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Tuesday, 29 August, 2000, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Putin sacks Bolshoi director
Bolshoi ballerinas
Critics say the Bolshoi has been too traditional
By Russian affairs specialist Steven Eke

The director of Russia's world-famous Bolshoi Theatre, Vladimir Vasilyev, has been dismissed.

In a tersely-worded decree, Russian President Vladimir Putin transferred responsibility for the theatre to the Ministry of Culture.

The changes come against a background of declining performances, personnel clashes and a loss of international prestige.

Bolshoi Theatre (interior)
The crumbling theatre needs major repairs

But President Putin may be more concerned to prevent the collapse of yet another symbol of Russia's might.

Moscow's cultural elite has not been taken by surprise by the move.

But President Putin's decision, announced in Moscow on Monday by the Culture Minister, Mikhail Shvydkoi, goes further than many expected.

Central authority

The Bolshoi has been formally managed - for a decade or so - by the Russian presidential apparatus.

The move comes at a time when Moscow is re-establishing central authority over Russia's cultural life, which has been abandoned to the free market since the end of Communist rule.

The monumental pillars of the Bolshoi Theatre have epitomised Moscow's proud standing as a leading city of European culture since construction of the theatre was completed in 1824.

Prized possession

The Bolshoi remains one of Russia's most prized cultural possessions and many of Russia's greatest artists have performed on its stage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin has strong support for his modernisation plans

Russia has contributed immensely to the development of world ballet. But Russians are aware that this once-glittering symbol of national cultural prowess has lost some of its former sparkle.

Plans now under discussion include turning the Bolshoi Theatre into an artistic centre, which would end its traditional - and some say conservative - role.

Russia has seen a string of tragic disasters in recent weeks, including a fire at another of Moscow's Cold War prestige symbols - the Ostankino television tower.

And Russians will be hoping that the latest announcements will prevent the loss of a symbol of artistic might as well.

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See also:

31 Jul 00 | Europe
UN in talks to save Bolshoi
22 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Bankrupt Bolshoi looks West
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