Monday, August 29, 2016


Profile: Vladimir Medinsky, Russia's Controversial New Culture Minister

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky attends a meeting of newly appointed government ministers in Moscow on May 21.
Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky attends a meeting of newly appointed government ministers in Moscow on May 21.
By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW -- The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact "deserves a monument." The U.S.S.R. never occupied the Baltic states, it just "incorporated" them. An infamous picture of a Nazi-Soviet military parade in Poland in 1939 was "photoshopped." Anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia has been "greatly exaggerated."

Alternative history? Speculative fiction? No, these are actual snippets from the academic writings of Russia's new culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky.

Kremlin allies have praised the controversial author's unexpected May 21 appointment. Andrei Isayev of the ruling United Russia party calls Medinsky "an energetic man, a good manager and ideologue." Likewise, Yelena Drapeko, who sits on the State Duma's Culture Committee, says he is "entirely qualified" and "professional."

But among the opposition and many scholars, his appointment has been condemned and met with a blend of shock and disappointment.

The bespectacled 41-year-old academic and author of more than a dozen history tomes has been accused by his peers of everything from dubious scholarship, to plagiarism, to outright propaganda.

Mark Solonin, a historian and specialist on World War II, likens Medinsky to the Third Reich's notorious propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, and calls his appointment an insult to Russia's rich cultural heritage.

"They have selected a fairly mediocre propagandist and, what's more, a propagandist of the shameless Goebbels variety," Solonin says. "The fact that they are appointing that kind of propagandist to the post of culture minister in a country that gave the world Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, and Tolstoy -- this, of course, is a certain challenge and a certain signal. What did they want to say with this message?"

Best-Selling Writer

A prolific writer, Medinsky is best-known for his best-selling series "Myths," in which he purports to debunk stereotypes purportedly dreamed up by foreigners to besmirch Russia and its people. One title, for example, is titled: "On Drunkenness, Laziness and Cruelty."

One of the more controversial volumes, "War. Myths of the USSR. 1939-45," has been derided by Aleksei Isayev, a World War II historian, as "agitprop" and "nonsense."

The books have nevertheless been huge hits with the public. In 2009, the daily "Kommersant" reported the series had become the "most widely circulated history book in modern Russia."

They were also well received by the Kremlin. In 2009, Vladislav Surkov, who was then deputy Kremlin chief of staff and the regime's informal ideologist, said of the first volume of "Myths," "The concept of the book is very divisive and contentious, but it is absolutely to the benefit of Russia."

Accusations Of Plagiarism

Prior to his appointment as culture minister, Medinsky was last in the spotlight in January, when a group of historians accused him of plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation. One Russian history website has collated 16 paragraphs and stretches of text from his paper that strongly resemble extracts by other historians. 

Medinsky denies the allegations. But historian Lev Usyskin nevertheless says the plagiarism charges should disqualify him from serving as culture minister.

"A person in that kind of position must meet certain moral standards. And we all know what kind of standards Vladimir Rostislavovich Medinsky conforms to. We know about his doctoral dissertation in which they discovered a large portion of plagiarism," Usyskin says.

"The bits that weren't plagiarized did not conform to the slightest academic rigor. This is actually a fraudulent scientific degree. The doctor himself knows this perfectly well -- this is a person who is not embarrassed to stand before the world as a fraudster," he adds. "His morals are clear."

In the late 1980s, Medinsky studied English and journalism at the prestigious Moscow State Institution of International Relations and worked in the press office of the Russian Embassy in Washington in 1991-92.

A noted scholar of the Russian intelligence services, Amy Knight, wrote in "The New York Review of Books" that these two facts "[raise] the possibility that he was on the foreign intelligence rather than the diplomatic track. Journalism has long been a cover for spying among Russians."

After the Soviet breakup, Medinsky returned to Moscow and, at the age of 22, was named head of the Russian branch of the Ya Corporation, a public-relations firm. In 1998, he took a job in the press office of the tax police.

In the 1999 State Duma elections, he worked as campaign manager for the Fatherland-All Russia party, which eventually merged with United Russia. He served two terms in the State Duma and in 2010 then-President Dmitry Medvedev named him to the Presidential Commission Against the Falsification of History.

