Christianist extremists arrested over attacks on Russian film

Leader of Christian State-Holy Rus suspected of arson

by Jennie Kermode

Aleksey Uchitel's Matilda
Aleksey Uchitel's Matilda

The leader of extremist Christianist organisation Christian State-Holy Rus, Aleksandr Kalinin, has been detained in relation to attacks that took place in Moscow earlier this month. Letters attributed to his organisation were sent to cinema owners threatening violence if they screened Aleksey Uchitel's new film, Matilda, shortly before arson attacks were carried out on related targets in Moscow, Yekaterinburg and St Petersburg.

In accordance with Russian law, Kalinin can be held for up to one month while police carry out their investgation. Three other members of the organisation are also being held in custody.

Matilda, which is set to be released across the country from 26 October, chronicles an affair between Nicholai II and the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya before the former became tsar. Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic, has called for it to be banned across the northern Caucasus, arguing that it is a premiditated attack on religious belief and insults the history of the people of Russia. MP Natalya Pokolonskaya has denied historical evidence of the affair, dismissing it as impossible on the grounds that Ms Kshesinskaya was half Polish and insufficiently attractive to catch the eye of the country's future leader.

"While Poklonskaya is telling everyone about some lawsuits by relatives of the holy tsar and trying to ban the film, her supporters continue throwing petrol bombs and start fires," said Konstantin Dobrynin, the director's lawyer, refering to incidents in which petrol bombs where thrown into the director's studio and two cars were set on fire outside his own office. Notes were left behind saying 'Burn for Matilda.'

In an open letter distributed earlier this year, Christian State-Holy Rus said that the release of the film could lead to civil war and claimed that they had members across Russia who were prepared to die for their beliefs.

Tsar Nicholai II and his family were canonised by the Russian Orthodox church in 1990, 72 years after they were killed by supporters of the country's Communist revolution. He is now seen as an important religious figure, so the depicton of him in erotic scenes is regarded by some as blasphemous. Uchitel has previously taken on controversial subjects and paid a price for it, at one point being forced to leave his home in Grozny. He is a highly respected filmmaker who has won several awards.

Read what Uchitel said about the controversy.

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