putin’s war, and cultural projects backed by Putin’s regime. The head of Norway’s National Theater in Oslo, for example, is warning against a full boycott precisely because it could hurt the wrong targets.
“Many Russian performers oppose Russian authorities, and it can be important to let their voices be heard,” its director Kristian Seltun told newspaper Klassekampen. The head of the international music festival Oslo World also opposes a full boycott. “Oslo World has a long tradition of inviting artists who are critical to the regime (including the Russian group Pussy Riot),” Alexandra Archetti Stølen told Klassekampen. She agreed, however, that it was unlikely any artists openly supporting Putin would be invited now.
Oslo’s new MUNCH museum, located adjacent to the Opera, was also lit up in Ukrainian colours this week and seems to have gone the farthest, halting all dialogue with Russian cultural interests. MUNCH has been planning a large exhibition devoted to Russian art that was supposed to open in the summer of 2023, but that’s now on hold.
“After a detailed evaluation the museum’s management has decided to end all dialogue with Russian partners,” MUNCH director Svein Olav Henrichsen confirmed this week. “We hope we can take it up again later, but in the terrible situation we’re in now, we’ve chose to set aside all relations with Russian cultural institutions and individuals. For us, it’s important to mark our solidarity with Ukraine.”
Asked whether that also applies to artists and players who don’t have any direct ties to Russian authorities, Henrichsen told Klassekampen “yes, we’re putting all communication on ice.” He insisted it wasn’t a boycott, though, and MUNCH will continue to boost cooperation between Norway and other countries.
‘They need our support’
“We must not forget that there are many artists and cultural institutions in Russia who are protesting and distancing themselves from the war in Ukraine,” he added. “They need our support.”
The national theater in Bergen was among the first to bathe itself in Ukrainian colours and so has the large new cultural arena in Kristiansand, called Kilden. It felt compelled to cancel an upcoming production of Swan Lake that was planned for May in cooperation with the St Petersburg Ballet Thearre. “We think it’s a sad decision to make that will affect individual artists,” said Kilden’s director Harald Furre, “but it would be difficult for us to receive this ballet company. We are now in an extreme situation in Europe, unlike anything we’ve seen since World War II.”
The cultural cancellations involving Russians follow Norway’s decisions to join wide-ranging economic sanctions again Russia, express solidarity with Ukraine and even send weapons and other aid into the country now under Russian attack. A long string of Norwegian businesses are pulling out of Russia, the Oil Fund has been ordered to sell off Russian investments and Russian companies have been banned from obtaining oil licenses in the North Sea. On Thursday morning, Ukraine’s ambassador to Norway received a standing ovation in the Norwegian Parliament.