Vladimir Kotliarov, the leader of the Russian punk band Pornofilmy, left Russia ten days after the start of the offensive against Ukraine, "disgusted". The singer Shaman, on the contrary, stayed and sold out with his patriotic lyrics. Like these two singers, this conflict has fractured the Russian musical world, with artists who go into exile and denounce on stage the policy of the Kremlin, while others sing on the contrary to the glory of the army.
" READ ALSO "We are Russians, God is with us": in Moscow, art on a war footing in an exhibition
Vladimir Kotliarov, a native of Dubna, a small town north of Moscow, recalls being "disgusted by society that hardly reacted" after Vladimir Putin's decision to send Russian troops to Ukraine in February 2022. "I understood that I would find it difficult to live among such indifferent people," he told AFP on the sidelines of a mid-May concert of his band in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The singer, who now lives in Georgia, in Tbilisi, says that the conflict plunged him into "a black hole, a void": "I could not believe it, to resign myself. Months passed, I lived waiting but nothing changed, it was horrible. "I had the impression that everything we did before no longer made sense because it could not stop the war," Kotlyarov continues. After several months without writing, he says inspiration has returned. His group, which was already known for its lyrics sharply criticizing the authorities in Russia, has taken a stand against the offensive in Ukraine and is multiplying "charity" concerts for Ukrainian refugees.
Music is a kind of therapy. Maybe for part of our audience, it's also therapy," says the 35-year-old punk-rocker. "If it helps people, we have to keep going.»
Shut up or leave
The members of Pornofilmy are not alone in this situation. In the streets of Yerevan, dozens of posters announce concerts by Russian bands or singers who have gone into exile, such as Nogou Svelo and Boris Grebenchchikov. For many Russians in exile, these artists are a link to their country.
Present at the Pornofilmy concert in the Armenian capital, Alexei Ossin, a 19-year-old computer scientist, said he felt "an influx of forces" by listening to them and the certainty that one day he would return to "build a free and democratic Russia".
My Russia is in prison. But, believe me, it will pass! ", sings Vladimir Kotliarov on stage, taken up in chorus by the audience. "The leaders leave, the artists stay. It's a Soviet proverb," the musician says with a smile.
My Russia is in prison. But, believe me, it will pass! Vladimir Kotliarov sings on stage. KAREN MINASYAN / AFP
I am happy to see that my favorite band openly expresses its position, does so without compromise and without fear. " agrees Olga Smirnova, 35, who has lived in Yerevan since spring 2022.
" READ ALSO In Ukraine, the destruction in the sector of culture amounts to 2.4 billion euros
The musicians opposed to the conflict and who remain in Russia have the choice between keeping quiet and suffering the wrath of power. Several singers, such as Yuri Shevchuk, were fined for their criticism and their concerts were cancelled. But not all musicians are against the offensive in Ukraine.
« I am Russian! »
In Zelenograd, northwest of Moscow, spectators flock to a concert by pop singer Shaman, the new star of the Kremlin's big "patriotic" concerts. His song I Am Russian has been viewed 35 million times on YouTube. "I'm lucky, I'm Russian, against the whole world!" says the chorus.
In a sign of the importance for the authorities to rely on these artists, Shaman even sang the Russian anthem alongside Vladimir Putin during a concert last September celebrating Moscow's claimed annexation of occupied territories in Ukraine.
" READ ALSO In Kiev, the National Museum of History of Ukraine exhibits objects left by Russian soldiers
In January, he was performing before Russian soldiers in Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city captured by Moscow after a devastating siege. "I like his songs because they are patriotic. I am a patriot. His songs touch me to tears," Yulia Shevchenko, a 23-year-old employee of a state-owned company, told AFP before Shaman's concert in Zelenograd. "This is what we need to unite the country and the nation," she added, wearing a T-shirt with the words "I am Russian."
Tatiana Morozova, a 41-year-old hairdresser, says she supports Shaman in his choice for military intervention in Ukraine: "Forward Russia! We will win! ", she says, criticizing the musicians who go into exile, "traitors". Shaman declined to give an interview to AFP. So did a dozen other groups supporting the Kremlin's military campaign.