Natasha vs Matilda — New Russian Culture War – Part IV

Dear Readers:

Today we finish this saga of Tsar Nikolai II’s warring mistresses.  On this side of the ring:  Nickie’s actual physical mistress, the prima ballerina Matilda Kschessinska.  On the other side:  Nickie’s spiritual mistress, Natalia Poklonskaya.  Of the two women involved in this catfight, Natasha is technically the cuter, but she suffers from a major disadvantage:  Her Nickie died many many years before she was even born, leaving her alone and wailing for her demon lover.

“I WANT my Nickie!”

“You can’t have him. He’s mine.”

Whereas Matilda enjoyed the full benefits of her actual, physical tryst with His Manliness, and then went on to lead a happy second life with a different royal bloke, and in the wonderful city of Paris, no less!

Also, Natasha can’t do 32 fouettés in a row.  (That we know of.)  On the other hand, Matilda never had her own Japanese anime character.  (That we know of.)  So, let’s just call it a draw.

And the catfight would end here, with both ladies satisfied they had done their very best.  Except that a new player suddenly inserted himself into the circus ring.  None other than the legendary Chief of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov!

And Kadyrov came out on the side of Poklonskaya and the anti-Matildites.  Also in the process revealing a heretofore unknown “monarchist” side of his personality.  Kadyrov is known as a very stern (Sufi) Muslim, who defends and enforces the rules of Shariat in his own domain.  Hence his pairing with  a devout Orthodox believer adds an element of religious piquancy.  In truth, this is not so startling, however.  In the modern world we see many examples where inter-denominational alliances form to promote things like “traditional family values” and to counter various modernistic and “degenerate” trends such as homosexuality, rap music, and sex in the cinema.

Do Feral Cats Fight Harder?

So, Kadyrov sat down and wrote a letter to Vladimir Medinsky, Russian Minister of Culture.  Kadyrov requested that Medinsky exclude the Chechen Republic from the list of places where the film “Matilda” will be shown in movie theaters.  In his letter Kadyrov listed his grievances against the movie:  “Преднамеренное издевательство над чувствами верующих людей… Осквернение святынь и многовековой истории народов России… Выводы комплексного психолого-лингвистического, культурного и исторического исследований… Наращивание информационного воздействия на население России… в целях размывания традиционных российских духовно-нравственных ценностей…”

[“Intentional mockery of the feelings of believers…  Blasphemy against holy things and against the centuries of history of the peoples of Russia…  The results of complex psychological-linguistic, cultural and historical researches…  The growth of informational attacks against the population of Russia … with the goal of wiping out the traditional Russian spiritual-moral values….”]

In addition to these cultural factors, Ramzan adduced an additional reason, alluding to the feats of the Caucasian “Wild Division” (in English often translated as the “Feral Division” – which makes them sound smelly), which was “one of the most reliable military units, and the pride of the Russian army; and which stood firm in its loyalty to the Tsar right until the end of its existence.”

The “Feral Division” in World War I

The author of the MK piece I linked, Andrei Kamakin, points out that the Caucasian cavalry unit alluded to, consisting primarily of Muslims from the Caucasus region, was put together at the very beginning of World War I, in August 1914.  It ceased to exist in January of 1918.  Clearly Kadyrov was trying to prove that “Matilda” not only offends Orthodox believers, but also the descendants of these Caucasian warriors, who, in Glinka-like fashion, laid down their lives for the Tsar.

Prince Bagration joined the Bolshevik Cavalry.

In truth, the “Feral Division” was hardly even 2 Glinkas more for the Tsar than any other division of the Russian army.  Like most other divisions, these mountain-men turned their back on Nicholas after his overthrow (February Revolution) and swore allegiance to the new government.  The Division Commander at the time was Prince Dmitry Bagration.  After the Bolshevik Revolution, Bagration enlisted in the Red Army and went on to become the Commander of the Red Cavalry school.  So much for the undying loyalty of the Ferals.  And so much for Kadyrov’s attempts to rewrite history and place his own political line into a falsified continuum.

Ramzan, Why So Humble?

Kadyrov’s play was wrong on many levels, according to Kamakin.  The title of Kamakin’s article, by the way, is “Do As Ramzan Does“.

For starters, Kadyrov is the head of a regional government and therefore is supposed to represent all of his constituents, not just the Muslim ones.  (There are still a few non-Muslims living in Chechnya, but in essence it’s a Shariat republic.)

The main point here, however, is not the religious one; but the political one.  And here, in truth, I didn’t “get” Kamakin’s point until I actually read his piece (as opposed to just skimming it).  The point is not that Kadyrov has gone rogue and trying to extract more autonomy or cultural concessions for Chechnya — he already has that in abundance.  The point is Ramzan’s surprising humility and even the obsequient tone of his plea.  In truth, Kadyrov does not need federal permission to ban the movie in Chechnya.  He has enough sovereignty already to do that on his own, according to the laws of the individual Republic.