Medinsky failed in his attempt to win a third term in the Duma in the December 2011 elections.

Why Medinsky?

Analysts are divided, and puzzled, over the motivations behind such a controversial appointment.

Sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a member of United Russia and expert on political elites, says she knows the reason Medinsky was appointed but "cannot tell the press."

Political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov of the Petersburg Politics Foundation notes that United Russia promised its leading members ministerial positions. He also suggests that Surkov, now the government's chief of staff, has close ties to Medinsky and could be behind the appointment.

Perhaps the simplest explanation is given by Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Moscow-based Panorama think tank. The Kremlin, he suggests, simply couldn't find anybody else.

"It's not the kind of position that people fight for. It's not easy to find a person for this post," Pribylovsky says. "Perhaps there was a competition between fools and they simply chose the most patriotic one."

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

Tom Balmforth

Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics.


This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 03, 2012 12:57
Nice report and good snapshot of this smarmy faux-academic. Why even create a 'culture-minister' position? Like Dmitry Rogozin, Medinsky strikes me as someone who uses/abuses history to further his own career and reputation. My guess is that he is much less concerned with restoring Russia’s historical greatness than with getting his narrow little snout into the bureaucratic trough. Another bad sign.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
June 03, 2012 15:54
one just has to see who went on to slander and libel Medinsky - RFE/RL, and specimen like Pavlovsky and his likes. All that means one thing: Medinsky is a cool guy and his appointment is to the benefit of Russia and to the detriment of Axis of Evil - US government+Israel+Saudi Arabia+Pakistan.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 03, 2012 18:59
He is not a swarthy faux-academic. In fact, he appears to be a pale-looking European.
In Response

by: Frank
June 03, 2012 19:26
If anything, a "faux" review without clear documentation Ray.

"Who is Tom Balmorth?" makes for an an otherwise pertinent subject.

A continuing "bad sign" is how anti-Russian prejudices get downplayed at RFE/RL and some other fairly major Western outlets.

Medinsky should issue a direct reply to the recent pieces levied against him. Don't be surprised to find elements of disinformation concerning the coverage of him. Regardless, it's no excuse to cover-up the ongoing imperfections in Western mass media ana academia.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 03, 2012 20:05
Frank, Eugenio, Jack,

I couldn’t find a good Russian definition for the word ‘smarmy.’ For those non-English speakers, it means ‘hypocritically, complacently, or effusively earnest; unctuous.’ It’s close to “podletz,’ but has some ‘eleiny’ mixed in. If your language skills are good enough, watch the short video below, for a better description of your hero.
In Response

by: Frank
June 04, 2012 16:02
Hypocrisy galore Ray, given how the US government formally approved the bigoted Captive Nation Committee's agenda for the officially implemented American holiday known as Captive Nations Week - which recognized every Communist country as captive with the exception of Russia - while portraying Russia/Russians as exploiting others.

Substitute Russians for some other group and there will be all kinds of claims of bigotry.

People like John McCain lean in the direction of such CRAP.

Likewise, some see the La Russophobe site (promoted by Brian Whitmore among others) as some kind of great sarcasm. A different tune would be evident if it was against some other groups.
In Response

by: Frank
June 04, 2012 16:55
Ray, what's your point on that video you linked?

That piece was done after the Russian presidential election. In it, he comments on the political opposition following something along the lines of the so-called "Orange Revolution." He indicates that they've become better organized, without emphasizing any foreign involvement. His most provocatively stated point is his opinion that the Russian presidential election is more democratic than the American variant - by noting the issue of how the Electoral College can nullify the popular vote and the potential/claims of voting irregularities in the US.

In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 05, 2012 02:02
Frank, Are you Russian? If so, then I apologize for offending your sensibilities. If you are not Russian, I don’t understand how you can defend this tool. I don’t have a dog in this fight, and if the Russians want to appoint this ‘lickspittle’ (thanks Vakhtang) to represent their culture, go for it. The problem is that most Russians I listen to are embarrassed to have this charlatan, this total suck-up, this party hack representing their country. I won’t try to defend American politics, but even with its many faults, the US form of government has proven to be more just and fair than the Russian version. The appointment of Mr. Medinsky as culture minister is 100% proof of this assertion.
In Response

by: Frank
June 05, 2012 06:24

You linked a You Tube video of Medinsky in a way to suggest something negative of him.

