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Local Promoter Speaks Out Against Boycotts

With more international artists canceling concerts in Russia, Ilya Bortnyuk says they are only hurting their fans.

Published: May 7, 2014 (Issue # 1809)



  • U.S. band The National are the latest act to cancel their Russian concerts.
    Photo: A2

  • According to Bortnyuk, making a political statement at a concert would be more effective than simply canceling altogether.
    Photo: Sergey Chernov / SPT

With a growing number of Western artists boycotting Russia in protest of its annexation of Crimea and destabilization in south-eastern Ukraine, a St. Petersburg concert promoter has spoken out against their actions, saying that these musicians are only hurting fans. Ilya Bortnyuk, whose agency Light Music has brought many international acts to St. Petersburg and organized the popular Stereoleto music festival since 2002, believes that boycotting targets the wrong people, with politicians left unaffected. 

In fact, he believes that boycotting is actually helping Russian President Vladimir Putin further isolate Russia from the rest of the world.

“Of course, it’s not right,” Bortnyuk told The St. Petersburg Times in a recent interview. “If they want to make a statement against the politics of Vladimir Putin or our state, they should do something that could really influence the situation or at least bring their message to those they are protesting against.

“As a result, people who have nothing to do with it [the politics] in the least degree are the ones who are being punished. This is the main thing that I disagree with.

“If you want to punish McDonald’s, you don’t buy their products. However, if you stop buying kebabs from a kebab stand nearby because of its proximity to McDonald’s, it will not harm McDonald’s at all. Even if there is an indirect link between them, it’s most likely that the people whom they are protesting against won’t even know about it, that’s what it’s about.”

Bortnyuk founded Light Music in 2000. Since then, it has brought such acts as Sparks, Sonic Youth and Morrissey to the city and launched the annual Stereoleto festival in 2002. The upcoming Stereoleto festival, scheduled for July 12 and 13, will feature acts from Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Georgia, Cuba, France and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to Bortnyuk, the refusals from international artists to perform in Russia have become more frequent after the Federation Council voted unanimously on Mar. 1 to send Russian troops to Ukraine.

“At least three artists have refused to come to Russia, one of which is quite well-known,” he said. “I also know a few other cases where artists have refused to come when approached by different promoters. So far, I don’t know of any more cases of artists canceling already scheduled concerts, except for The National.”

Last month, The National, one of America’s premier indie rock bands, canceled concerts in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev, citing the current political climate as their reason.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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