CALGARY - A year ago, Inna Platonova held up Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa as a role model for her seven-year-old son — an aspiring musician who is also of Ukrainian descent.
This week, Platonova is organizing protests against the artist who performed with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra on Friday and has a second show scheduled for Saturday.
"I showed her YouTube videos to my son because he started playing piano at age six and I wanted to encourage him to play better," says Platonova, who came to Canada from Ukraine in 2003 and now lives in Calgary.
"I would never have thought a year later that I would be coming to protest such horrible views that she expressed."
An ethnic Russian born in Ukraine who now lives in the United States, Lisitsa has been active on social media and is extremely critical of the current Ukrainian regime.
There are comparisons between the current government in the Ukraine and Nazi Germany. Her often outlandish tweets have been called anti-Semitic and deeply offensive to a host of different ethnic groups as well as to the disabled.
She has defended her positions by saying she wants the "other" side of the story in Ukraine to be known. She says she is exercising her right to free speech speaking out against the "atrocities" of the civil war in Ukraine, particularly those committed against the Russian minority in the eastern and southern regions.
She notes she has paid a price for her views.
"Death threats, wishes for my family to die, calling me 'paid Kremlin wh*re,'" she wrote on Facebook April 6.
In April, Lisitsa was barred from performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra over her online comments. That prompted an outcry from free speech advocates, who argued politics and piano shouldn't be mixed.
Organizers with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra pledged to push ahead with their shows and ticket sales have not been hurt by the controversy, said artistic planning director Heather Slater.
"We understand that Ms. Lisitsa's comments have offended members of the community and of course we appreciate the sensitivity of political situations such as this one," Slater said.
"The CPO engages artists based on artistic merit and cannot take a position on an artist's political views."
Slater noted the orchestra would open itself to criticism either way.
"I'm sure CPO is getting some negative publicity, so either way in this situation, whatever the decision would have been, I don't think there was a way to avoid that."
Platonova set up a Facebook page to encourage protests outside the performances. A couple of dozen people held up placards outside the show on Friday calling Lisitsa's views racist and xenophobic.
"She thinks it's perfectly OK and CPO is saying, 'Well, yeah, this is OK.' They are basically silently endorsing it by brushing it off as a freedom of speech and political views issue and that is what is concerning us," said Platonova.
"All of this information is intended to incite hatred. This is just unacceptable."
— With files from CTV Calgary