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MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov calls for censorship of ‘pornographic’ play

5 March 2019
Khabib Nurmagomedov (/Instagram)

Daghestani mixed martial arts star Khabib Nurmagomedov has led calls for censorship of plays in Daghestan, after a Russian production of the play ‘Hunting for Men’ was shown at a theatre in the capital, Makhachkala. Nurmagomedov was joined in his calls by Daghestan’s muftiate, among others.

On 23 February, a video of part of the play in which the female lead, wearing revealing clothing, seduces a man was widely shared on social media.

Two days later, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov appealed to the local authorities to punish the organisers, who he said had brought ‘porn’ to Daghestan.

‘Why are the authorities of Daghestan silent, where are the MPs of the People’s Assembly, where are the heads of districts, where are the MPs and the ministers themselves?’ Nurmagomedov wrote in a post on Instagram.

‘Why is everyone silent and agreeing to this porn in the centre of the city, or do you want people to go out into the streets? You should not provoke and humiliate us, there are limits to everything’. Nurmagomedov accompanied the post with the hashtag #DaghestanWakeUp.

He warned the authorities that they were mistaken if they believed everything would end with one post on social media. He demanded they conduct an investigation, and called on the organisers to apologise for their actions.

Nurmagomedov was supported by Daghestani Olympic freestyle wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulayev, who wrote the same day on Instagram: ‘This evil comes and imposes its “culture” on us. How much of it can you swallow?! How long will the birthplace of our great ancestors endure such humiliation?!’

Following the posts, a number of actors from the play reported receiving threatening messages via social media. Actor and producer Ivan Zhidkov apologised on Instagram after receiving such messages.

[Read on OC Media: Public humiliation — the political trend sweeping through the North Caucasus]

‘On behalf of the creative team of the project, I apologise for inadvertently insulting the Daghestani viewer. The performance is in no way intended to show something “dirty”. This is a classic Italian play, which has been played around the world for many years’, Zhidkov said.

‘The bed scene is part of the work. We did not suspect that it could cause such a resonance. Every nation has its own traditions and foundations, and we respect them, but we did not take into account that everything is so strict [in Daghestan].’

According to Zhidkov, what happened would make others think about twice before organising a concert or a performance in Daghestan.

The play was shown at the House of Friendship in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan. Based on an Italian comedy, the main character is a woman in a loveless marriage who begins a relationship with an intellectual.

[Read on OC Media: Not welcome in Daghestan — anime, K-pop, and rap]

The ministry responds

The Ministry of Culture of Daghestan responded to Nurmagomedov’s post, explaining that the ministry was not involved in staging the play.

‘Do you go to your neighbours and require a report on what they do at home and what guests visit them? It is not in our power to change this’, they wrote on Instagram.

‘For our part, we have taken into account the experience of previous mistakes and now we are paying a lot of attention to what events are held in our institutions’.

Following the post, the House of Friendship, which receives state funding, defended hosting the play in a post on Facebook: ‘The institution is not responsible. All the from renting the premises of the House of Friendship go to the budget of the Republic of Daghestan’.

Tatiana Gamaley, the Minister of National Policy and Religious Affairs of Daghestan, who oversees the House of Friendship, said that the ministry was not the initiator of the show and that it was a private commercial initiative, which was allowed by law.

She said the performance, which featured famous Moscow actors, was held in many cities throughout the country and that, unfortunately, some of the scenes were ‘negatively perceived by a part of the population’.

‘We strongly recommend that entrepreneurs involved in organising tours carefully select teams and their repertoire, taking into account the aesthetic and moral needs of the population of the republic’.

‘Cultural sabotage’

In response to the backlash, on 26 February, the Russian President’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, responded that given Russia’s multinational makeup, local customs and traditions cannot be disregarded.

‘An observance of Russian laws is mandatory throughout the country, but in this case it’s foolish to even talk about it’, Peskov told Nostovi.

The following day, the head of the muftiate of Daghestan’s department of fatwas, Zaynulla Atayev, wrote on his Instagram page that the show was a ‘cultural diversion’ that degraded society. The muftiate is the traditional representative body of Muslims in Daghestan.

‘I urge all the competent authorities, as well as the organisers, to continue to consider the religious feelings of believers and criticise and censor all those cultural programmes and performances that you want to organise in our republic’, Atayev wrote.

In another post, he asked that venues not be provided for performances where ‘nude or half-naked actors perform, who touch each other and imitate intimate scenes’.

On the same day, the head of Daghestan, Vladimir Vasilyev, announced at the opening of the Dargwa Theatre in Izberbash that he intended to take into consideration the opinion of the theatre community about the play.

Blogger Zarema Aliyeva told OC Media that she had been invited to the play, but decided not to go after looking it up online. According to her, her friends who went said they saw many audience members get up and leave in the middle of the play.

‘Everyone decides for themself what to watch’, Aliyeva said.

Khadzhat Akhmedkhanova, a resident of Makhachkala who went to see the play, told OC Media that there were only around 300 people in the audience, but that the person who shot the video made it visible to an audience of millions.

By doing so, Akhmedkhanova said they attracted even more attention to it, as otherwise only those who came to the show would have seen these scenes. ‘The guardians of morality themselves spread the “porn”, as Nurmagomedov puts it, on social networks’, Akhmedkhanova  said.