While I strongly disagree with Russia's decision to ban it from theaters, I understand why so many Russian citizens are upset about the newly released movie, "The Death of Stalin."
Concerning the chaotic aftermath of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's death in 1953, "The Death of Stalin" offers a fictional imagining of serious history. Still, given their decision to satirize Stalin and the Soviet inner circle, the British filmmakers shouldn't be surprised by the Russian uproar.
Why? It's all about World War II, which Russians call the Great Patriotic War. More specifically, Russian anger is a response to the movie's ridiculing of Soviet war heroes such as Georgy Zhukov.
World War II isn't simply history to Russians. It's a sacrament of survival against immeasurable odds and inconceivable costs, built up mightily at the time in Soviet propaganda. From the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941 to their near capture of Moscow that December, to Nazi Germany's eventual capitulation in May 1945, the Soviet Union would lose around 23 million civilians and soldiers. That 23 million accounts for roughly 12 percent of the Soviet Union's pre-war population. Were this casualty rate applied to the present day U.S. population, it would mean an astounding 39 million dead Americans.
In contrast, U.S. World War II losses as a percentage of pre-war population were significantly less than 0.5 percent.
These divergent statistics explain why the war is of a spiritual importance to Russians that few Americans can understand. The pride we feel in observing the iconic photos of the European and Pacific theaters is matched by what Russians feel about the war's entire experience.
For Americans, World War II was about liberation and security.
For Russians, it was a brutal struggle for survival. In their schools and their homes, Russians are repeatedly taught to regard those who fought in the war as the constitutions of their nation. To be sure, Vladimir Putin uses this patriotic feeling for his own partisan agenda, but he is appealing to an impulse genuinely felt by Russians.
In turn, while the Russian government is being pathetic — and playing for populism — by banning "The Death of Stalin," I do understand why many Russians are upset by the movie. They view it as an effort to turn a glorious graveyard into a generic playground.