Volgograd Forum, June 1, 2001

Stalingraders Oppose "Enemy at the Gates"

I cannot tell how much I am satisfied with my last visit to Cleveland. I came home tired and exhausted because I had so much exposure and public appearances but it was worth it. We need to meet and tell people both in the USA and Russia about what we are doing and what we are striving for.

I extend my thanks to all people who took interest in hearing me speaking and who have supported the Volgograd Free-Speech Forum.

The free-speech Forum demonstrated again it was as big as life and twice as natural on June 21, when we had our first meeting after my visit to Cleveland.

I often tried to plan our events in advance but I rarely succeeded because life happens to bring on surprises, which demand immediate responding. 

At one of its June sessions the Communist-dominated Volgograd Oblast Duma passed a resolution calling on President Putin to ban distribution in Russia of the American movie “Enemy at the Gate”. The Communists did not like episodes like barrage squads to stop Russian soldiers from retreating, that commissars were presented in the negative light, that Nikita Khrushchev was feasting during the fighting. They did not like the erotic episode either. 

Earlier some of my comments on different issues were misunderstood on your side. So I would like to point out that “Enemy at the Gate” was not actually banned. Neither the Volgograd Duma, nor even President Putin have such powers. But Communists organized a series of protests winning over many war veterans to their side. Some of those merited people did not want see the movie as a piece of fiction, they judged it by history textbooks criteria. 

Moreover, Oblast Duma Communist deputies set the Public Prosecutor of Volgograd against Mr. Gennady Domaskin, director of the largest Volgograd movie theater “Pobyeda” where that film was shown. They imputed to him that he started showing the movie without having a license from the distribution company (he got that license by fax, and the original came by mail one week later), that he did not put a notice it was not recommended for children under 16 ( he did not, indeed, but corrected his mistake just a few days later).

The Prosecutor’s Office did not find anything criminal in Mr. Domaskin’s activities. But the scandal had already begun to unfold and it was difficult to stop. The Russian movie company “East-West” that had exclusive rights for distribution of the “Enemy at the Gate” in Russia called its film print back from Volgograd after it had been on for only two weeks. Volgograd was the first Russian city where the movie was shown. Fearing negative consequences in other cities, it stopped distribution of it all over the country. So, though the movie was not banned, the obstruction it got in Volgograd influenced its advancement all over the country.

Naturally, the Volgograd Free-Speech Forum could not pass by such a collision.

We took efforts to bring to debate both sides: Oblast Duma deputies and director of the movie theater, war veterans who were opposed to the movie and who were in favor. I received assurances from both sides that they would come. 

Taking into account the theme of the discussion we decided to have debates at the Panorama-Museum of the Battle of Stalingrad.

By the time of the Forum meeting to start none of the Duma deputies appeared. Later we tried to guess why. We had no reason to believe they ignored the Forum because we had their Chairman speaking only last April. Finally we came to the conclusion that probably none of them actually saw the movie but voted as their Party told them.

Yet we had a very good discussion. We had movie theater director Mr. Domaskin speaking, and director of the Museum of the Battle of Stalingrad, and a war veteran Anatoly Kozlov. The latter pointed out to some discrepancies in the scenario, but said, “We fought, we won, and it was shown in the movie. I do not see any reason why it should not be shown.”

The timing for the Forum was perfect, because on the next day, June 22, there was the 60-th anniversary of the Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union. Both the Russian President and the German Chancellor made statements on the occasion and it was theme Number One in both countries’ mass media for some days.

This is probably why the Russian national newspaper “Tribuna” published a front page story on our Forum. Parodying the famous Stalin’s order to the defenders of Stalingrad “No Step Backward!”, the story was titled “No Step Forward!” It meant that Communists live in the past and do not want to look to the future. The reporter also mentioned that Duma deputies did not come to the debate.

It was the first time that any Forum event was given such prominence (I do not take into consideration Forums with celebrity speakers). I cannot wait till you get the newspaper clipping, which I am mailing to Ted Brown.

At the same time there was much less coverage in the local media. As I told you, much of it is controlled now by the local Government and editors would not dare to speak against the powerful Oblast Duma.

One of the reasons why I picked out this theme for discussion was in correspondence with what I told you in Cleveland: the necessity to promote Russian-American dialogue and mutual understanding. The negative reaction to that movie was, in fact, the consequence of xenophobic tendencies in the Russian society. I think many people were motivated by the thought, “How dare those Americans make a movie about OUR battle!"

We have a lot to do in this direction. On the eve of the Russian-American summit in Slovenia the popular Russian weekly “Argumenti i Fakti” conducted an Internet poll asking its readers “Do you consider the USA a friend or an enemy?”

The replies were:

Enemy – 70 %

Friend – 30 %

Of course, this poll is not fully representative, because it was conducted at random and only among visitors of the newspaper’s Web-site. But still the difference between the two groups is too great to be ignored.

At the same time President Bush became the object of bi-partisan criticism in your country for calling his Russian counterpart “trustworthy”. 

If we manage to overcome these negative attitudes, very many things that aggravate our relations will be easier to solve. Some of my Cleveland friends did not like what I said in response to the question about the missile defense system. But I still think that the problem here is the lack of trust, not the number of warheads or defenses against them.

Respectfully submitted by Alexander Yevreinov


Action of Ministry of Culture on "Enemy at the Gates"
The Russian Ministry of Culture sent a reply to the Volgograd Oblast Duma address to stop the circulation of the movie "Enemy at the Gates" in Russia.
Minister of Culture Mr. Shvydkoi writes that the movie got the permission to be shown in Russia because "it does not contain materials advocating racial, national, religious, class or other oneness or intolerance". At the same time "the Battle of Stalingrad is partly shown through the prism of Western stereotypes, and there is one scene of erotic character". For that reason the film was recommended only for adults over 16.
It is also noted in the letter that "Educational Board of the Ministry of Defense advised commanding officers that they desist from letting this movie shown in military cultural institutions".

Alexander Yevreinov

Volgograd Free Speech Forum


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