terça-feira, 1 de novembro de 2016

Russia falls back in love with Ivan the Terrible

Russia falls back in love with Ivan the Terrible
A small town celebrates a 16th century strongman with a bloody history.

By HOWARD AMOS 10/31/16, 5:52 AM CET Updated 11/1/16, 7:02 AM CET

ORYOL, Russia — In 1947, Josef Stalin summoned film director Sergei Eisenstein to the Kremlin to discuss his movie, “Ivan the Terrible.”

While Stalin had enjoyed the first installment of the masterpiece, released three years earlier, he intensely disliked the sequel, then in production, which depicted the czar’s descent into paranoia and bloodthirsty madness.

According to a transcript of the meeting, Eisenstein was mostly silent as Stalin delivered a history lecture. In a comment that would later become infamous, the Soviet leader told Eisenstein that Ivan the Terrible was, in fact, “a great and wise ruler.” Stalin’s henchmen, Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrei Zhdanov, also present, nodded along in agreement.

The second part of Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible” was not released for another nine years, after the deaths of both Stalin and Eisenstein.

Stalin was the first leader in Russian history to trumpet a positive appraisal of the 16th century tyrant. And with his demise, such views returned to the fringes of the historical profession.

Until now. In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Ivan the Terrible’s star is once again on the rise.

Monuments have always been bitterly fought over in Russia, where the symbolism of busts, statues and memorial plaques is not easily separated from the nature of the regime that erects them, or tears them down.
Last week, authorities in Oryol, a city of about 300,000 south of Moscow, unveiled the world’s first statue of Russia’s first czar, who ruled the country with an iron fist between 1547 and 1584.

The monument shows Ivan the Terrible astride a horse and in full imperial regalia, sword in one hand, cross in the other. It stands in the heart of the city center, in front of the 17th-century Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, on a promontory dividing the Orlik and Oka rivers.

The opening ceremony was attended by nationalist, Cossack and Orthodox groups, many dressed in military uniforms or in black. Some carried flags, others icons, and traditional Russian folk dancing troupes performed for the occasion.

The guest list was a who’s who of Russian nationalists, senior Orthodox Church figures, prominent Putin supporters and government officials. Speeches were given by the governor of the Oryol region, Vadim Potomsky; the head of notorious pro-Putin biker gang the Night Wolves, Alexander Zaldostanov; and Schema-Archimandrite Iliy, a senior Orthodox cleric and personal confessor to the head the Russian Orthodox Church. Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky sent a letter that was read out to the assembled crowd.

The statue makes no allusion to the violence associated with the man who was accused of killing his son in a rage, blinding the architect of St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow and presiding over a reign of terror, including state-sponsored massacres.

Instead, Ivan the Terrible is portrayed as a great Russian ruler. Officials have played up his achievements and voiced doubts about his crimes. Ivan the Terrible was slandered in 16th century sources, they say, and the statue simply corrects this historical injustice. Oryol was chosen as the location because the city was founded during the czar’s rule.

Monuments have always been bitterly fought over in Russia, where the symbolism of busts, statues and memorial plaques is not easily separated from the nature of the regime that erects them, or tears them down.

When the Bolsheviks swept to power in 1917, they destroyed hundreds of czarist-era statues and replaced with Communist heroes. When Nikita Khrushchev came to power, he removed statues of his predecessor as part of a “de-Stalinization” process. The end of Communism in the 1990s was accompanied by the fall of many Soviet-era statues.

The practice of erecting and toppling statues continues today. As Stalin’s reputation enjoys a renaissance amid growing authoritarianism in Russia, recent years have provided fertile ground for a return of busts of the Soviet leader. In neighboring Ukraine, one of the symbols of the country’s 2014 pro-Europe revolution was the toppling of statues of Lenin.

“There are a lot of politics in [the new Ivan the Terrible statue],” said Andrei Minakov, the head of Oryol’s local history museum. “The reality of what he did as a ruler, without his personal characteristics, is maybe attractive for some people.”

The inevitable, and perhaps intended, comparison is with Putin, who prides himself on having centralized and strengthened the Russian state over more than a decade and a half in the upper echelons of political power. Russian nationalism has also flowered under Putin, particularly in the wake of the 2014 conflict with the West over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.

Those reassessing the legacy of Ivan the Terrible claim similar successes. Ivan the Terrible conquered the Khanate of Khazan, annexed the Khanate of Astrakhan, waged a long, bitter war against European powers in the Baltic region and laid down the borders of the modern, centralized Russian state. He also created Russia’s first standing army.

Some Russian officials are not shy about drawing parallels between the two leaders.

“We have a great, powerful president who has forced the whole world to respect and defer to Russia like Ivan the Terrible did in his time,” Oryol Governor Potomsky told guests at the opening ceremony.

In a public lecture on Ivan the Terrible earlier this month, Culture Minister Medinsky argued that historians rely too heavily on sources critical of the czar, many of them written by Europeans. Western commentators in the 16th century, he alleged, deliberately blackened the czar’s name as part of an “information war,” much in the same way Western media attempt to blacken Putin’s name today.

Many in Oryol make the same links. On a recent sunny afternoon in the city, locals passing the statue were mostly full of praise.

“I like it a lot: It’s great that it’s in Oryol. He’s a czar who saved Russia,” said one man. “He’s a splendid Russian character,” said another, who gave his name as Sergei.

“Is the statue a symbol that the screws are being tightened and that we are returning to the Middle Ages? I don’t know, but I fear that is exactly what is happening” — Natalia Golenkova, activist
“Ivan the Terrible was a screen against Western totalitarianism. If he had not defeated his enemies in the Baltic war … we would have had genocide and Western values,” said Ali Naibov, who was walking past with his young son.

But the statue has also stirred controversy, and even some state-owned media outlets have been critical of the initiative. In Oryol, a small group of activists have lobbied against the statue, holding public pickets and mobilizing support for online petitions.

Retired physics professor Yuri Malyutin, 79, is suing the local government for illegally erecting the statue on a site he says is protected because of its archaeological value.

“I live in this town and everything is dear to me. I will leave grandsons and great grandsons, like everyone else, and when it comes to our cultural heritage it is important to pass down to them the words ‘cherish’ and ‘save,’” he said in an interview at a break in a recent court hearing.

On a darker note, Natalia Golenkova, another activist, said she was assaulted when walking home one evening in August — her attacker warned her to stop opposing the monument. Police, she said, refused to take the incident seriously and she has since left the country.

“Is the statue a symbol that the screws are being tightened and that we are returning to the Middle Ages? I don’t know, but I fear that is exactly what is happening,” Golenkova said in a Skype interview. “Tyrants love tyrants,” she said.

Howard Amos is a Moscow-based journalist. Born in London, he has spent the last six years reporting from across Russia and the former Soviet Union.

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