Police Say Sulfuric Acid Was Used in Attack on Sergei Filin

January 21st, 2013

MOSCOW — The police have analyzed the liquid used in an attack last week on Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, and determined that it is probably sulfuric acid, a police official told the Interfax news agency on Sunday. Sulfuric acid burns the cornea on contact and can cause permanent blindness.

Mr. Filin suffered third-degree burns on his face and eyes after a masked assailant approached him outside his apartment building Thursday night and flung the caustic liquid in his face. Mr. Filin, a dancer who rose through the ranks to lead the world’s largest ballet company, had been receiving threats for weeks, and Bolshoi officials said they were convinced that he was targeted because of his work.

Mr. Filin suggested as much in a short interview in his hospital room with a reporter from Ren-TV. “Someone’s not pleased that I am leading the Bolshoi Theater well and successfully,” he said.

Mr. Filin underwent an operation on his eyes on Friday, and a second operation is scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday, according to Aleksandr Mitichkin, chief doctor at the Moscow clinic where he is being treated, according to Interfax.

Mr. Mitichkin said Mr. Filin is improving and able to sleep without painkillers. Though his recovery may last for months, Bolshoi officials said on Friday that there is no chance Mr. Filin, 42, will be fully blinded.

Investigators questioned Mr. Filin on Saturday, and the police have said they are investigating a variety of theories, including professional grudges or disputes over money. His associates and relatives have speculated that Mr. Filin had threatened commercial interests associated with the theater, or that one of his rivals hoped to take his job. Yuri Burlak, one of his predecessors in the job, told the newspaper Izvestiya that he favored the second theory, noting that Mr. Filin has three years left on his contract.

Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a popular principal dancer who has clashed publicly with Mr. Filin, condemned the crime on Russia’s Channel One news on Sunday, saying it went leagues beyond the artistic rivalries that are woven into the theater’s history.

“There have always been stories about glass in point shoes, about cats thrown onto the stage, about brooms thrown onto the stage and so on,” he said. “This is a peculiar part of theatrical life, and no one has changed it,” he said. “That is just hooliganism compared to what happened to Sergei, because throwing acid in someone’s face — that is a monstrous crime, which does not just disfigure a person’s life, but strips him of livelihood, of his eyesight itself. This is monstrous.”

Mr. Filin has made clear his intent to stay on as the ballet company’s artistic director, focusing on his creative plans during a Saturday conversation with Russia’s minister of culture, and the theater’s director said there are no plans to replace him.

Discussion of the crime has showed no sign of slowing, and one Bolshoi veteran wrote on Facebook that professional ethics in the theater have deteriorated sharply in recent years. Mr. Burlak dismissed that idea in his interview with Izvestiya.

“I would never in my life say that our theater is some big, boorish crossroads,” Mr. Burlak. “Our country as a whole, and relations between people, have changed for the worse, unfortunately. I would not make this out to be the misfortune just of the Bolshoi Theater. The theater is an expression of Russian life. It’s our country in miniature.”

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