KLM bans Ukrainian pianist from in-flight playlist after complaint over her political activism
Valentina Lisitsa, a Ukrainian-born American classical pianist, rose to worldwide prominence through a YouTube following and has performed with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
But after the armed coup removed an elected government in Kiev last year and the country was plunged into a civil war, she also capitalized on her social media voice to advocate against the policies of the new government. Her opinions, mostly expressed through her Twitter account, put her at odds with many Ukrainians, living both in their home country and abroad.
One such opponent, who goes by the name “Inna Thorn” online, complained to KLM about the fact that its in-flight entertainment system contains tracks performed by Lisitsa. She alleged that Lisitsa was a “terrorist sympathizer” and had praised the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014.
“I was so happy not to think about Putin trolls and Lisitsa and her hatred for a bit, and then during last hour of transcontinental KLM flight an unpleasant surprise. Imagine ))) I was wide awake right away. I am a regular KLM customer and KLM is to hear from me soon,” Thorn wrote.
The complaint included a link to a blog dedicated to undermining Lisitsa’s political position but claiming not to be targeting her personally. KLM appears to have taken it at face value, and said it would remove the tracks.
“KLM wants all passengers to feel welcome on board and to experience a pleasant flight. In some instances, KLM gets requests from passengers to alter aspects of its product that they consider to be sensitive, unclear or incorrect,” the airline told RT when asked about the ban.
Thorn, whose complaint triggered the conflict, is a Ukrainian living in Canada, according to her social media profile. She is also member of numerous Ukraine-related and pro-Maidan public groups, including an openly anti-Russian group called “Russian-speaking Ukrainian Nationalists.”
Lisitsa believes that what KLM did was censorship and says the airline would not allow her defend her name.
“My first reaction was outrage,” she told RT. “They didn’t contact me or my recording company [and ask a] second opinion.”
The pianist says she has never condoned the MH17 downing and on the contrary expressed grief for the victims and disgust with the downing of the plane.
She initially considered suing Dutch media, including broadcaster Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, for slander. But later she launched a campaign to have the war movie “American Sniper” banned on KLM flights, citing various commentators who called it warmongering propaganda. Apparently, the airline is expected to either act on the complaint or confirm that its policy is based on double standards.
Neither KLM nor Lisitsa’s accuser have cited any of her allegedly offensive tweets about MH17 as a reason to ban her music.
Lisitsa’s political views hurt her career earlier this year, when Canada’s Toronto Symphony Orchestra canceled her concert over complaints about her Twitter activism.