The Kremlin’s culture of war
October 11, 2022
From musicians and film directors, to figure skaters and poets, the Kremlin is pouring huge sums of money into pro-war cultural projects. Sirena journalists analyzed the strategies of the Presidential Foundation for Cultural Initiatives in promoting patriotic cultural products.
Sergei Kirienko, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration. Source: Wiki Commons
In the spring of 2021, Vladimir Putin created the Presidential Fund for Cultural Initiatives to offer state financial support to projects in arts and culture. He entrusted the most important duties in the fund – matters of money allocation – to a coordinating council headed by Sergei Kirienko, the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration. The committee was filled with dozens of officials, as well as leading figures in state media, such as Channel One director Konstanin Ernst.

Journalists from the independent news portal Sirena studied projects financed by the Presidential Fund since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. They discovered that the fund has turned into a honeypot for performers and propagandists who are ready to promote the war, with over a billion rubles already spent on pro-war projects and events, and another billion in the pipeline.

In the first year of its existence, the fund was allocated 3.5 million rubles by the Russian government. In 2022, planned allocations more than doubled to 8 billion rubles. For 2023, the fund is set to receive a massive 10 billion rubles.

Earlier in March of this year, Kirienko announced a new wave of grant competitions aimed at thwarting western attempts to “cancel Russian culture.” The grant money, totalling 991 million rubles, was given as support of sanctioned cultural figures and projects related to "Russian cultural identity and traditional spiritual and moral values.” The money was distributed over the spring and summer in three special competitions.

Journalists from Sirena analyzed all 172 projects that won funding. They separate these projects into two groups: those which directly or indirectly promote the war in Ukraine, and those which use the war as justification for receiving grant money. More than half of the nearly 1 billion rubles went to explicitly pro-war propaganda.

The Russian figure skater Yevgeny Plushchenko received 50.5 million rubles for a single event where his 9-year-old son Gnom Gnomich performed an ice skating routine to the music of the singer Shaman, known for his ethno-national patriotic pop songs, such as “Ya Russkie” (“I’m Russian”). Journalists from Sirena note that, despite securing generous financial support from the Russian state, the ice skating show charged a 9 thousand ruble admission fee.

The author and videoblogger Dmitry Puchkov, better known as Goblin, also received 18.7 million rubles from the Fund for his online show Vecherniy Izluchatel. This sum seems especially large since, after YouTube removed his popular channel in early August, Puchkov was forced to migrate to other platforms like RUTUBE and Vkontakte, where audiences are much more modest in size. Vecherniy Izluchatel is described as a project which “promotes traditional spiritual and moral values in society.” But as journalists from Sirena note, Puchkov mostly engages in vitriolic rhetoric against Ukraine and the West.

The biggest winner from the Fund’s most recent wave of grant competitions was a project close to Kirienko and his Expert Institute for Social Research. The institute was established as a Kremlin think tank immediately after Kirienko was appointed First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration and promotes the regime’s propaganda-fueled worldview.

The second largest recipient of grant money was highly influential Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov, who is a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church and member of the fund’s board of trustees. Projects connected with Shevkunov received more than 76 million rubles. These projects include the nationwide network of historical parks called Russia - My History, in which Shevkunov has been closely involved since its inception.

Numerous other patriotic-infused culture projects, like rock concerts, art exhibitions, films, theater performances, and art classes for children have managed to secure millions in financial support from the Presidential Fund. A collection of poems called PoZiVnoy – Pobeda! (in English, “Our Codename is Victory”) was published thanks to the 3 million rubles in grant money it won.

As the journalist Andrey Pertsev recently wrote in an article for Riddle, the kind of ultra-patriotic art and military aesthetics showing up in Russian pop culture today exist only because the Kremlin has created a demand for it, not necessarily because they resonate with the general public. The Presidential Fund for Cultural Initiatives is a primary instrument for creating this demand. Although some individuals, especially those well-connected to the state, have managed to make a handsome profit from cultural grants, most Russias are less than enthusiastic about Z-pop culture and likely consume the same kind of music, films, and shows that they always have.

Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team.
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