Holy war inside Russia over state sponsored but church opposed movie



The movie theater put on fire in Yekaterinburg by a Russian Orthodox activist to punish the theater for planning to screen a movie hated by the “believers”.

The movie theater put on fire in Yekaterinburg by a Russian Orthodox activist to            punish the theater for planning to screen a movie hated by the “believers”.

By Slava Tsukerman

On September 12, 2017, two biggest Russian movie theater chains informed audience that they are breaking their contracts and not going to release the new feature film “Matilda”, partly produced on state money and approved by the Russian government. The chains made their decision out of fear of Russian Orthodox extremists attacks. It happened after almost a yearlong fight of the movie for survival.

On February 7, 2017, NewsLanc published my article entitled “Russian ‘Prosecutie’ Defends Nicholas II”. The article was about the fight of Natalia Poklonskaya, a member of State Duma and the former Chief Prosecutor of Crimea, a beautiful young woman, nicknamed “Prosecutie” by her funs, against the not yet released feature film Matilda: The secret of the Romanov family”,

Natalia Poklonskaya with the icon – portrait of Nicholas II.

              Natalia Poklonskaya with the icon – portrait of Nicholas II.

On August 10, the film Matilda finally received official state permit to be released in October this year.

Nevertheless the battle against Matilda byof the Prosecutie and the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t end. For many months it kept being the center of attention of Russian media. Then attention spread to the public outside of Russia as well.

On June 3, New York Times covered the fight in the article entitled ”Bared Breast Enthralls a Future Czar, and Stokes a Russian Culture War.”


Now, when the film finally received official state permit to be released the battle against it became one of the topics most passionately discussed in Russia.

The main objection from Natalia Poklonskaya and the “Believers” is that because Czar Nicholas II and his wife, killed by Bolsheviks, were canonized in 2000 as martyrs, the movie about the widely known love affair between young, not yet married, not yet Czar Nicolas and the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaia is an insult to the faithful, which is a crime in contemporary Russia.

Natalia Poklonskaya kneels praying at the bust of Nikolas II.

             Natalia Poklonskaya kneels praying at the bust of Nikolas II.

From the point of view of Russian authorities, the film is a patriotic project, partly financed by state money and directed by Alexei Uchitel, one of the Russian filmmakers most prominent and loyal to the government. In support of Mr. Uchitel, a group of about 40 prominent filmmakers signed an open letter to the government saying they did not want to re-animate the censorship of the Soviet Union, which had “maimed the fates of artists and hindered the development of art.”

Natalia Poklonskaya organized the appeal of members of Duma to the Russian Prosecutor General, the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the chairman of the Public Council for the Ministry of Culture and to Patriarch Kirill. There were 37 signatures of deputies under the document.

The parliamentary inquiry was entitled: “On the adoption of response measures in connection with the offense of religious feelings.”

Poklonskaya stated that 100,000 appeals of the ordinary Russian citizens were sent to her. All these people were opposed to the release of the movie Matilda. The opponents of the film believed that the events shown in the film were a lie and an insult to the feelings of believers. According to Poklonskaya the complaints of citizens took 13 huge boxes.

After many months of the battle Poklonskaya said in a press conference: “I hope that such a large number of appeals and signatures, and the attitude of the representatives of the State Duma, and the voices of people through the people’s choices, will be heard and appropriate legitimate measures will be taken to prevent violation of the constitutional rights of people who have been appealing for eleven months already”.

The former prosecutor of the Crimea reminded that, according to the Russian law, a release certificate for a film made for the public money cannot be issued if the film provokes strife in society on religious grounds. According to Poklonskaya, Matilda is exactly that case. In her opinion “the Minister of Culture and the competent authorities should pay attention to this point of the law.”

On August 1, the Orthodox movement “Forty-Forty” informed Russians of its intention to lead people to mass actions in the cities of Russia. “All-Russian demonstration of the Orthodox people of Holy Russia – the Third Rome” will be directed against the film Matilda.

