Does Russia’s new culture minister hate the arts?

Russia’s new culture minister, Olga Lyubimova, has experience of film and TV production but she apparently once wrote “I’m not bloody cultured at all”.

She is part of the new government team under Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

The blunt views on culture were summed up in a 2008 blog which complains “I simply can’t stand going to exhibitions, museums, opera”.

BBC Monitoring says the details match Ms Lyubimova’s biographical data and appear to be genuine.

Ballet and classical music were also listed among her pet hates.

The last entry in the Kropalik blog on the LiveJournal platform was in 2010. It has not been verified by the BBC and the culture ministry has yet to comment.

It is not clear why she would be disdainful about the arts, considering that she has devoted her career to cultural matters.

Further on the blog says: “I’ve been to Paris, but not to the Louvre… I haven’t been on a gondola trip on the Venice canals.

“I’ve been to the British Museum, National Gallery and a few dozen more European and Russian museums and reckon I wasted my time there.”

Orthodox Church focus

Ms Lyubimova, 39, became a TV correspondent in 2001. Her parents were prominent figures in the Russian theatre world. She graduated in journalism from the prestigious Moscow State University (MGU).

In her TV career she specialised in documentaries and other programmes covering Orthodox Church topics. From 2016 she was in charge of social and media programmes on Channel One, Russia’s premier state-owned TV channel.

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny tweeted a photo of her sporting a provocative T-shirt. It bears the message: “Who are you? What do you want? I don’t know you”, followed by an obscene remark.

Censorship rows

Before her promotion she headed the cinema department under her predecessor as culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, who has been made President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on culture.

Mr Medinsky’s tenure was marked by controversies over cultural censorship, including a ban on screening the hit British comedy The Death of Stalin. He acted often to promote Russian films and restrict various foreign films.

The colourful 2008 blog post was tweeted by Ilya Shumanov of anti-corruption group Transparency International, and several others.

“Clearly you could have appointed such a person to whatever job, just not to head Russia’s cultural policy,” he wrote.

‘Intelligent, educated woman’

Despite her years of involvement with cinema, Ms Lyubimova is said to have written: “I can’t watch the vast majority of documentary films” and “I don’t understand a bloody thing about arthouse cinema”.

She has been praised in some quarters, however.

A famous Russian film critic, Anton Dolin of Iskusstvo Kino (Film Art) magazine, said on Facebook: “I’ve known Olga Lyubimova for quite some time… Today I’m sincerely happy that Russia has as culture minister a young, intelligent, educated, pragmatic woman devoid of fanaticism or cynicism”.

In his view “she loves culture, or at least, cinema”.\

As an aide to President Putin, Mr Medinsky’s influence is set to remain strong.

The controversies involving him included:

  • His doctoral thesis on Russian history, which academic experts found to be lacking in scholarly rigour
  • His defence of the “sacred legend” of the 28 Panfilovtsy: Soviet soldiers who were claimed to have stopped 50 Nazi tanks, but whose feat was revealed to be fiction
  • His claim that Russians “have an extra chromosome”, judging by their remarkable recovery from 20th-Century disasters
  • He labelled fans of comics “morons” because “comics are for people who are poor at reading”.
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