Bulgakov under fire in Russia and Ukraine

July 29, 2014

It looks like both the Russian and the Ukrainian authorities feel nostalgic for the Stalin era. They don’t only want to fight with each other on the battlefield, they also want to compete with each other in the area of intellectual stupidity by curtailing cultural freedom. In both countries, the works of Bulgakov are under fire.

Since the beginning of this month already, after the Russian State Duma has passed a law that prohibits swearing in public performances with effect from July 1, 2014, strong recommendations have been given on what in the Russian literary canon should be taught at schools, and what should be removed. So Tatyana in Aleksandr Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin is held up as a good role model because she succeeds in overcoming her passion, while Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, is deemed «dangerous», and is not to form part of the curriculum. Unified literature and history textbooks have already been commissioned and will be introduced in the next few years.

And yesterday, July 28, 2014, the Ukrainian Culture Ministry has banned the distribution of two Russian films, accusing the movies of displaying «contempt» toward Ukraine and «distorting historical facts in favor of Russia». One of the movies in question is The White Guard, directed by Sergey Snezhkin, and based on Bulgakov’s eponymous novel. «According to the experts who have reviewed this movie, it shows contempt for the Ukrainian language, people and the state, and some facts are distorted to benefit Russia», the Culture Ministry said in an online statement.

The ministry also said it had decided not to issue distribution licenses for the film, essentially banning it from playing in the country's movie theaters and on television. «Other sanctions in culture may follow», the ministry added.

We get the impression that both in the Russian Federation and in Ukraine, a new generation of potentates has risen who could perfectly fit as prototypes for the characters of Latunsky, Ariman, Sempleyarov, Berlioz and Lavrovich in The Master and Margarita. Undoubtedly followed by dumber opportunists similar to Bosoy, Mogarych, Poplavsky and Varenukha. If Mikhail Bulgakov lived today, he would have more than enough material for The Master and Margarita - The Sequel.

Hopefully both the Russian and Ukrainian leaders will experience soon that manuscripts don’t burn. And pellicule neither, incidentally. And our readers, of course, aren’t banned of anything, since both The Master and Margarita and The White Guard remain available in our web shop. With subtitles in English and other languages. For the rest, we feel an urgent need to shout: «Behemoth! Eins, zwei, drei...!»

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