Friday, 19 June 2009

Is the Kremlin obstructing anti-Nazi film?

Neo-Nazism has frequently provided gritty material for film-makers. Russell Crowe starred in ‘Romper Stomper’, an Australian take on the subject matter. ‘American History X’ cast Ed Norton as a bright young man who embraced violent racism before undergoing a transformation in prison and returning to his community full of remorse. Shane Meadows’ ‘This is England’ explored the interaction of fascist politics and youth subcultures in Thatcher’s Britain.

Social turmoil in post-Soviet Russia has contributed to its unenviable reputation as a hotbed of racism and extreme nationalism. Albeit that the febrile political scene has calmed down a little since the 1990s. A figure like Eduard Limonov is now known primarily as an accomplice of Garry Kasparov in opposing Putin’s government. But the eccentric writer’s ‘National Bolshevik’ grouping blends racialist theory with Stalinist nostalgia and Eurasianism in a potent red-brown mix.

Limonov’s periods in prison are frequently presented as examples of Putinite Russia’s suppression of pluralism, but they were more often than not related to his participation in violent stunts. One such incident involved an abortive ‘invasion’ of Kazakhstan, where Limonov claimed he would carve out an ethnically pure state for Russians.

Alexander Barkashov is a more conventional neo-Nazi, but in February 1999 one survey adjudged him one of Russia’s ten most recognisable politicians. Vladimir Zhirinovsky is a popular nationalist whose ironically named Liberal Democrats hold forty seats in the State Duma. Even the ruling party, United Russia, has a youth wing, Nashi, which employs imagery that invites occasional comparison with hard-line nationalism.

Abutting these groups is a skinhead subculture which is both violent and murderous. In December seven young gang members were convicted of the murder of twenty migrant workers in Moscow. It was the most high profile instance of racist slaughter in post-Soviet Russia to date.

All of which suggests that Russia should make fertile territory for an examination of neo Nazism on film. And indeed Pavel Bardin’s movie ‘Russia 88’ attempts just that. The skinhead film has created excitement amongst critics, rights campaigners and prospective cinema goers. But Open Democracy’s Russia site suggests that the authorities have not welcomed the work with open arms, despite granting it a distribution certificate. Purportedly obstacles have been put in the way of an eager public watching the film

It is alleged that one scene in particular, during which a portrait of Hitler is flipped, to reveal a picture of Vladimir Putin, has caused official concern. How far the tale of shadowy forces, preventing the film’s widespread consumption, can be believed is impossible to judge, but there is at least the suggestion that the Kremlin is suspicious of a film which its maker claims is intended to help the authorities combat violent racism.

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