Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Taras Bulba (alternative title Zaporizhian Sich) is a historical drama film, based on a novel of the same title by Nikolai Gogol. The movie has been filmed on different locations in Ukraine such as Zaporizhia, Khotyn and Kamianets-Podilskyi as well as in Poland. The official release was rescheduled several times; at first in the spring of 2008 but was finally released on April 2, 2009. Gogol’s original manuscript was not used but the text of 1842 (considered more pro-Russian), expanded and rewritten (into the text most readers know), was used for the film.

The film was partly financed by the Russian Ministry of Culture and has been criticized in Ukraine for being political propaganda and to "resemble leaflets for Putin".

The Ukrainian-born director Vladimir Bortko has also stated that the movie was aimed to show that "there is no separate Ukraine". "The Russians and Ukrainians are the same people and the Ukraine is the southern part of the Rus'. They cannot exist without us and we cannot without them. Now we are two states and also in the past there were such periods. The Ukrainian soil belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and to Poland. But the people who lived on both territories were always one people. Gogol understood that well and always spoke of it."

Here's an interesting editorial:

An Uneasy Easter Sunday
21 April 2009
By Alexei Pankin

On Saturday, after watching "Taras Bulba," a film based on Nikolai Gogol's novel, I was given a powerful inoculation against Catholicism by a leading figure of Russian secular culture. Then on Easter, a Russian Orthodox bishop said the Protestants are even worse.

Ever since its April 1 release, the film has provoked a big debate in Russia and Ukraine over what the story is attempting to convey. Russians maintain that it depicts our common history, starting from Kievan Rus, while Ukrainians believe that Gogol wrote about Ukrainian history.

After watching the film, I came to my own conclusions. This is how Gogol depicts the start of the Zaporozhye Cossack campaign against Poland: Cossack Colonel Taras Bulba concludes that his two sons cannot be considered true Cossacks until they kill someone. As the Cossacks gather before the start of their Black Sea campaign, a messenger arrives from Polish Ukraine and says the Jews of that region have been exacting payment from Russian Orthodox believers for the right to attend church. They are also told that Roman Catholic priests are riding around in carts with Russian Orthodox Christians yoked in place of horses. After hearing this news, the Cossacks quickly staged a pogrom against the Jews, and shortly thereafter, they expand their campaign against Poland to "fight for the holy Orthodox faith."

Gogol offers no proof of Polish oppression against Orthodox believers, but he describes in detail Cossack atrocities against Jewish and Catholic civilians, including women and children.

The film's director, Vladimir Bortko, apparently understood that today's viewers would not find the accusations justification for the slaughter, so he rewrote the classic work. In the movie, the messenger brings the dead body of Bulba's wife -- murdered by the Poles, of course -- as proof of his claims. This fully justifies Bulba's desire for revenge.

After watching the film and rereading the novel, I experienced a rush of Russian nationalism and thought to myself, "Let it be a story of the Ukrainian people. Why should Russia take on Ukraine's crimes against the Jewish people and the Poles?"

Later that day, I watched the film "Alexander. The Battle of the Neva" on television. The movie is dedicated to the battle between the forces of Novgorod Prince Alexander Yaroslavich against Catholic crusaders attempting to capture Novgorod territory in the mid-13th century. The problem is that whenever I changed the channel during the commercial breaks, I invariably saw Russian Orthodox Easter services that looked very similar to the rites that accompanied Russian troops headed for battle -- exactly as they were depicted in both films. If I were a religious person, I would have felt inspired to go out and burn down a couple of Catholic churches after watching that.

On Easter, my already uneasy soul was further disturbed by the words of Ilarion, a Russian Orthodox bishop in charge of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate. In an interview in the latest issue of the Russian Reporter weekly, he laid out the church's priorities, saying, "The understanding is growing on both sides [the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches] that we should reject the spirit of rivalry and move toward cooperation." At the same time, he added, "Many Protestant communities in the North and West are increasingly deviating from the basic standards of Christianity."

Now we will just have to wait for a cinematic masterpiece depicting the historic Thirty Years' War, in which Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox warriors would be fighting alongside their Catholic brothers against the Protestant Reformation.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.