By her own apparent blog accounts, the Olga Lyubimova of two decades ago had an affinity for drugs, approached life in Russia as she felt a rape victim might, and was admittedly not a “cultural person.”
All of which made many of her compatriots blanch at the thought of Lyubimova being appointed the country’s new culture minister.
Yet as screenshots of old blog posts and a photo of her wearing a rude T-shirt made the rounds on social media, alternative pictures emerged of Lyubimova as a self-described “liberal-minded Orthodox” believer who brought financial transparency and some openness to the conservative ministry’s Cinematography Department, which she headed from January 2018.
Whether the 39-year-old Lyubimova is formed from the mold of her jingoistic predecessor, Vladimir Medinsky, or a welcome departure is fodder for a fiery online debate.
Much of the controversy surrounding Lyubimova’s appointment stems from posts made from 2006 to 2010 to a LiveJournal blog that has been attributed to her. Lyubimova has not commented on the blog posts, which have not been independently confirmed as hers.
“Kropalik — this is a little piece of hash,” she wrote in one post. “Earlier I thought that my nickname came about for this reason. Now, with the arrival of LiveJournal, I realize that ‘Kropalik’ is from the word ‘kropat’ [scribble].”
Another post attributed to Lyubimova in 2010 reveals her discovery of an old diary from 1997 in which she provides her thoughts on the church and LSD.
“Not badly written, stylistically. True, it was quite immoral and ungrammatical. Endless descriptions of alternating trips to church with the parents and to the pub with friends,” she wrote. The thrill from acid and descriptions of the wonderful atmosphere of the Church of the Holy Trinity. It’s amazing how everything can be explained and forgiven. Especially when you are 16.”
In arguably the most controversial post, she mocks civil society.
“I wanted to ask, in absolute seriousness and without giving a f**k: What are you trying to achieve? Do you really believe they will listen to you? That they won’t laugh at you on Old Square?” she wrote, in a reference to the presidential administration headquarters. “I have long just been taking the advice of a psychologist. I live in Moscow, in the country of Russia, under the principles of the rape victim. I lie on my back, spread my legs, breathe deeply, and just try to enjoy it.”
In another from 2008 she admits to her disdain for certain arts, specifically opera, ballet, classical music, theater, and museums.
“A friend called with an invite to go to a classical music concert with a child. And I realized that I just couldn’t force myself,” she wrote. “I began to seriously think about this. I unexpectedly discovered that I’m not a damned cultured person.”
In yet another she laments the appearance of Boris Tadic at Moscow’s 2010 Victory Day parade, describing the then-Serbian president as a “homo.”
Critics were quick to the draw following Lyubimova’s appointment.
Ilya Shumanov, deputy director of the Russian branch of Transparency International, posted a screenshot of one of her Twitter posts and wrote that “after reading the blog you can understand that such a person could be appointed to any position, but not to direct Russia’s cultural policy.”
Opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny was to the point: “There is a very simple criterion. If in 2020 a person agrees to become one of Putin’s ministers, they are a bad person.”
But Lyubimova — who as culture minister becomes the first woman to hold the position since Yekaterina Furtseva headed the Soviet Culture Ministry from 1960-74, and is one of three women in Putin’s recently revamped cabinet — has her supporters as well.
While the emergence of an old photo showing her wearing a shirt saying: “Who are you? What do you need? I don’t know you. F**k off” was widely mocked on social media, others took exception to the idea that it was a bad thing.
“Just me, but is it strange for people to slam the new head of the Culture Ministry based on an obscene inscription on a T-shirt?” read a post on the Twitter feed Russian Annals.
Referring to a weekly political and news analysis show on state television that often airs anti-Western views, the post said that “if Vesti Nedeli slammed someone for an inscription on a T-shirt, these same people would have condemned the hypocrisy and called for post-irony.”
Actor and director Nikolai Burlyayev, drawing on his experiences working with her when she headed the Culture Ministry’s Cinematography Department, said she “managed to do a lot of useful things in a short time,” according to the Russian media outlet Snob.
