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Activists in London are calling on the British government to prevent two Russian singers who are prominent supporters of the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine from entering the country.
Iosif Kobzon and Alla Perfilova, known by her stage name Valeriya, are due to perform Oct. 21 at the British capital’s Royal Albert Hall in a heavily advertised concert supported by Russia’s official cultural body Rossotrudnichestvo. Both performers have already been granted visas to enter Britain.
Campaigners, who have launched an online petition to bar them from entering the country, say the singers have by their “words and actions” legitimized Russia’s annexation of Crimea and allowing them in would amount to a PR coup for the Kremlin.
Andrei Sidelnikov, a London-based anti-Putin campaigner who says he received political asylum in the U.K. six years ago, says Britain should follow Latvia’s example, which has banned both singers for contributing “to the undermining of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In March, Kobzon and Perfilova were among hundreds of leading Russian arts and cultural figures who signed an open letter supporting Putin’s policies in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Perfilova has also gone on record to praise anti-gay laws introduced in Russia last year and the imprisonment of two members of punk band Pussy Riot.
Kobzon, the more famous of the two, who has a career going back decades when he was described as the Soviet answer to Frank Sinatra, is a deputy in the ruling pro-Kremlin party United Russia who has long been banned from entering the U.S. because of alleged links with organized crime. Kobzon’s denials have proved futile in having the ban, introduced in 1994, lifted.
Sidelnikov, who has handed a version of the petition to the office of British Prime Minister David Cameron, told The Guardian: “We would be very sad it they are allowed in. We understand it’s up to the British government to act. Free speech is important. But these singers are supporting war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. You can’t separate their politics from show business.”
The online petition at Change.org says: “Stop Iosif Kobzon and other members of the Kremlin’s cheerleading team from entering the U.K. or any other democratic country.” By early Thursday, is had attracted 3,887 of its target 5,000 signatures.
Supporters of the singers point out that Kobzon, though close to power, has remained loyal to those who have fallen out with the Kremlin, including ex-Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was sacked in 2010. Kobzon also helped arrange the funeral in 1980 of singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky, who was considered anti-Soviet by the authorities.
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