Barbican Classical Music 2013-2014 season.
Last night I took a break from worrying about the death of liberty in Britain. I was at the Barbican to listen to the London Symphony Orchestra play Berlioz. I came late to live classical music but it has become my favourite artistic experience. 'Music hath charms...' and all that.
The orchestra already in place, we were waiting for the conductor Mr Gergiev to arrive. I knew nothing (and cared less) about his political views. I was there only for the music. Apparently he's a pal of VVP (President Putin of Russia) and shares his views on homosexuality and Pussy Riot. Some readers may remember that in exchanges on another blog at the time I disapproved of VVP's severe response to Pussy Riot's protest. You will certainly know that I do not give a damn about the sexual activities of consenting adults.
An elegantly dressed, well-spoken chap walked up on stage. I thought it was an announcement about a change of soloist but he started to rant about Gergiev and to denounce VVP as a tyrant. He was duly removed from the stage. The security people handled it politely and efficiently but a member one of the LSO's string section principal trumpet players [corrected with apologies as per comments] almost gave him the publicity he evidently craved by pushing him. Lacking the skills of a Premier League striker in a penalty area, he failed to fall and the incident was over.
Some of the audience applauded. Some booed. Most of us sat quietly waiting for it to be over. I made a mental note to check in The Guardian tomorrow to find out who the posh dandy was. From my position in the Circle I did not recognise him, but it was Peter Tatchell.
I lived in Russia for seven years and am no fan of VVP. He is no saint except by the atrocious standards of their political class. However he is the recognised Head of a sovereign State which is an imperfect and broadly friendly democracy. It is also without our massive debts, has a balanced budget and a much better economic outlook in the years to come than the whole EU combined. We need Russia more than she needs us.
Even a busybody nation unwilling to let go of its long-lost imperial status as a global policeman must surely let such a country be? For myself, based on my own experiences there, I am confident Russians will sort out their own issues in their own way - perhaps rather better then we will. They are on a wobbly trajectory from Marxist authoritarianism to a free-ish market democracy. We sometimes seem to be heading the other way.
Based on an admittedly limited sample of those I befriended, I consider Russians to be amongst the most open-minded and well-educated people in the world. They are groping their way towards a better society in the face of such problems as endemic political corruption. It says a lot that some of my Russian friends liked VVP - to the extent they liked any politician - because they thought he stole less than previous leaders. Whatever the truth about him, the Russians are a proud and sensitive people resistant to outside interference. Usually it will be counter-productive. Nothing will unite them faster around Putin than foreigners telling them how to live.
Campaigners from outside would therefore do better to advise their Russian counterparts on tactics than to engage in grandstanding themselves. They should also refrain from financial or other material support as that will simply discredit their friends in the eyes of their countrymen.
During the interval, I wondered aloud on Twitter whether anything like this had happened to Russian musicians in London during the Stalin era. The Tatchells of those days were craven suck-ups to Uncle Joe. This, though he made VVP look thoroughly modern on most issues as, in fairness, did the British Left at the time. Tatchell, who famously has no life outside politics, has been tweeting at me since and trying to entrap me into saying something against one of the Left's protected species so that he can tweet "Aha! You're a ****ist". Just what you would expect from him really. Why reason when you can stereotype and dismiss en masse?
I would have been happy to see him with a banner in public space outside the Barbican. I defend to the death his right to say what he said. I simply think it was discourteous to the orchestra to usurp their stage. We were there, in a private space with paid admission, to see them play music, not him play politics.