“I have always been critical of many officials of the Culture Ministry,” he told Snob. “But now there is a hope that our culture will be able to reach new spiritual heights that were not possible under the market policies of former officials.”
He added that for her to succeed, however, state culture would need to be separated from the free market, saying that “culture and market are incompatible concepts.”
Lyubimova, daughter of an actress and a drama-school official, went to an Russian Orthodox high school before graduating from Moscow State University with a journalism degree.
In 2001, she embarked on a career in television, with much of her work involving the production of documentaries focused on topics involving the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as analytical and cultural programs for state TV.
In 2015 she became an adviser to the Cinematography Department of the Culture Ministry, which was headed by Medinsky, and in 2016 was named deputy director of social and journalistic programs for state-owned Channel One television.
There she produced more than 80 documentaries, often with patriotic and/or religious themes, including The Path Of The Patriarch and one focused on Oscar-winning director and staunch Putin supporter Nikita Mikhalkov.
After being appointed in 2018 as the director of the Cinematography Department, she made a name for herself for the films approved under her watch and for making public the amount of money filmmakers had received from the state since 2015, revealing huge box office losses for some major investments.
In a November interview with Russia-focused news outlet Meduza, she took a hard line on the Culture Ministry getting solid returns on its investments.
“We are well aware that there were companies that, instead of organizing sales, sent films to their friends’ festivals (which are also funded by the Culture Ministry),” she told the Russian news outlet. “Then you sit for a week at the festival, drink with your friends, return to compete for allocations from the ministry — and get the money again. This is horror. This is a very bad cycle.”
A few eyebrow-raising decisions were made while she headed the Cinematography Department as well.
Despite assurances from Culture Ministry head Medinsky that “we have freedom of speech” and that the British comedy The Death Of Stalin was not in danger of being banned in Russia, the film was indeed banned in January 2018, the same month that Lyubimova took her new position.
She also reportedly declined in 2019 to fund a film on the 50th anniversary of the popular Soviet countercultural icon rock group Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), saying “we don’t support our enemies.”
But she also played a role in allowing the Russian erotic drama Fidelity to hit the silver screens in Russia, where numerous films — including Rocketman — have been censored or barred because they were determined to contain “pornographic” content.
“Everyone came running to us with round eyes — the first time that they had shot an erotic drama with the support of the Culture Ministry,” she told Meduza. “The curator of the project [from the ministry] runs up: ‘There is nothing at all there, except for sex, in this picture.’ And I sat down to watch with the producer, Sergei Kornikhin. And there is just one sex scene, and it is erotica — this is not pornography, this is a work of art, complex and subtle.”
The film, she pointed out, had earned nearly 100 million rubles ($1.6 million) as of the end of 2019.
Influential blogger Andrei Malgin harshly criticized Lyubimova’s appointment, writing on Twitter that if Medinsky was attracted to spreading tales about military-patriotic heroes like Soviet World War II General Ivan Panfilov, then the new culture minister was “Orthodox in full swing.”
“We could not put anyone normal there,” Malgin wrote. “We just couldn’t.”
Speaking for herself, Lyubimova in a 2011 interview with the religious publication Pravmir, or Orthodoxy and Peace, said she was a “liberal-minded Orthodox” believer who admittedly had questioned her faith.
“The stress of three years of study in an Orthodox school clearly testified that, in principle, I would never again be in the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church,” she said.
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“By the 7th grade, the Orthodox gymnasium for me became an Al-Qaeda camp,” she said, adding that she pondered Protestantism and decided to leave the church forever. “I dreamed of studying culture, theater. I didn’t want to do church at all, and moreover in most cases I hid my cross from my classmates.”
Her views changed, she explained, after she took a job with the Russian Orthodox Church’s information agency.
“This saved me, because otherwise I would never have crossed paths with those people that I crossed paths,” she said. “And I was struck by those people whom I met. It’s true. The Lord steered me.”Print