09/19/2017, 14.07
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Saint Nicholas the Tsar and Matilda, the Polish ballerina

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Protests, threats, arson attacks on cinemas screening the film "Matilda", about the affair between the future Tsar and a young ballerina of the imperial theatre. Nationalists decry a patriotic and religious scandal (Tsar Nicholas was canonized in 2000). Reparatory pilgrimages announced. The Orthodox Church suggests banning the projection of the film.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - For several months, Russia has been rocked by a rather singular scandal, which is stoking the feelings of the population about the very identity of the country. The Russians are protesting over a rumoured affair, recalled by a film about the life of the last Tsar and his relationship with a Polish ballerina.

The film "Matilda", shot by director Aleksej Uchitel ', is not even officially commercialized, and was only shown in some theaters in Vladivostok, the far east of the country. Its release is scheduled for late October, but there is a risk that it will not make it to cinemas, although the controversy over its contents is fuelling anticipation of its release. The film tells the story of the romantic relationship between the 22-year-old heir to the throne Nikolaj Romanovich, the future Tsar, and the 18-year-old Polish dancer of imperial theater Matilda Kshesinskaya, from 1890 until Nicola II was crowned in 1896.

The movie trailer depicts a kind of love triangle, similar to the "over-crowded" marriage of Charles and Diana of England, which took place between the young emperor, his wife Aleksandra and the dancer. In the story, the empress plays the role of jealous and revengeful wife, ready to exact her vendetta on her young rival. These elements are used in many soap-operas around the globe, except that Nicholas and his wife were canonized in 2000, along with other members of the imperial family, as holy martyrs of the Orthodox Church, assassinated in Ekaterinburg in the Bolshevik summer of 1918. Their remains, despite the uncertainty of their authenticity, lie in the cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg, in a chapel beside the tombs of other Romanov Tsar dynasties.

Scandalized nationalists

After the appearance of the first trailers in 2016, a wave of anger swept the nation, in defense of religious sentiments and the reverence of the sacred figure of the Tsar. The anti-Matilda crusade was launched by a young deputy of the State Duma, Natalia Poklonskaja, a well-known character in the Russian chronicles of recent years. In February 2014, she served as a prosecutor in a provincial town in Crimea, when the conflict between Russians and Ukrainians broke out, and her controversial resignation was the signal of the patriotic retreat of Russians in the peninsula. After the referendum on the annexation in Moscow, Poklonskaja was appointed by Putin as general prosecutor of the new Crimea. In that role, she distinguished himself for the cruel repression of the Tartar minority in the region before being "promoted" to parliament in 2016. After launching protests against "Matilda," the deputy also said she witnessed miraculous lacrimation of a bust of Nicholas II, of which she is a devotee, in a chapel of Simferopol in Crimea.

Poklonskaja has become a spokesman for a nationalist movement called "The Cross of Tsar", who denounced the film because it contained serious historical rumors offensive of religious sentiments, especially for the erotic scenes of intimate relations between Nikolaj and Matilda. The controversy has mounted throughout 2017, up to paroxysms in the last few weeks. In August, the industry monopoly  in Ingushetia, a region of the Russian Federation (moreover, a majority Muslim), refused to show the film in its halls. The same decision was taken by cinema managers in the city of Kemerovo, Siberia, and by some of the country's operators. A radical orthodox movement called "Forty Quarantines" (a medieval term for the whole of Moscow's churches) was launched against the film at the beginning of August, announcing that it would organize mass protests against the showing of the film, in the form of prayer vigils and reparation pilgrimages.

Threats and protests

Another more extremist movement, called the "Christian State – Holy Russia", sent threatening letters to film directors, informing them of their boycott of the film Matilda. In the letters they even arrived at threatening possible damages and fires at cinemas that refuse to comply with the request.

In fact, at the end of August, there were several fires at cinemas in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and other cities, as well as acts of vandalism of various dimensions, up to cars being crashed against movie theaters. The "Christian State" leader, Aleksandr Kalinin, denied all responsibility of the attacks. Political representatives, including Putin himself, have hitherto been timidly trying to defend the director Uchitel, presenting him as a "good patriot" in the name of artistic freedom.

Several Orthodox Church hierarchs took far more negative positions, supporting the idea of ​​a ban on screening the film. Bishop Tikhon (Ševkunov), Putin's "spiritual father", emphasized the historical falsification, stating that relations between Tsar Nikolas ceased well before his enthronement. Patriarch Kirill has avoided intervening directly in the debate.

The controversy promises to mount further in the coming weeks, highlighting the different shades of Russian patriotic ideology: the most radical one, which appears to be more widespread and aggressive than previously thought, the more "ideological and sovereign" State, and that of the Church itself, generally more moderate, but with expressions that overlap the first two. The Polish ballerina, a symbol of the temptations of the degraded West, continues to upset the souls of Holy Russia.

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