Virtuoso pianist Valentina Lisitsa has been replaced by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and accused of engaging in public incitement of hatred after she posted political opinions critical of the Ukrainian government’s conduct in the country’s civil war.
Lisitsa, who was born in Kiev, is a world renowned pianist, with some of her performances garnering millions of views on YouTube.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s aggressive attempt to censor her is a chilling insight into how perfectly legitimate political views that challenge the mainstream can be treated as “offensive” or “hate speech” and used to cripple someone’s career.
The TSO canceled Lisitsa’s concerts after the pianist drew attention to the plight of citizens in eastern Ukraine, who have been the victims of bombing raids carried out by the Ukrainian military.
Lisitsa originally supported the Maidan uprising but later realized that it had been hijacked by corrupt interests.
“I took to Twitter in order to get the other side of the story heard, the one you never see in the mainstream media—the plight of my people, the good and bad things that were happening in Ukraine,” she writes. “I translated news stories from Ukrainian language websites, I translated eyewitness accounts of atrocities…. I became really good in unmasking fakes published by Western media in order to make one side of the civil war look whiter and softer than the Easter bunny, and the other—like sub-humans, not worthy of mercy, the “collateral damage”.
Lisitsa was also instrumental in challenging western media pieces which glorified neo-nazi militants, brigades of which have been absorbed into the Ukrainian Army since the civil war began.
After receiving an unspecified number of complaints about Lisitsa’s “political statements” from members of the public, the TSO canceled her appearances at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and attempted to dissolve its contract with the pianist.
“The TSO also accused Valentina of nothing less than public incitement of hatred contrary to section 319(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada and went as far as to insinuate that Valentina, a citizen of the United States, could be barred from entering Canada by the immigration authorities,” writes Olga Luzanova.
The TSO was eventually forced to fulfil its contractual obligations to Lisitsa and pay her in full, but the experience has left her angry.
“Yes, Toronto Symphony is going TO PAY ME NOT TO PLAY because I exercised the right to free speech. Yes, they will pay my fee but they are going to announce that I will be unable to play and they already found a substitute. And they even threatened me against saying anything about the cause of the cancellation,” writes Lisitsa, adding, “If they do it once, they will do it again and again, until the musicians, artists are intimidated into voluntary censorship. Our future will be bleak if we allow this to happen.”
“The TSO’s decision to silence Valentina’s music because she has exercised her inviolable right to express her beliefs is a message to all artists that the next time it could be them,” warns Luzanova.
Visit Lisitsa’s Facebook page to lend your support to her fight for free speech.