Putin praises Soviet dissident theatre

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MOSCOW, Sep 30 (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, today sang the praises of a Moscow theatre that was once the target of censors in Soviet times.

Founded in 1964, Moscow's Taganka Theatre was a venue for relative dissent in the Soviet Union, staging banned plays which lead author and Taganka's founder Yuri Lyubimov to exile and temporary loss of his Soviet citizenship.

''The word Taganka is like a drop of fresh air... it played its role in preparing democracy in our country,'' Putin said in a statement to commemorate Lyubimov's 90th birthday today.

Lyubimov, who returned to Moscow in 1989 after being expelled for directing plays that included Mikhail Bulgakov's ''Master and Margarita'' -- in which the devil visits a godless Soviet Union -- said he wanted to keep up Taganka's reputation in post-Soviet Russia.

Several actors and celebrities performed at Taganka in Soviet times, including Russia's actor-poet-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky, who made his acting debut at the theatre.

Reuters RS DB2312

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