Censorship Cultural policy News Russian Federation

Russian culture minister Medinsky in censorship row

A culture ministry document that aims to impose social “norms” on the arts has attracted widespread criticism

Medinsky briefed President Putin on the culture ministry’s work this summer. Photo: the Presidential Press and Information Office

A controversial document on Russian cultural policy, commissioned by President Vladimir Putin and backed by the culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, has drawn criticism—even within the Kremlin. The document, written in the spring, was posted on the culture ministry’s website this summer, where it is open to discussion until the autumn. The team working on the policy include Vladimir Tolstoy, Putin’s cultural adviser and great-great-grandson of Leo Tolstoy, and Mikhail Piotrovsky, general director of the State Hermitage Museum.

Putin said in March that the aim of the policy was to create a cultural environment “that would be based on our history and traditions”, adding that “we were, are and remain part of world culture”. But excerpts from a preliminary draft of the document sparked controversy when they were leaked in April. Statements such as “Russia is not Europe” and a recommendation that the government refuses state support for “cultural projects that impose values that are alien to society” were cited, and took on added weight in the context of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and a new law banning expletives in film, theatre, television and radio.

Medinsky told journalists that the passages were not meant for publication but were taken from “interagency correspondence”. “It wasn’t written in the formal style, which can’t be deciphered without legal education, but [was] written to be understood,” he said.

Piotrovsky, in an interview with Dozhd, an independent television channel, said the “provocative” passages had been leaked to “anger people”. Tolstoy, who also criticised the leaked statements, said in June that the document needs further work.

The officially published document that is currently under discussion does not contain the controversial passages, but it continues to attract criticism for its objective in establishing cultural “norms” that would apply to all media. Medinsky, who has been controversial since he was appointed culture minister in 2012, is often accused of playing both sides against the middle.

Last year, in an interview with Elena Yampolskaya, the editor of Kultura, a once liberal newspaper that is now deeply conservative, he said: “I think that ideology—that is, a compendium of ideas—is a very proper thing. Without ideas a person becomes an animal. Liberals say that there shouldn’t be any ideology, but they, apparently, want us to chew grass…”

Kultura is known for its attacks on contemporary culture. Commenting in April on the ministry’s decision to restructure its committees responsible for funding the arts, the newspaper said it was shocked to learn what kind of projects had been financed in the past: “Budgetary funds were spent on gore, foul language, pornography and talentless sorcery under the guise of innovation. On everything that depraves viewers, drives them into depression, kills real feelings in people and creates an image of Russia as a dismal country with no future.”

In June, Colta.ru, a liberal website covering cultural issues, published a letter from the first deputy minister of culture Vladimir Aristarhov warning that a children’s puppet show due to be staged at a popular book festival was in violation of the law on “gay propaganda” among minors and that another play for adults used expletives. He also wrote that they “contradict the traditional moral values that are accepted in Russian culture” and threatened to withdraw the ministry’s sponsorship if they were shown. The ministry denied banning the plays. Colta linked the attacks to the April article in Kultura.

Medinsky, in an interview published in June in Komsomolskaya Pravda, an influential pro-Kremlin tabloid, defended his ties with Kultura. “One correspondent asked me: ‘You are friendly with the Kultura newspaper. How is this possible? They are… reactionaries!’ Why not? We live in a free society, don’t we?” said Medinsky, pointing out that he also speaks with liberal journalists. “Why do we have to listen to only one aggressively liberal point of view about everything?”

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21 Aug 14
14:37 CET


All photos of Putin `discussing` are ripe for a caption competition. "There`ll be none of this situationist-feminist detournement of my very limited,humourless vocabulary,Medinsky!" "Yes,Boss, ticking all the boxes on this side of the photo-op table,Boss!"

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