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Top European court upholds Lithuania's ban on Russian singer

April 18, 2024

The ECHR has upheld Lithuania's barring of entry to Russian pop singer Philipp Kirkorov. Lithuania accuses the entertainer of being a "soft power" tool for Russia's propaganda in former Soviet states.

Russian singer Philipp Kirkorov
Kirkorov is well-known for over-the-top, glittery costumes Image: Komsomolskaya Pravda/Picvario LLC/picture alliance

Judges in Strasbourg on Thursday ruled in favor of Lithuanian authorities' ban on singer Philipp Kirkorov entering the country because he was considered a threat to national security.

The court agreed with the Lithuanian assessment of Kirkorov, who has previously referred to himself as Vladimir Putin’s "representative on stage."

Why was Kirkorov barred from entry?

In January 2021, Lithuanian migration authorities, at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, banned Kirkorov from entering Lithuania for five years

The authorities noted that Kirkorov was a tool of "soft power" for Russia's propaganda in states of the former Soviet Union. They also found that by regularly giving concerts in Crimea, he supported the Russian state's policy of aggression. 

Kirkorov, a joint Russian-Bulgarian citizen, lodged a legal appeal arguing that he was an artist and not interested in politics. The 56-year-old said his songs dealt with love, human relationships and nature.

The migration authorities reiterated their arguments, specifying that Kirkorov had publicly broadcast the message that the "return" of the Crimean Peninsula to Russia was "a glorious and victorious event."

Kirkorov's appeal was ultimately, in September 2021, dismissed by Lithuania's Supreme Administrative Court. It found that the ban was not disproportionate, with Kirkorov having no family, social, or economic ties in Lithuania.

What did the Strasbourg judges say?

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Lithuanian decision had been based on the applicant's statements and behavior and was not arbitrary or without basis.

How Russia could cut NATO off from the Baltic states

In particular, judges found Kirkorov had openly stated that he supported Russia's actions in the Crimean Peninsula and made the statement about performing on Putin's behalf.

The judges found the ban had restricted Kirkorov from sharing information and ideas in Lithuania, so there had been an interference with his right to freedom of expression.

However, the interference had had a legal basis in both domestic and EU law, and its aim — the protection of national security and public order — had been legitimate.

The court noted that "various means of propaganda, including television, social networks, films, and famous singers, such as the applicant, had been used by Russia against the Baltic States." Courts, Lithuania's parliament, and the European Parliament had all, it said, "acknowledged the need for exposing Russian disinformation and propaganda warfare."

The court noted that Kirkorov's rights as an EU citizen had been restricted when it came to entering Lithuania, but that this was a country with which he had no firm ties.

Who is Philipp Kirkorov?

Kirkorov — who is considered the "king of the Russian pop scene" — was born in Varna, Bulgaria, to a Bulgarian mother and an Armenian father. His family moved to the Soviet Union when he was a child.

He embarked on a musical career in the late 1980s and quickly gained popularity in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Singer Philipp Kirkorov performs during a gala concert at Irina Viner-Usmanova Gymnastics Palace
Kirkorov is famed not only for his music but also his flamboyant costumesImage: Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

In 1995, he represented Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest, singing "Lullaby for a Volcano," and was placed 17th.

Kirkorov has won numerous awards throughout his career, including the "People's Artist of Russia" title in 2008. He is famed not only for his musical hits but also for his extravagant stage outfits.

Despite his success, including the most number-one hits in the Russian music charts, Kirkorov has at times been a controversial figure. 

In 2019, he was criticized for performing a song at a concert in Azerbaijan that was perceived as mocking the Armenian genocide .

Most recently, he was among a group of Russian entertainment industry stars that came under fire for attending a controversial "almost naked" party in Moscow in December.

Pictures of the half-naked party guests started appearing online and the "decadent" soiree, as Russian soldiers fight in Ukraine, attracted a conservative backlash from Russia's political establishment.

Kirkorov made a public apology after Russia's Ministry of Culture threatened to remove his People's Artist title.

Edited by: Wesley Dockery

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.