The main slogan of the action was spread by the initiators in the social networks by the hashtag #Stop Matilda. The appeal of the movement to take to the streets began with a quote from the National Security Strategy, which Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in 2015. According to Orthodox activists, the activities of “part of the cultural intelligentsia and officials” who do not oppose the release of Uchitel’s film fall under the definition of a threat to national security and are “activities aimed at violating the unity and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, destabilizing the domestic political and social situation in the country.”

The Council of Orthodox Patriotic Community issued the statement that the creators of Matilda and their accomplices are worthy of anathema:

“We are convinced that if the film Matilda will be released, its creators, first of all the fallen ‘slave of God’ Alexei Uchitel, the organizers of production and financing of the movie and the persons defending or justifying this film should be excommunicated and be anathematized.

“The anathema prescribed in the holy canons will fall on the heads of these people even if the church hierarchy is afraid to condemn ‘influential’ and ‘well known’ persons. They should be refused Communion or funeral services and condemned, if they will not give up their intention, if they will not stop and will not repent.”

The most striking statement was made by the former spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin:

Vsevolod Chaplin

                                       Vsevolod Chaplin

“Film Matilda should be banned by all means, because if it will be shown, Russia will perish, and, in the eyes of God, it will be just. The demolition of Russia will not be evil; it will be good, because through this punishment God will show people what one never should do. All the misfortunes of Russia in 20th century: Civil War, WWII, perestroika, impoverishment, disintegration of the great state; all of these were the results of the sins: God-fighting and regicide. Now, a new symbolic ritual killing of Czar is prepared to be made at the symbolic moment of hundredth anniversary of the monstrous events of October 1917. It is a spittle on the memory of the royal martyrs, a spittle on our history, our soul, on all the best, that we had. For this new ritual killing of Czar Russia will pay with monstrous suffering, with the death of the entire population of Russia. The new World War will become inevitable.”

Anti-Matilda demonstration in St. Petersburg. Placard: “’Matilda’ is a slap to Russian people”

                        Anti-Matilda demonstration in St. Petersburg. Placard: “’Matilda’ is a               slap to Russian people”

Nevertheless some Russians look at this ‘holy war’ with humor. In 1990-‘s, after fall of communist rule, a former sailor Oleg Zubkov founded a Zoo in Crimea. After long years of fights with first Ukrainian and then, after the annexation of Crimea, with Russian corrupted officials who were trying to ruin the project of his life, he managed to create one of the best Zoos in Europe, which includes the largest lion and tigers safari in Europe.

When Poklonskaya was the Prosecutor of Crimea, she was one of the worst enemies of Zubkov.

Only 300 white tigers survived in the world, 20 of them live in the Zubkov’s safari. At the same moment when Matilda finally got sa tate permit for release, one of the lionesses gave birth to four cabs, an event that was widely covered by Russian media. Zubkov said he gave to young lions special names: Czar, Film director, Matilda and “Niasha” (the Russian translation of “Cutie”- Poklonskaya’s Russian nickname.)

Oleg Zubkov shows off the newborn lions.

Oleg Zubkov shows off the newborn lions.

The “believers” though are staying completely serious. A week ago a bottle of Molotov cocktail was thrown into the window of the film studio were Alexei Uchitel is working. Two cars parked near the building, where Uchitel’s lawyer’s office is located, were burned down by an unknown arsonists. The cars turned out to belong to the neighbors of the lawyer. And finally this week an automobile with explosives was driven into the glass wall of a movie theater in Yekaterinburg, putting the theater on fire.

Government agencies stated that movie theaters showing Matilda will be safeguarded by the police. Nevertheless frightened distributors refused to show the movie. They don’t believe in the police protection. They know that police didn’t protect the film studio from the arsonist.

“I’m sad and scared”, stated Alexei Uchitel.

The owner of one of the cars which were burned near the lawyers’ office stated: “I understand the arsonists motivation: it was impossible in the year of the century of the murder of the last Russian Tsar to make such a vile libel on Nicholas II – this is a crime much more terrible than which the arsonists did. If they are caught and given some real term, I’m ready to forgive them completely, but those who financed this film must go to prison for a longer term.”

The entire Russia is waiting: what will be next step of the authorities.

Updated: September 17, 2017 — 4:56 pm
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