The Real Russia. Today. Dorenko in memoriam, 20 years of Zemfira, and a popular Telegram channel is raided by the police
Friday, May 10, 2019
This day in history: 17 years ago, on May 10, 2002, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was sentenced to 15 consecutive sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 14 counts of espionage and one of conspiracy to commit espionage. He spied for Soviet and then Russian intelligence.
- Sergey Dorenko, the journalist who trashed Putin’s rivals before sacrificing his career to criticize him, has died
- Russian rock fans celebrate 20th anniversary of Zemfira’s now-legendary debut album
- Director Pavel Lungin speaks on his new Afghan War film and the public push against it
- Journalist from popular Russian Telegram channel is arrested for alleged forgery, as police seize the outlet’s computers
- American stars and a Russian dream team: Why this year’s hockey World Championship will be one to watch
- Opinion: historian Gleb Morev thinks Putin's approach to Victory Day has knocked Russian intellectual trends off course
In memoriam ⚱️
On May 9, television and radio journalist Sergey Dorenko suffered an aortic rupture while riding a motorcycle and fell to his death. He was 59 years old. In recent years, Dorenko had several radio programs and blogged on Twitter and YouTube, but he’s best remembered as one of Russia's most important TV anchors in the late 1990s and early 2000s, first as the host of the show “Vremya,” and then as the face of his own news program on ORT. Dorenko is considered one of the central figures in Russia’s “media wars” of the late 90s, and in 2000 his show helped secure the first election of President Vladimir Putin, who at that time enjoyed the support of ORT owner Boris Berezovsky. Later that year, however, Dorenko was fired from the network, after a now famous broadcast about the sailors killed in the Kursk submarine disaster and the shortcomings of President Putin’s reaction. Meduza looks back at Sergey Dorenko’s life and legacy.
In 1999, Zemfira Ramazanova was a 23-year-old budding musician with a growing collection of tracks she had recorded in the evenings after her day job at a local radio station. The previous year, her demos had reached a producer for the highly popular rock group Mummy Troll. Although he had invited Zemfira, as the artist and her band became known, to record an album in Moscow, it was unusual for a woman to appear on the booming Russian rock scene, and it was difficult to know how long her fame would last. Now, fans are celebrating the 20th anniversary of that debut album with gusto.
Read Meduza's last back at this musician: “Russian rock fans celebrate 20th anniversary of Zemfira’s now-legendary debut album”
Russian director Pavel Lungin’s new film Brotherhood is out in Russian theaters today, but its journey to this point has not been easy. The pacifist film, which depicts the withdrawal of Soviet troops at the close of the brutal Afghan war, struggled to attract funds despite approval from prominent veterans. After a successful premier, the film raised hackles among some government officials, most prominently Senator Igor Morozov, who called the movie “unpatriotic.” After Morozov’s criticism came to light, Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky asked for the film’s government-approved public release date to be pushed back by a day so that it would not coincide with Victory Day, which is celebrated on May 9. In advance of the film’s release, Sasha Sulim spoke with Lungin about making Brotherhood and watching Russian society grapple with its demons.
Read a summary of Meduza's interview: “Director Pavel Lungin speaks on his new Afghan War film and the public push against it”
On May 8, police arrested Mikhail Kumbrov, the producer of the Telegram news channel Mash, on charges of document forgery, sources told the news agencies Interfax, TASS, and RBC. Kumbrov now faces up to six months in prison, up to two years of community service, or a fine as high as 80,000 rubles ($1,225). Maxim Iskanov, Mash’s CEO and co-owner, has confirmed that police have opened a criminal investigation, but he hasn’t clarified the exact charges.
On May 10, the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship kicked off in Slovakia. The tournament began a week later than it usually would, landing after the second round of the NHL playoffs. Because most of that tournament’s favorites dropped out of the playoffs unexpectedly early, a late start to the World Championship means the competition will be packed with an unprecedented number of strong players. Their presence should make this tournament the most interesting international competition in a long while.
Read Meduza's story here: “Why this year’s hockey World Championship will be one to watch”
In an op-ed for Vedomosti, literary historian Gleb Morev lays out some issues he has with how Russia celebrates Victory Day these days. The Putin administration, he argues, has made the holiday too much about the state, and disrupted a “humanistic” view of the Second World War that emerged after Stalin and developed over the next several decades. As a result, Russia now finds itself isolated from its former allies, while the celebration is an increasingly problematic propaganda talking point and political football at home.
Morev says the USSR’s post-war intellectual traditions evolved in waves after Stalin’s death. By the late 1950s, he argues, the common historical understanding in the Soviet Union was that the Stalinist regime had much in common with Nazi Germany. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the public’s focus shifted further from the state’s triumph to commemorations of the fallen and remembering the bonds of military service. By the 1990s, the consensus view among Russian intellectuals, Morev says, was that the Soviet state mismanaged the war effort and showed indifference about soldiers’ lives, which was a consequence of the regime’s totalitarianism and unaccountability to society.
And then Vladimir Putin rolled in and upended Russia’s humanistic tradition, Morev argues, in the name of political expediency and his regime’s need for a historical victory to promote national unity. The new, more militarized celebrations transferred attention from soldiers’ heroism to the nature of the regime that defeated fascism, making the victory about the state, not the people.
Morev believes Putin’s approach to Victory Day clashes with the modern era’s “ethical renaissance,” which is what he calls the MeToo movement and other social-justice campaigns. With this cultural shift, the preeminent view of history in the West has become a “moralizing, not objectifying, perspective,” he says, comparing it to the lost Soviet humanistic tradition that produced Solzhenitsyn and other intellectuals. Morev says future Russians will have to revisit and remake the Victory Day holiday that’s emerged under Putin, in order to reclaim this grasp of ethics.