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Stalin lives...in spirit

By Russell Grenning - posted Friday, 2 February 2018


Russian humour to my mind is an acquired taste.

Consider these rib-ticklers which get them rolling with hysterical laughter in the aisles in Moscow: "A little boy found a machine gun, now the village population is none" and "Could a machine replace a man? The answer to this question is long known by cannibals".

Then again, when most of the history of your country has been one long unrelieved oppression by Tsars and Communist dictators, there hasn't been much for ordinary folk to laugh about.

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So, presumably, the rulers of Mother Russia then and now have no appreciation of satire, and especially satire which makes fun of them.

On January 23, the Russian Government banned the movie, "The Death of Stalin", a British-French political satire about the late dictator Joseph Stalin who ruled the USSR with an iron fist for some thirty years before he died aged 74 in 1953. Untold millions died under his regime through forced collectivisation of farms, ethnic cleansing, deliberately induced famines and assorted purges.

The Ministry of Culture announced that the movie was being banned only two days before its planned release with one official quoted in The Moscow Times as saying, "'The Death of Stalin' should not be shown in Russia due to signs of ideological animosity. The film insults our historical symbols – the Soviet anthem, awards and medals."

Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky was stung by criticisms of the ban and declared, "Many older people, and quite a few others, view (this) movie as an offensive mockery of the entire Soviet past, of the country that defeated fascism, of the Soviet Army and of ordinary people."

In what was a quite memorable stretch of the truth, the Minister declared, "Most distastefully, they even see it as mocking the victims of Stalinism." And, to put everybody's mind at rest he added, "We don't have censorship. We're not afraid of critical or hard-hitting assessments of our history. In (my) department we could give anyone a run for their money...but there's a moral boundary between the critical analysis of history and pure mockery."

Medinsky has been Culture Minister since 2012 and he is a crony of President Vladimir Putin. A former member of the Communist Party prior to the breakup of the USSR in 1991, Medinsky issued a new Cultural Policy Blueprint in 2013 shortly after he became Minister calling for "a rejection of the principles of tolerance and multiculturism" and an emphasis on "Russian values". "Russian values", incidentally, are those "values" which reflect down to the last detail, the views of the ruling party of President Putin.

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This so-called cultural blueprint was published in the government supporting newspaper Izvestia and was liberally interspersed with quotes from Putin just as Soviet-era government programs quoted Marx and Lenin. It slavishly and indeed proudly follows Putin's pronouncements that, for example, multiculturalism was "neutered and barren" and even that contemporary art was not to be tolerated as, "no experiments with form can justify the substance that contradicts the values traditional for our society." "Traditional art" only, thanks very much.

One example of emphasising "Russian values" is the opinion of Minister Medinsky that statues of Stalin should be erected where the majority of local people favour it. Presumably his Culture Department will decide which areas favour the erection of these statues as there is no suggestion that local polls be taken.

A Moscow Times senior columnist has written, "It is impossible to argue that the film was banned because of aesthetics. The only reason is that it was banned for political or ideological reasons."

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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