Russian Eurovision star Manizha faces online backlash after criticising war

Russian Eurovision star Manizha faces online backlash after criticising war
Manizha represented Russia at Eurovision 2021 in Rotterdam. / Image: Wikimedia Commons.
By Theo Normanton in London August 29, 2022

Pro-war Russian internet users have launched a campaign against celebrated singer Manizha Sangin in response to her criticism of the war with Ukraine. Many of her concerts for the summer season have been cancelled after calls for her music to be boycotted.

Manizha, who represented Russia in Eurovision 2021, wrote on Instagram that the invasion goes “against the will of the Russian people”, describing it as “fratricidal”.

She also released a song called “Soldier” just a few weeks after the outbreak of war in the Donbas. The song repeatedly calls on soldiers to “stop the war”, in spite of new laws which could see public figures jailed for 15 years for the use of the words “war” or “invasion” to describe Russia’s activities in Ukraine.

In response to her vocal criticism of the invasion, pro-war Russians took to the internet, calling on members of the public to report Manizha to Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs as someone "who has committed public actions aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation".

She also received threats, with some social media users warning her not to come back to Russia from France, where she went to visit her sister who had been injured in a car accident.

Another tactic used against Manizha by internet users involved publishing the contact details of organisers of her concerts and urging followers to write to them demanding that her performance be cancelled.

One message shared on social media site Telegram urged people to "write in" and "demand that Manizha’s performances be cancelled on the grounds that she opposes the Russian army".

As a consequence, Manizha was dropped from the lineup of family festival Stereoleto. The festival wrote on social media site VK that the cancellation was “due to reasons that do not depend on us”, while the festival’s founder Ilya Bortnyuk said the decision was “right in the current situation.”

Moscow’s Glavclub also cancelled a performance by Manizha following a campaign to get her dropped.

But not all organisers are caving to the demands of pro-war netizens. In a comment published earlier, organisers of Cossack music festival Alexandrovskaya Krepost said that “unfortunately, we did indeed receive a significant amount of negative emails and calls from people who seem to be unhappy with Manizha’s support for peace. However, we don’t see any contradiction in Manizha’s stance, as peace is a necessary prerequisite for celebrating diversity and multiculturalism.”

The Alexandrovskaya Krepost festival started in 2020 as both a song contest and a celebration of the traditional culture of Ukraine and southern Russia. In its second year the festival attracted 15,000 visitors across three days.

The festival is organised by Oleg Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo Foundation. The Foundation says that the festival was instigated at the initiative of Deripaska himself, who is of Ukrainian Cossack origin.

“We never limit ourselves to local performers,” the festival organisers told bne IntelliNews, explaining the decision to go ahead with Manizha’s performance. “By having artists of various ethnicities perform Cossack songs we promote diversity and highlight our greatest strength – multiculturalism. We believe Manizha is an excellent candidate in this regard. She is an outstanding vocalist that sings in different genres and respects all cultures.”

Manizha was chosen to represent Russia at Eurovision in Rotterdam in 2021. Some ultranationalist groups in Russia openly protested against her nomination, citing her Tajik ethnic background.

Nonetheless, Manizha finished ninth at the 2021 Eurovision song contest with the hit Russian Woman.

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won Eurovision 2022 by a landslide, but the tournament will be hosted by the UK in 2023 due to the pressures exerted on Ukraine by the Russian invasion.

Manizha is raising money for Ukrainian refugees through her charity, the SILSILA Foundation, and as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.

The singer has also announced a series of concerts called the Uncancelled Tour, scheduled for this Autumn, with performances planned in Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.