With all that jazz, Russia has a soft launch in Crimea

A musician at the Koktobel Jazz Party. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Six months after the “reunification” of the picturesque Crimean peninsula with Russia, an annual jazz festival that started here in 2003 — when it was part of Ukraine — opened here on Friday evening to music that kept around a thousand aficionados glued to their spots on the sands till well after midnight. The audience was largely Russian, some locals but many who had flown in from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The political subtext of holding the event in Crimea pulling in some — though not as many as the organisers would have wished — international jazz musicians was only too evident. “This is a significant event in the jazz world, not just Crimea,” Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said, “so we are very pleased that in spite of political changes, the festival continues.”

Indeed, the Russian Culture Ministry’s support to the Koktebel Jazz Party — named thus to distinguish it from its predecessor, the Koktebel Jazz Festival — is part of its efforts to market Crimea as a tourist destination to rival destinations such as Turkey. It’s also part of celebrations for the Year of Culture in Crimea.

Mr. Medinsky listed other events on the calendar: a military historical festival that opened on Saturday near Sevastopol, to which he expected “thousands of visitors from different countries, lovers of history and culture”; the Moscow Circus and the Russian State Circus that are already touring the region; and a series of theatre events and museum exhibitions.

With western nations yet to accept the Crimean peninsula a part of Russia, the government is clearly making all efforts to put its stamp on the region that can only be accessed from there either by air or by sea. A priority project, therefore, is to build a six-kilometre long bridge between Russia’s Krasnodar territory and Crimea across the Kerch Straits.

Indeed, Dmitry Kiselev, Director General of Rossiya Segodnya, Jazz Party’s chief organiser, and the host of what is probably Russia’s most popular, if provocative, news talk show tells The Hindu: “Ukraine never saw the Crimea as part of its territory: it didn’t build roads or marinas; it made no investments here, it only built houses for the rich with high fences around them. There were no local water sources; they couldn’t organise electricity supply. Russia has already discovered water here and it is going to build a lot of infrastructure here.”

Mr. Kiselev, regarded by many as President Vladimir Putin’s “chief propagandist” — a description he brushes aside as a “stereotype” — says the Koktebel Jazz Party’s objective is to start a dialogue: “Jazz is about dialogue, and we want to have a dialogue with the world, make it understand that Crimea is Russian territory, the Crimean people are happy, and that we are open to cultural influences from abroad.”

As one of the Jazz Festival’s original founders when it first started here in 2003, Mr. Kiselev is in a unique position: his Ukrainian partners have taken the festival to Odessa this year, further along the Black Sea coast, but he says he would have welcomed their holding it here in Koktebel: “When I created this festival with them, I did it as a foreigner. There were no obstacles to their continuing to do so this time, too, but Ukraine has a new law that sees Crimea as “occupied territory”.

So there is a political message? “If some people want to feel it in their subconscious, they are free to do so,” Mr Kiselev says, adding, “if there is one, it is positive — that Russia is ready to develop Crimea.”

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 7, 2021 12:09:58 PM |

Next Story