The Director of a Prominent Russian Museum Has Been Unceremoniously Ousted for Not Advancing Vladimir Putin’s ‘Traditional Values’

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The general director of Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery has been removed from her position following a complaint that the museum does not reflect Vladimir Putin’s “traditional values” for Russia.

Zelfira Tregulova, an art historian who had led the world-famous institution since 2015, was effectively ousted from her role this week when Russia’s Ministry of Culture opted not to renew her contract. Elena Pronicheva, the daughter of Federal Security Service General Vladimir Pronichev—a top military official under Putin—will take Tregulova’s place.

The move comes just weeks after the Culture Ministry reportedly received a complaint from a Tretyakov Gallery visitor named Sergei Shadrin, who alleged that the museum does not adhere to the “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values” laid out in a decree published by Putin last November.

Among the values outlined in Putin’s degree are “human rights,” “patriotism,” “service to the Fatherland,” “family,” “justice,” and “historical memory.” 

“A threat to traditional values ​​is the activity of extremist and terrorist organizations, certain mass media, and mass communications,” and “the actions of the United States of America and other unfriendly foreign states,” the document reads. 

The ministry demanded that Tregulova—who has expressed skepticism of the jingoistic sentiments of Russia’s elites since the country’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last year—prepare a response to the complaint by February 6. It’s unclear if the director did so by the deadline or before being removed from her position. 

“We are dealing with a typical Soviet way of dealing with objectionable art, allegedly by a letter from the people, which is given an official move,” an anonymous Tretyakov Gallery employee said in an interview with the Moscow Times.

Tregulova, for her part, said she received no advanced warning that her contract would not be renewed. “Do you want to hear what I think about my dismissal, which I learned about from the media?” she told Russia’s National State News. “Nothing! That’s it, thank you.”

The director’s unceremonious dismissal wasn’t the first time that the Tretyakov Gallery has faced retaliation from Putin’s government. Last November, the Moscow Art Biennial, which is hosted by the museum, was abruptly canceled days before its opening

The Ministry of Culture claimed that the show’s “exhibits did not rise up to the level of the exhibition space” and cited paperwork issues as the reasoning behind its decision, according to the . A Russian newspaper later reported that Tretyakov’s leadership team had refused to include propagandistic pieces from artists in eastern Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.

Whereas Tregulova is among the most accomplished museum professionals in the world, Pronicheva comes to the Tretyakov Gallery with little experience in art.

Born in 1983 in the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, which is now occupied by Russian forces, Pronicheva earned a degree in comparative politics from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. She served as the executive director of the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center from 2013 to 2020, and then as general director of Moscow’s Polytechnic Museum from 2020 until her new appointment this year. 

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