“Viking” takes place in a dystopian future, ruled by Mad Max wannabes.

This is why, back in Russia, Kadyrov’s letter was met with surprise by the Ministry of Culture.  And this is an aspect of Russian political life that may sound strange to American ears, namely that the Russian government is involved in the funding and distribution, not to mention approving the content of, movies intended for the mass audience.   When governments fund blockbusters, what can possibly go wrong?  A prime example is the bloated epic “Viking“, which allegedly depicts the exploits of Russian medieval Prince Vladimir of Novgorod.  With a budget of $20.8 million dollars, “Viking” was the third most expensive Russian film ever made.  But the government of Russia is completely serious about competing against Hollywood and possibly winning more international awards, not to mention raking in the sales on popcorn.  To show just how serious the Russian government is about this violent bio-pic, the premier showing was attended by none other than President Vladimir Putin!  One can only wonder if Putin covered his eyes during the egregious and gratuitous rape scenes.  Traditional values, my arse!

Vyacheslav Telnov, Culture Vulture

Anyhow, Vyacheslav Telnov, who heads the Department of Cinematography of the Ministry of Culture (hence, he reports to Vladimir Medinsky) wrote a bemused letter back to Kadyrov regarding his “Matilda” complaints:  “The Ministry of Culture issues the approval [to show a movie] on the entire territory of the Russian Federation, based on the norms of the law; and the subjects themselves [i.e., the autonomous Republics] can decide whether or not to show the film [on their territory].”

IF this is the case, then why did Kadyrov write this very public letter in the first place?  Kamakin sees a latent conspiracy here, and possibly some back-room dealings, at the highest levels of the regional governments.  He also surmises that Kadyrov entertains wider political ambitions and seeks to make of himself the standard-bearer of the “humiliated and offended” section of Russian society.

Kadyrov used to enjoy the title of “President” of the Republic of Chechnya.  There was also a “President” of Dagestan, for example.  Then some changes were made.  It was Ramzan who gave himself a demotion, declaring:  The Russian Federation can only have one President.  The other Local Presidents followed suit.  “Do as Ramzan does.”  This decreases centrifugal forces within the Russian Federation, without it looking like the Feds are just being bossy and imposing their will.  Brilliant!

Ramzan Kadyrov: Helped make Russia a safer place.

And here too, in the “Matilda” case, the other regional leaders are following in Kadyrov’s footsteps:  For example, the “Chief” of Dagestan also sent a letter to Moscow condemning the “Matilda” movie:  “We haven’t seen the movie here , but we don’t want to…”

What will happen is that the movie will be banned in these traditionally Muslim republics; and that was the whole point of the exercise.  But the regional leaders had to unofficially “solicit” permission from Moscow to exercise a right they already had — Brilliant!

The one thing that everybody forgot was to solicit the opinions of the regular people living in these regions.  Do they want to see the movie?  If they do, tough luck, they won’t be able to.  At least not in the movie theaters.  Maybe when it comes out on DVD.

This entry was posted in Art Criticism, Ballet, Cat Fighting, Celebrity Gossip, Russian History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Natasha vs Matilda — New Russian Culture War – Part IV

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    ” On this side of the ring: Nickie’s actual physical mistress, the prima ballerina Matilda Kschessinska.”

    In all seriousness though – we must “thank” Poklonskaya and Co for creating absolutely artificial hype over othervise typically trashy costume drama about “Russia That We They. Have Lost” (old rus.: “Россiю которую онѣ потерѣли”). The situation reminds me of an old anecdote: “Today OMON riot police dipersed a protest rally of the Masochists. Both sides reported to be completely satisfied”.

    Why should I pic side in this quarrel? I won’t watch “Matilda”, neither in the cinema, not on DVD and even on torrents. I simply don’t want to. I will wait for some funny web-reviews rather, pointing out silly stuff and historical inaccuracies.

    As for the director Uchitel… Nor sympathy for him either. Typical parasythic kreakl. It was him who, IIRC, last year begged Putin to pardon “director” Sentsov, because, apparently, members of artistic intelligentsia should not be persecuted by the same laws as other citizens. Also I can’t recall ANY noteworthy movie by Uchitel, other than his “Рок”, filmed in late 1980s, which is more of documentary about the rock-scene of the late USSR. This was a good one.


  2. Patient Observer says:

    From the above, it would seem that there is indeed a move to strengthen the Russian central government, a move agreeable with, if not coming from, the regional level. Russia, if its trying to better centralize control, has an enormous distance to travel compared to the US where “states” are little more than local administrative units.

    Given the much greater diversity in Russia, it would make sense that there would be more autonomy at the regional level. However, a strengthening of the central government could be in order to better resist outside efforts aimed at regime change.


    • yalensis says:

      Yeah, I think that’s the overall trend now. Namely to strengthen the Federal government and achieve more uniformity throughout the Federation.
      But these things must be done… well, you know…


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