How sad it was to see Placido Domingo, perhaps the world's greatest living operatic singer, in the role of the useful idiot. That happened on Thursday, when Domingo joined Russia's corrupt dictator Vladimir Putin at a black-tie-gala to mark the opening of a $700 million stage for the Mariinsky Theatre.
However, Marinsky's director, the much overrated Ossetian conductor Valery Gergiev, is no useful idiot - he is a close personal friend and active supporter of the criminal dictator, who, together with another of the stars of the opening gala, soprano Anna Netrebko, actively participated in Putin's "election" campaign.
It is not surprising that Putin only a few days ago bestowed on Gergiev a Hero of Labor award, restored from the Soviet era, for his contribution to the arts.
When artists and intellectuals, both in and outside of Russia, have criticized the dictator for his repression of human rights, the maestro has been comparing him to Peter the Great and Prokofiev.
Gergiev does not have a single critical word to say about the sad state of Putin's Russia:
Today, analysts say President Putin spent his first year methodically cracking down on Russia’s opposition. This crackdown goes beyond the symbolic restoration of street patrols by Cossacks, the whip wielding enforcers of Czarist days.
“The tactics are destroying the opposition, destroying the protest movement by persecuting, imprisoning, marginalizing, forcing to emigrate - whatever,” says Dmitry Suslov, international affairs professor at the Higher School of Economics.
The Kremlin sent a high profile signal with last summer’s trial of Pussy Riot, a female punk band that protested in Moscow’s main cathedral. Two of the women are serving two-year jail sentences.
Now it is the turn of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most popular opposition leader. He is on trial in a provincial city, 1,000 kilometers from his power base here.
Opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov says the trials reflect a wider crackdown that President Putin started after returning to the Kremlin one year ago.
“Putin and his parliament enacted an entire series of laws aimed at prohibition: the prohibition of protests, the prohibition of the freedom of expression, the prohibition of criticizing the government and church,” said Ryzhkov, co-chairman of the Republican Party of Russia, a new group.
One can only hope that Domingo, who is known to be an honest and serious man, thinks twice next time when he is asked to join a celebration organized by friends and lackeys of a dictator.