MOSCOW 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
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
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."
He hinted Russia's enemies could be using the play to
destabilize the region, an allegation Pelevine described as
"absolutely mind-boggling, laughable."
The theatre siege was one of the bloodiest attacks by
Chechen rebels in a separatist war that lasted over a decade.
The attackers stormed the theatre during a packed performance
with bombs strapped to their bodies.
After a stand-off that lasted three days, special forces
pumped a gas into the auditorium that rendered most people
inside unconscious. They shot the insurgents.
Relatives of the theatre-goers who died say many were
killed by the gas, suffocated or choked on their vomit while
unconscious because they were not given proper medical care.
Russian authorities praised the operation as a success, but
a police general has since said medical help was slow in
reaching many of the victims.
Russia's cultural establishment has shied away from turning
such sensitive subject matter into drama. Pelevine said several
theatres she approached turned it down before she received an
invitation from a theatre company in Dagestan to stage it
Dagestan has a border with Chechnya and is the scene of
frequent ambushes and bomb blasts by insurgents as violence has
spilled over from the neighboring region.
She said her aim was not to romanticize the insurgents, but
explore what compels people to commit acts of violence.
A central character in her play, which is called "In your
hands," is a young Chechen woman who was one of the
hostage-takers. She describes how she had wanted a normal life.
"All of that fell apart when the war (in Chechnya)
happened, and her loved ones were being killed, and her
desperation led her to become this monster," said Pelevine.
"Nothing is black and white. We try to understand the
background of this person because there are some people like
that among those who go and take hostages."
"This is not trying to find an excuse for her on my part.
By no means. This is just trying to have a dialogue about what
it is that we are doing, politically, what our government is
doing, what we are doing as a people," she said.
(Editing by Charles Dick)