Death of Stalin: Russia bans film release

A few days before it was due to premiere in Russian cinemas the country's culture ministry banned the black comedy The Death of Stalin. In Ukraine, however, the film was released on Thursday as planned. The British-French production depicts the last days of the dictator and the power struggle after his death. What feelings does it provoke in former Soviet states?

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The Moscow Times (RU) /

To laugh at Stalin is to mock the Kremlin

The ban on the comedy is the result of the fact the Russian state will not tolerate being made the object of jokes, guest commentator Andrei Archangelsky writes in The Moscow Times:

“Apparently, the rule is that we can criticize Stalin but must not laugh at him: that is the main taboo. The authorities' hasty decision to ban the film confirms this hypothesis as if laughing at Stalin were a dangerous virus that must be stopped at all costs. Thanks to television channels, producers and directors that created endless shows about the 1930s-1950s, Stalin has become an on-screen symbol of the ruling authorities and the personification of the underlying idea of all those programs - namely, that the ruling authorities have, and will ever wield control over society. Making a mockery of Stalin, therefore, is tantamount to mocking the leadership and is an inadmissible act.” (UA) /

Okay to make fun of the bad guys

Journalist Darija Bador explains on the website LB how the film, which was partly shot in Kiev, is being received in Ukraine:

“The film gives an affirmative answer to the question of whether it's okay to laugh over tragic historical events, but with one reservation: it's not okay to laugh at the tragedy itself but it is to laugh at the people who made it happen and carried it out. Is it appropriate to show the victims of Stalinist terror in a phantasmagoric comedy? ... Since Ukraine hasn't made any films of this kind yet this question can't be discussed here yet. We can only discuss the imported ones. The good thing is that the director Iannucci is far enough removed from the events the film relates that he can permit himself the luxury of doing something we still don't dare do.”

Snob (RU) /

Stalinism creeping back

The well-known literature critic Irina Prochorova sees the ban as heralding a Stalin renaissance in Russia. She writes in Snob:

“The scandal surrounding the film clearly ties in with the repression against [the NGO] Memorial, human rights activists, rebellious artists and all opponents of the repressive system. This creeping Stalinism has not yet been concretised in legal norms, but bearing in mind the rate of ideological indoctrination it wouldn't be surprising if Stalin and his henchmen were soon raised to the ranks of the unassailable. ... It won't be long before someone is brought to justice on the grounds that he has offended the feelings of pseudo-veterans (or intelligence officials) by belittling the achievements of the Great Leader.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

A welcome opportunity for censorship

The Death of Stalin is hard to stomach for Russia and a windfall for supporters of censorship, Radio Kommersant FM comments:

“The film deals with the most tragic and worst chapter in our recent history during which hundreds of thousands died in jails and camps. Jokes on this subject are inappropriate and offensive. But in the West no one cares about what the Soviet past means for Russia. ... Clichés are one of the legacies of the Cold War, and they're being exploited. In our angry society, however, such films play into the hands of openly extremist, obscurantist forces - those that blow up exhibitions or plays because they find them subversive or un-Russian. They couldn't care less whether the subject is Nicolas II or the communists, just as long as they're banned.”