The Real Russia. Today. Contaminating the Druzhba pipeline, reviewing ‘The Humorist,’ and debating the holiness of Victory Day
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
This day in history: 72 years ago, on May 8, 1946, two Estonian schoolgirls blew up a Soviet War monument (the preceding monument to the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn) to avenge the destruction of war memorials to the Estonian War of Independence. Both girls were imprisoned in labor camps for several years before they were allowed to return to Estonia.
- Who contaminated the petroleum supply in the Druzhba pipeline and caused Russian oil exports to be unusable for weeks?
- Meduza reviews “The Humorist,” Michael Idov's new film about a fictional Soviet comedian
- Soviet composer Yevgeny Krylatov dies, leaving behind beloved children’s songs about polar bears, snowflakes, and bright futures
- Opinion: literary scholar Andrey Desnitsky thinks Russia's Victory Day has become a problem of mythological proportions
- Opinion: writer Andrey Konstantinov says Russians need to protect WWII's legacy from ‘jealous’ European revisionists
- Ukrainian government announces that it will consider Russian passports issued to Donbas residents invalid
- Pussy Riot member arrested in Moscow with little explanation for the second time in one month
- Education Ministry to develop instructions for teachers on using social media following firing threats
On May 7, a court in the Russian city of Samara ordered four suspects in the contamination of the Druzhba oil pipeline to be jailed for two months. The transport of petroleum through Druzhba for export out of Russia was practically brought to a halt on April 20 due to a large batch that was contaminated with organic chloride compounds. Russia’s losses are estimated at half a billion dollars, and energy companies have been asked to decrease their petroleum production by 10 percent until May 7. The head of Transneft, the state-owned monopoly in charge of the Russian portion of the pipeline, told Vladimir Putin that the contamination was a result of “diversion”: in other words, that a private company in Samara Oblast intentionally transferred contaminated petroleum into the pipeline. Meduza learned that Transneft itself evidently allowed a situation to take shape in which unknown manufacturers have been able to add petroleum to Druzhba by the cistern. Since the end of 2018, one junction in the pipeline system has been entirely uncontrolled because its previous owner was largely bought out by Absolut Bank, which divided the property among multiple nominal owners. Those owners were ultimately the ones who landed in a pretrial detention center in the contamination case.
Earlier this spring, a new film debuted in Russia by Michael Idov — the screenwriter of the film “Summer,” and the TV shows “The Optimists” and “Londongrad.” “The Humorist” is about the life of fictional Soviet entertainer Boris Arkadyev. Idov wrote the screenplay with his wife, Lili Idova, and Alexey Agranovich stars in the main role. Though the movie is ostensibly about the lack of creative freedom in the USSR, Meduza film critic Anton Dolin says the film actually addresses Russia’s contemporary situation directly.
Read Meduza's film review: “Michael Idov's new film about a fictional Soviet comedian, The Humorist”
Yevgeny Krylatov passed away on May 8 at 86 years of age. Krylatov was one of the Soviet Union’s best-known film composers, and he wrote scores for more than 160 movies and cartoons. Many of them have since become classics. Meduza remembers a few of Krylatov’s most beloved works.
Read Meduza's report: “Soviet composer Yevgeny Krylatov dies, leaving behind beloved children’s songs about polar bears, snowflakes, and bright futures”
Dueling opinions about Victory Day
In an op-ed for RBC, literary and biblical scholar Andrey Desnitsky warns that Russia’s celebration of Victory Day on May 9 has dangerously elevated the USSR’s defeat of Nazi Germany from a historical event into something mythological. The holiday, he says, has become the “focal point” of a new civic religion built on a “cult of ancestors and their great achievements” that has adopted many rituals practiced in Russian Orthodoxy (with sacraments like the “Immortal Regiment” march, and Communion-like “tastings” of food available during the Leningrad Siege).
Desnitsky says the Russian authorities use the pageantry surrounding Victory Day to “hide in the past” from the “unpredictability” of the modern world. Mythologizing the USSR’s victory, he argues, encourages the view that the world can only get worse, and it goads people into blaming any failures on unfulfilled rituals at home and especially on enemies abroad. Endlessly reliving the victory also means repeating the war experience that preceded it.
So how does Desnitsky internalize the massive sacrifices that fueled the Soviet victory? He says he remembers his grandfathers’ war-time service as part of his own family history, not as an abstract adage to guide Russia forward.
In an op-ed for Fontanka, author, journalist, and screenwriter Andrey Konstantinov condemns the popularization of the word “pobedobesie” (a portmanteau of pobednoe and mrakobesie, meaning something close to “victory bigotry”). Konstantinov, 55, says he doesn’t consider himself hyper-patriotic, and he doesn’t approve of some of the excessive displays during Russia’s Victory Day holiday, but he dismisses these small flourishes as “semi-instinctive” reactions to foreigners “who try to question the value of our victory, belittle it, revise it, and promote the idea that this event belongs to the distant past and doesn’t mean much today.”
Konstantinov acknowledges that Europeans mourn, rather than celebrate, the memory of World War II. This is easy to explain, he says, once we cast aside “political correctness.” In other words, according to Konstantinov, most Europeans supported the Germans. Britain, which fought as well as it could, is the primary exception, but Brexit shows that the UK harbors lasting suspicions about continental Europe — and rightly so, Konstantinov implies. His colleagues in Belgium, for example, can’t fathom the militaristic flavor of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations, which he attributes to their lack of personal connections to the war’s victims (which many Russians maintain to this day).
Victory Day is a “terrible, but holy holiday” for Russians, Konstantinov says, and he stresses that the USSR’s sacrifices in the war give contemporary Russians the right to celebrate. May 9 festivities are also an obligation in Russia, he argues, warning that foreigners are constantly trying to “steal and degrade” the Soviet victory. Why is there still such a battle over the war’s legacy? Konstantinov thinks it’s because World War II marks the only time in human history when one side’s victory could have put all of humanity on the wrong “path.” He says Europeans are eager to rewrite this history because they didn’t defeat Germany and many of them actually collaborated with Hitler, leading to today’s “anger, jealousy, and annoyance.”
- 🛂 Ukraine’s federal ministers have announced that their government will reject the legality of Russian passports issued to residents of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. The announcement came as passport offices began to act on an order issued by Russian president Vladimir Putin that granted an expedited citizenship process to those living in both regions. Read the story here.
- 👮 Moscow police have arrested Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina. According to Pyotr Verzilov, a journalist and fellow member of the group, police officers arrived at the home of the activist’s friends, where Nikulshina was also located at the time. Read the story here.
- 📡 Andrey Yemelyanov, the press secretary to Russia’s Minister of Education, announced that the ministry intends to develop a set of recommendations on Internet behavior for the country’s teachers. Read the story here.