Vsevolod Chaplin: ''Behind the scenes, 'The Death of Stalin' has been approved by the ministry of culture''

Whom Armando Iannucci’s comedy about Soviet Russia offends? The column by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin

The Russian ministry of culture withdrew the release license of the British-French film The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci last week, and cinemas had to remove the film posters. The famous Orthodox priest and our columnist, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, supports the decision of the officials. In the newspaper column written for our newspaper, he clarifies his position and calls to establish a morality council — an independent and ''toothy'' expert body.

Suddenly started to think?

Every cloud has a silver lining. A heated discussion of the film The Death of Stalin and no less violent events surrounding it have led to the fact that deputy of the State Duma, actress Elena Drapeko has proposed to create a national council on morality. Actually, the idea is not new — the conservative public have been offering such a body since the early 90s, when brazen ''innovative'' elites captured the cultural and information space, blatantly spitting in the soul of people and its moral intuition. One of the most recent initiatives — the draft Code of honour of the culture worker, prepared in the Public Chamber of the Union State of Russia and Belarus under the leadership of Nikolay Burlyaev.

The best argument in favour of the council proposed by Drapeko has become obvious: the current system doesn't work. Behind the scenes of the ministry of culture The Death of Stalin has been approved despite the fact that the film clearly offends our people, the history and symbols significant for the historical memory of the event. We will keep quite about rude language and scenes of sophisticated violence. The bureaucratic-expert vertical have stamped all of this. However, the Public Council of the Ministry of Culture have revolted — and not for the first time. Just recently it opposed the film Matilda. Then they had to leave the post to the head of the council, Pavel Pozhigaylo, Nikolay Burlyaev expressed doubt about his future membership. However, the leadership of the ministry strongly pushed through the support of the controversial film. At the same time, officials, various support groups, and even Church speakers argued: there is no mechanism of license revocation.

''Behind the scenes of the ministry of culture, 'The Death of Stalin' has been approved despite the fact that the film clearly offends our people, the history and symbols significant for the historical memory of the event.'' Photo: a video screenshot from youtube.com

''Our'' and ''alien'' people

But in the case with The Death of Stalin, the exact opposite happened. The film received the distribution license on January 17, January 25 was to be the first night. But then suddenly, two days before the premiere, the license was revoked! The same people who spoke about the legal impossibility of banning Matilda supported the emergency measures against the UK film. The ''arguments'' like that the artist has the right to interpret the story in his own way, and a costume romance is, they say, not a textbook, for some reason, immediately vanished. In relation to the ''comedy of terrors'', as Armando Iannucci called his film, this logic is supposed to be more convincing. But no, the film was banned.

I think it was not without top political interference. After all, to many of our super elite, Stalin, alas, is much closer than passion-bearer Nicholas II. Besides, Aleksey Uchitel is kind of our — he had links with Vladimir Kozhin, according to media reports, as well as with President Putin. Iannucci is alien, for whom no one really important within the Russian elite is going to stand up. The money invested by key business structures of the country and the money of the distributors, who have already sold the tickets and hung the posters, are not the same money, by our concepts. Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi (What is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to a bull — editor's note).

Of course, there is a difference between the two films. The film about Stalin is an explicit, rude mockery. But Matilda is a subtle mockery. But in both cases there is a disregard to the symbols of our state (the Soviet anthem, the Imperial crown). In both cases, our history is presented quite ludicrously. In both films there is, to put it mildly, a loose command of facts. The Death of Stalin shows an incredible mockery of the corpse, Matilda describes a mortal sin, after which it would be right not to canonize but to excommunicate. So, the difference is, apparently, in one: in the direction of commands from the top. But the readiness to immediately obey -with snake's flexibility, with repeating the same arguments, against which you have recently advocated – have turned out to be exactly the same of some comrades.

''The film about Stalin is an explicit, rude mockery. But in both cases there is a disregard to the symbols of our state.'' Photo: Maria Gorozhaninova

''Toothy'' morality council

However, despite the fact that Madam Drapeko has turned out to be almost the most famous among these companions, I cannot support her initiative to establish a morality council. And it is because officials and experts, for years (if not decades) surrounding these officials, have completely lost the moral sense. In the end, it was them who authorized to allocate public money for Serebrennikov productions and other similar ''experiments'', along the way killing off ''non-cash'' traditional theatre. It is them — the narrow circle of artists and semiartists experting and lobbying each other – they periodically and publicly make it clear that no one, except them, has the foundation to decide what is acceptable and what is not.

Most ordinary people — and I am sure most of the ''not elite'' artists — are just sick of what is periodically shown on screens in theatres and concert halls. Therefore, a morality council — if, contrary to the apparatus and creative resistance, they still manage to establish it — should include not only the ones having the ultimate authority of the masters of art, but also representatives of social groups outside the bureaucratic or ''creative'' shop. Professional philosophers, specialists in ethics. Religious leaders. Representatives of folk arts of different ethnic groups. Even politicians of different directions from all federal districts — why not? After all, they, in the end, are accountable to their voters.

This body should be independent and ''toothy'', not standing at attention after each call of the government office. And frequently replaceable. It will take a couple of months to create such a body. If we had the will. I am convinced that this will prevent incidents like with Matilda and The Death of Stalin. What is more, it will do it in time, not two days before the premiere.

By Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin

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