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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Musicians Threaten To Strike

Russia's musical elite is threatening to go on strike if the government does not reverse a decree placing artists on the same salary scales as other workers throughout the country.


Yury Temirkanov, artistic director of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, has called on his musicians, as well as those belonging to the Marinsky Theater (the former Kirov) and Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, to stop performing if the government does not provide higher salaries for the country's leading artists.


Temirkanov is currently in Britain on business, but a spokeswoman from his office said that no decisive action would be taken until the government formally responds to the musician's demands.


The decree, which was promulgated three months ago, creates a new wage structure for state employees with 18 different pay levels, making no distinction between varying degrees of experience or talent among artists.


A chief complaint of the performers considering a strike is that their colleagues in the provinces will earn the same as they do, although they lack the professional skills needed to win a job in Moscow or St. Petersburg.


"A lot of the elite organizations think they should have better wage conditions", said Alexander Rider of the Labor Ministry's salary department. "At present, these artists receive the same wages as those who perform in the middle of Russia".


Lyudmila Ovchinnikova, a singer with the Bolshoi who earns 5, 000 rubles ($12) a month, was among artists promised a raise starting January. When she and the others found out about the wage structure, they petitioned the Ministries of Culture and Labor.


"Actors in the theater and book-keepers in a factory are not the same", Ovchinnikova said in a telephone interview. "It is unacceptable for us to be paid according to the same standard".


The collapse of the Soviet Union has left renowned artistic institutions on the verge of bankruptcy. Flush budgets and special privileges long enjoyed by top cultural institutions have been replaced by empty coffers. Artistic directors are often left to their own devices to raise money for their respective theaters and performers.


Temirkanov's state salary is equal to $1 a day, according to the newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. In an interview with the paper, he called the government's wage policy an "invitation to emigrate".


"We would like to play at home and we don't want to increase the price of tickets", Temirkanov said. "Today, for the same price you may hear one of the best orchestras in the world or buy a cup of coffee".


Though it is business as usual now, if the state does not take action artists probably will.


"It's getting very difficult to perform on stage when you are thinking about what you buy to eat afterwards", Ovchinnikova said. "If you want a great nation, you need great culture".