Edinburgh International Festival drops Russian acts from 75th-anniversary programme

Russian acts have been dropped from the line-up of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), organisers have revealed.

The plug was pulled on artists and performers who were due to appear at the event, which will feature more than 2,300 different artists when it returns, earlier this year as speculation mounted about an impending invasion of Ukraine.

Decisions were taken before the festival severed its links with Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. At the time, the EIF said the action was taken in sympathy with, and support of, the people of Ukrainian capital Kyiv, a twin city of Edinburgh.

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This year's festival will feature a major strand of shows tackling issues around refugees, identity and migration that were already planned to be in the 75th-anniversary programme of the event, which was originally launched in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Created in collaboration with the Scottish Refugee Council, the “Refuge” season of theatre, dance, visual art, film and talks has been inspired by the legacy of Austrian born Rudolf Bing, one of the festival’s co-founders, who was a refugee himself.

The line-up includes Detention Dialogues, which will be based on verbatim scripts featuring the voices of refugees from different countries held in immigration removal facilities across the UK, and Amber, which will document the encounters of two artists, Paria Moazemi Goodarzi and Francisco Llinas Casas on a 23-mile journey from the Dungaval detention centre in South Lanarkshire to the Home Office headquarters in Glasgow.

Elsewhere in the programme, Rwandan artist and activist Odile Gakire Katese will be performing The Book of Life, a show recalling the 1994 genocide, which saw a million people killed in the space of 100 days.

Counting and Cracking, which will explore the journey of a Sri Lankan-Australian family over four generations, will feature performers from Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and France.

However, festival director Fergus Linehan confirmed decisions were made on the involvement of Russian performers before the programme deadline, suggesting “logistical” difficulties had been identified well before the outbreak of war.

Mr Linehan said: “I don’t want to say who they were because they never made it into the final programme.

"It wasn’t quite at the last minute, but decisions were made before it got really nasty in Ukraine.

"There’s been an interesting conversation across the board since then and there’s been a bit of a roll back from it, in terms of whether we mean people with a Russian passport, institutions or people who are very associated with the administration.

The Usher Hall is one of the Edinburgh International Festival's main venues. Picture: Clark James

"Obviously the whole ethos of the festival is to create an international space and, no matter what is going on in the world, we can have that.

"But this kind of moment happened where there was such urgency around it. People felt that anyone who could impress in any way how serious this is, you have got an obligation to do that.

“It wasn’t a case of ‘tut tut, we’re going to cancel people’. It’s not about being anti-Russian, it’s about being anti this administration.

“Obviously we had an honorary president who was quite close to the president. It was a board decision, but it was fast and unanimous. It was about his proximity to the government rather than the nation on the front of his passport.”

Fergus Linehan, who has been at the helm of the Edinburgh International Festival since the 2015 event, is overseeing his last event this year.
We Are Monchichi will be staged as part of the Edinburgh International Festival's season of shows exploring issues involving refugees, migration, identity and inclusion. Picture: Fred Fouché
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