Russia’s Orthodox Terrorists: The Crusade Against “Matilda”

September 15, 2017

Film director Alexey Uchitel has come under fire (literally) in recent weeks for his much anticipated film which dramatises the affair between Tsar Nicholas II and the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya.  The premiere of the film is due to be shown mid October, and multiple attempts have been made to boycott the film by force, including the firebombing of Uchitel’s studio in St. Petersburg.

Uchitel has accused state Duma deputy Natalia Poklonskaya of inciting terrorism after she publicly took up arms against his new film “Matilda”.  This is how he described the incident on September 4 at the “Kosmos” cinema in Ekaterinburg after a man called Denis Murashev crashed his truck into the building and attempted to cause an explosion.

The man decided to carry out the “terrorist attack” (as Ekaterinburg mayor Evgeny Roizman termed the incident) because he disapproved of the film “Matilda” being shown on cinema screens.  Mainstream media have reported that Denis Murashev was deemed psychologically unwell and had repeatedly fallen out of contact with his relatives.

His last post on Russian social media website “Classmates” was from April 2014: “Orthodox Christians, do not use electronic documents.  St. Paisius and other elders warned us about this, it is a renunciation of Christ.” – The monk St. Paisius is a popular figure among representatives of the marginal sect of Orthodox-Monarchists.

When the Russian Orthodox Church refused to endorse Uchitel’s film, it was clear that “Matilda” was not being attacked by the entire church, but rather by a marginal group of monarchists who believe in the divine role of Tsar Nicholas II in the fate of Russia and the world and the sacredness of his death, which they equate with the death of Jesus Christ.  Judging by what has been taking place, these are the views of the person leading the crusade against Alexey Uchitel: Duma deputy Natalia Poklonskaya.  How else can we explain the fact that her confessor is a well-known member of this particular monarchist sect.

These “Tsarebozhiye”, or ultra-Orthodox-Monarchists, owe their origins to a split in the White Guards — the pro-Monarchy faction of the civil war — when conservative Orthodox elements began combining Christian practices with Eastern magical traditions.

In 1925, in the Serbian city of Novy-Sad, a book called “Sacrifice” appeared, the author of which went under the pseudonym “Enelle”.  The book offers an obscure interpretation of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, arguing that in addition to the political motives for the murder, there were also occult ones.

The author describes an inscription that was supposedly left on the site of the murder that reads “Here, by the order of secret forces, the Tsar was sacrificed for the destruction of the State.  All nations are informed of this.”  Enelle then proceeds to claim that a Jewish organisation of black magicians whose goal is “the destruction of the established world order and the enslavement of brutalised humanity.”

Religious scholar Stanislav Panin told Open Russia that these Orthodox-Monarchist ideas began to gain popularity after the publication of the book “Sovereignty of the Spirit” under the name of Metropolitan Ioann (Snychev), the man who called for Ivan the Terrible to receive sainthood.  The figure of the last Romanov for Synchev is also considered sacred, and, in his opinion, is the last legitimate ruler of Russia.  It’s no surprise that these people are vehemently against the film “Matilda” and its depiction of Nicholas II in a less-than-godly light.

According to Panin, the Orthodox-Monarchists are not one single movement: well-known Orthodox organisations such as “Izborskiy Club”, “Forty-Forty” and “The Christian State of Holy Russia” are also members of this line of thinking.  The latter organisation is particularly marginal, and it is this movement which threatened to burn down cinemas in the event that Matilda is shown on the big screens.

For now the Russian Orthodox Church is not on board with the agenda of the marginals, but at the same time it does not intend to fight with the radicals amongst its own ranks.  Scholar Stanislav Panin is confident that the ROC is using such groups as instruments of political influence so that the church can appear to be holding back the radicals (although Panin is sure that the marginals themselves already have enough influence to put pressure on the ROC).

Earlier the Orthodox-Monarchists were famed for their pilgrimages and installation of monuments in honour of Ivan the Terrible.  “Undoubtedly Natalia Poklonskaya is a public figure who is making the movement much more respectable,” claims Panin.  “They are radicalising and are testing the ground as to how aggressive they can actually be.  After that it will depend on how the authorities respond to their activity.”

Multiple criticisms have been levelled at the authorities and the ruling party for letting groups of domestic radicals go unpunished, particularly ones whose activity conveniently coincides with the Kremlin’s agenda.  Whether or not the Kremlin will act to enforce the law and put a lid on this form of political violence will determine the future of public civility in Russia.

This article first appeared on openrussia.org and has been slightly abridged for clarity in English.

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