ARTISTS UNDER BOYCOTT – Sanctions Against Russian Artists and Their Work: Their Impact on Artistic Freedom and Other Fundamental Rights

A White Paper from Avant-Garde Lawyers

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has resulted in severe violations of rights guaranteed under international law, the impact of which cannot be overstated. At Avant-Garde Lawyers (AGL), we are in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and are committed to providing specialized support to vulnerable artists on both sides of the border in this geopolitical conflict.

The intensity of suffering and devastation inflicted in the war has brought together communities across the globe in an effort to publicly condemn the use of violence by Russia. In this context, in the fields of arts and culture, a pattern has emerged in which national institutions, international festivals, exhibitions, competitions and orchestras have presented Russian artists with peremptory termination statements informing them of the unilateral revocation of their engagements on account of their nationality. Most of these institutions failed to provide the affected artists with any form of compensation or opportunities to discuss or contest their exclusion. While many stated that their intention was not to penalize individual artists, this is precisely what the exclusions have factually achieved.

Understandably, cultural institutions feel the need to publicly condemn Russia’s actions, but decisions to exclude Russian artists were also taken in an attempt to avoid negative repercussions in the form of economic or reputational loss. Overall, these measures and the way in which they were taken raise concerns about the lack of understanding among cultural institutions of the question of “sanctions” and their negative implications for the affected artists, for the institutions themselves, and more broadly for the freedom of artistic expression.

It is in light of these concerns that we publish this White Paper to provide information and analysis to assist cultural institutions in navigating the complexities of the situation. We do so through the lens of fundamental rights as guaranteed under international law. For us, at AGL, this is an important discussion that must be kickstarted amongst key stakeholders to avoid the further targeting of Russian artists by actions taken to condemn the Russian government. We would also like to sound an alarm to prevent exclusionary measures targeting art and culture from becoming the norm in times of geopolitical conflict. This would serve as a massive blow to artistic freedom at a global level and undermine cultural pluralism and exchange. In a world reverberating with alienation and violence, art must be championed as a universal value to be created, shared and enjoyed without borders.

As lawyers and cultural rights defenders, we encourage debate and discussion on this crucial subject and encourage civil society organizations and cultural institutions to join us so that this conversation can contribute to strengthening the framework in which the core principles of our democracies, those that allow us to express ourselves freely and be free from fear and discrimination, are protected, defended and promoted.

Please click here to read the complete paper.

Andra Matei
Executive Director, Avant-Garde Lawyers