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The federal opera house in the capital of Europe

LA MONNAIE DE MUNT

Culture as the cement of Europe

Statement Peter de Caluwe

Peter de Caluwe
Reading time
9 min.

In the current geopolitical climate, we can imagine that our 2022-23 season programme may surprise or even raise questions given that it includes three Russian operas. We already answered these questions both during the season presentation in April and many interviews. And we will continue to discuss these questions just as we have already done with the Promote Ukraine non-profit organisation. In this statement, we will explain why we have nevertheless decided to continue with the planned programming. Or rather: what, due to the corona pandemic, all ended up in one and the same season. This way, the Russian works seem to form a cluster that was not intended as such, but they do provide us with an unexpected opportunity to endorse our intrinsic mission: to unite and defend culture as the cement that binds Europe together.

Our house is a cultural institution that is fundamentally anti-war and pro-peace, as borne out by our position in the heart of the capital of Europe, by our purpose, our programming, our leadership style and our way of working. Our model is one of harmony, not conflict. This constitutes our moral base and there is a greater need than ever to defend it. We are therefore taking a clear stand on this matter: strong towards those who are responsible, supportive towards those who are suffering, and empathic towards those who are caught in the middle.

Of course, artists or institutions that openly support Vladimir Putin's actions are not welcome at La Monnaie.

La Monnaie strongly condemns the devastating aggression and acts of genocide against Ukraine by the Russian regime and expresses its solidarity with the populations who are suffering the terrible consequences of this unnecessary war. It is our responsibility as citizens to work with all our powers towards a peaceful future based on the humanistic values that are at the core of our European societies. We must not lose sight of this horizon even if this peace seems far away at the moment. One day, we must all live together again. Currently, many are pained by talk of building bridges. The wounds are too fresh and still being torn open daily. Nevertheless, in the long run, we must find each other again. Culture offers many paths to this goal. But not culture used as propaganda. Culture that unites and shows that the European continent is – despite everything – connected.

We also express our support for those artists who are committed to peace and who oppose, each in their own way and with great courage, this unacceptable imperialism and pointless drive to annex other countries. We subscribe to the statement of Opera Europa and its members in that we “believe that there are many artists and institutions within Russia that are experiencing profound concern, disapproval and shame at what is happening, but dare not speak out for fear of savage retaliation”. We endorse the words published by Ukrainian artists and cultural activists: “Art has always been at the forefront of humanitarian values. We strongly believe that art cannot be subservient to political propaganda. Instead, it should be utilised to develop critical thinking and promote dialogue.”

We cannot emphasise enough that we do not understand or accept the motivations of the aggressors. But we do not believe in 'cancel culture' and cannot accept the 'cancel history' strategy. Slavic culture, in all its diversity, is part of our shared heritage. European arts, literature, cinema and music will always be connected to this multifaceted culture, which has inspired some of the most eloquent works on our shared continent. We cannot erase history. Indeed, great and immortal artworks confront us with ourselves, bring us face to face with ourselves and with our own time. With our mistakes, too, and learn how to avoid them.

Reading Russian literature or listening to Russian music does not mean that we wish to create propaganda for the Russian regime. A composer like Tchaikovsky strongly opposed the demands of the regime of his time where tsar Alexander III asked artists to write ‘Russian’ music and turn away from western culture. Tchaikovsky consistently refused this. He integrated many references to western music by imitating Bizet, paying homage to Mozart, citing Grétry and pointing out the links between the West and the East. Links that previous and current Russian regimes have constantly tried to manipulate by imposing the ‘superiority’ of their culture and artists. Clearly, this does not mean that Tchaikovsky must be excised from our programming. He is a European composer and humanist that deserves his place among the ranks of European artists.

However, boycotting those responsible for the war is the right approach. We can start in areas where it really hurts and not blind ourselves with ‘sanctions’ that have proven to be truly ineffective. There are enough sectors where sanctions can work to much better effect. We cannot succeed by attacking culture. We must be offensive and empower people to learn about their history. Where economy and politics fail to bring us closer together, culture still can. And we wish to defend this.

Culture and the arts remain some of the best recipes for creating solidarity, understanding and harmony between people, regardless of nationality

Throughout its history, La Monnaie has been a stronghold of encounters and openness through the shared experience of music and theatre. Artists from all backgrounds have been able to meet here in a welcoming and creative atmosphere. I do not believe that banning Russian artists from our theatres will bring us any closer to peace. The aggression against Ukraine by a violent regime should not hinder nor put a stop to our collaboration with an artistic community that is committed to peace and shared European values.

Culture and the arts remain some of the best recipes for creating solidarity, understanding and harmony between people, regardless of nationality. Of course, artists and institutions that openly support Vladimir Putin’s actions will not be welcome at La Monnaie. We expect artists performing in our house to defend our shared values. At the same time, we cannot force Russian artists who oppose their culpable leadership to make statements that might endanger their safety and security or that of their families. This would not be an act of solidarity. The answer to war should be cultural cooperation, not cultural exclusion.

Even more importantly, I have always defended opera as the best example of collaborative work: so many male and female artists, technicians, artisans, etc. from every corner of the world working side by side on a production. No fewer than thirty-eight nationalities have permanent jobs at La Monnaie. Add to that the large number of international guest artists and it is clear that we play the card of multinational and multicultural cohabitation and collaboration.

This season, Russian and Ukrainian artists will be working alongside many other nationalities. It is the responsibility of our institutions to continue to engage collaborators and artists regardless of nationality so as to show the world just what can be achieved by bringing together people, communities, generations and cultures. Art is and remains the domain of freedom, exchange, understanding and humanism.

Peter de Caluwe

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