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Pro-Putin conductor 'hurt' by homophobia allegations

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russian star conductor Valery Gergiev, under fire for not speaking out against new anti-gay legislation in Russia, said Thursday he was "hurt" by the allegations and pledged to respect gay rights.

In a letter to Munich authorities, where he is scheduled to become chief conductor of the Philharmonic in 2015, Gergiev insisted he fully supported the German city's anti-discrimination laws.

"For the city of Munich it applies that any exclusion, discrimination or harassment of people because of their gender, origin, colour, religion, disability or sexual orientation must not occur. Ways of behaviour that contradict these principles will not be tolerated," the conductor wrote.

"I fully support this attitude of the city of Munich. In my entire professional career as an artist I have always and everywhere adhered to these principles and will do so in the future. All other allegations hurt me very much."

He offered to talk with members of the LGBT community "during one of my next stays here in Munich."

Rita Braaz of Munich's Pink List, a gay rights party which holds seats on the city council, welcomed the letter and said she would be happy to meet Gergiev.

"It's very much a step in the right direction," she told AFP.

Gergiev is artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg and chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).

But he is leaving the LSO to become chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic.

He is also a very vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government recently passed legislation banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" to minors.

Activists have denounced the laws as being brazenly homophobic and some have called for a boycott of the February 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

As one of Putin's most prominent backers, Gergiev has been criticised for not distancing himself from the legislation.

Gergiev even appeared to back the law in a September interview with a Dutch newspaper, claiming its main aim was to protect children from paedophilia.

As a result, the conductor was targeted by gay rights demonstrators outside appearances in New York and London earlier this year.

And activists staged a protest outside a concert by Gergiev at Munich's Philharmonic Hall late Wednesday.

Braaz said around 200 people took part in the protest, distributing flyers and singing the famous "Prisoners' Chorus" from Verdi's opera "Nabucco". Two activists also wore papier mache masks of Putin and Gergiev.

Gergiev had told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday he did not "know the (Russian) law and (did) not understand it" and dismissed as "ridiculous" suggestions that he had equated homosexuality with paedophilia.

"I'm not a member of the Duma," the Russian parliament, Gergiev insisted. "I don't belong to the government."

But he did not distance himself from Putin, praising instead the Russian leader's cultural policies.

The Pink List party got Gergiev's views onto the agenda of the Munich city council's meeting Wednesday.

But top cultural official Hans-Juergen Kueppers and mayor Christian Ude said they accepted Gergiev's clarifications on his stance and continued to back his appointment.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131219/pro-putin-conductor-hurt-homophobia-allegations