MOSCOW – Russia's Culture Ministry banned a satirical film about Soviet leader Josef Stalin's death from movie theaters Tuesday following criticism from communists and others that the British-French production made a mockery of Russian history.
The Culture Ministry declared it was rescinding the permit that would have allowed Scottish writer-director Armando Iannucci's "The Death of Stalin" to be shown in Russian theaters. The film, starring Steve Buscemi and Jason Isaacs, premiered in Britain in October and was scheduled to open in Russia Thursday.
The ministry's move reflects an admiration many in Russia still have for Stalin despite the dictator's brutal purges that killed millions, as well as the government's nervousness about the country's history.
"Many elderly people, and not only them, will see it as an insulting derision of the Soviet past, of the country that defeated Nazism, of the Soviet army and ordinary people, and, what is the most appalling, even of the victims of Stalinism," Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said in a statement.
He argued that while "we have no censorship" and "we aren't afraid of a critical view of our history ... there is a moral boundary between a critical analysis of history and a mockery of it."
Medinsky said the ministry would conduct an additional legal study of the film, but its fate seems to be pre-determined after revoking the license.
The withdrawal of the certificate for the movie's release came after some Russian lawmakers and other public figures watched the movie and urged the ministry to keep it out of theaters.
"This is a vicious and absolutely inappropriate 'comedy' that smears the memory of our people who defeated Nazism," a group of Russian cultural figures said in a letter to the Culture Ministry that was carried by Russian news agencies. "The release of the film on the eve of celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad spits in the face of all those who died there."
Communist lawmaker Elena Drapeko denounced the film as a "provocation, an attempt to convince us that our country is horrible, people are idiots and our rulers are fools."
Vladislav Kononov, the executive director of the Russian Military-Historical Society, called the movie "disgusting."
"It's an abomination and filth," Kononov told state-funded RT television. "All the characters are portrayed as idiots. They could have been tyrants, but they weren't idiots. It's how the West sees our people."
The ban was a top trending subject on Russian Twitter, with some liberal figures deriding the move.
"They would have placed Charlie Chaplin under house arrest here," tweeted Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy radio.
Opinion polls show that Stalin, who led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, remains widely revered in Russia, where many credit him with leading the country to victory in World War II and making it a nuclear superpower.
President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has taken a cautious stance on Stalin's role in Russia's history, denouncing the purges but also emphasizing Soviet-era achievements.
Many Russians have been dismayed in recent years by government-sponsored school textbooks that painted Stalin in a largely positive light. Old Soviet national anthem lyrics praising Stalin were restored during a Moscow subway station's reconstruction.
Last fall, the Russian Military-Historical Society, an organization founded by Putin and led by his culture minister, unveiled a bust of Stalin as part of an "alley of rulers" in a park outside its Moscow offices.
Kremlin critics have denounced such actions as attempts to whitewash Stalin's image and part of Putin's rollback on democracy.