That video has NOTHING fitting the image you claim.

I know that many Russians and a good number of non-Russians oppose the kind of negatively inaccurate characterizations of Russia/Russians that have been prevalent in elements of Western mass media academia and body politic.

The criticism of Medinsky appears motivated in part by those favoring the negatively inaccurate characterizations of Russia/Russians.

As for Medinsky's personal faults, please be specific, as opposed to not giving specfic quotes, inclusive of when and where he supposedly stated certain remarks. How would you like getting negatively misrepresented?

Saying that you know Russians who oppose Medinsky isn't by default convincing. I know people of other nationalities who readily crap on their country of origin.

In Response

by: Frank
June 05, 2012 07:22
An English language one on one with Medinsky:

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
June 04, 2012 05:40
Appointment of Mr. Medinsky as Minister of Culture of Russia- is a shame..
This man is has no relation to the culture.
He is a forger and a liar, and said only that Mr. Putin wants to hear.
Putin gave him this position, because Mr. Medinsky is lickspittle.
I once tried to debate with him on the аbkhaz bandits and murderers and Mr.Medinsky realizing that Putin was on the side of the murderers started to justify crimes of abkhazian looters.

Thus, Mr.Medinsky supports racism, apartheid and slave trade

Congratulations to all Russians!!

Your Minister of Culture is a racist, a liar, a forger and nothingness....
In Response

by: Jack from: US
June 04, 2012 12:06
Vakhtang is a NATO minion
In Response

by: Frank
June 04, 2012 17:37
Care to provide specifics on your claims, which are likely bogus (at least most of them)?
In Response

by: Frank
June 05, 2012 03:56
My last comment above is addressed to Vakhtang.

Jack, it's clear why Medinsky is being negatively singled out with hack attacks in Russia Profile (Peleschuk), The National Interest (A. Cohen) and the above piece by someone who used to be with Russia Profile.
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
June 05, 2012 04:54
Hi Frank!!
Putin did not discover America-the appointment of loyal people, this is not his invention...another thing is that he showed that he needs loyal people to stay in turns out that he does not care about Russian culture in order to preserve his position.
Minister of Culture of Russia should be a person who comes into contact with this culture...
what relation has to it this Mr.Medinsky?

Golikovа- former Minister of Health said:"We all officials,where we designate, there we will be work..."
Cook went to treat people,doctor went to swing a sledgehammer..
Putin thinks only of preserving of power.
He is splitter....
appointment to this position Mr.Medinsky, this is a spit on the citizens of the country...
In Response

by: Frank
June 05, 2012 20:45

At the very worst, Medinsky appears like he might be a crony appointment, inclusive of someone arguably not best qualified for the job in question.

Welcome to the way of the world, whether in Russia or the US.

Meantime, the criticism (hack attacks) against him at Russia Profile (Peleschuk), The National Interest (A. Cohen) and RFE/RL (Balmforth) lack detail, while showing a lack of sympathy to those who're against the anti-Russian biases out there.

In Response

by: Tonya from: Moscow,Russia
June 13, 2012 11:03
Hahahahahahhaah.Dear Vakhtang ,shut your mouth!You know nothing about this man!This is great politician......
He doesn't falsify history!

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 04, 2012 13:32
A good question in relation to this article would be: who give a ... about ministers of culture at a time when the global financial system is going down the drain?

by: Jack from: US
June 04, 2012 15:09
As any totalitarian state, US government maintains its own mythology, ranging from fairy tales about Civil War causes to semi-god-like saints of Martin Luter King and Ronald Reagan. Pretty much like Soviet Union had its own set of saints - Lenin and Marx. Hopefully Medinsky will spent some time and explain to Russian people the true nature of US political system

by: john from: canada
June 04, 2012 21:06
Putin as plagiarist? "That doesn't mean necessarily that Putin is a plagiarist himself. It is possible that he purchased his dissertation -- a not uncommon practice among Soviet-era officials -- and didn't review it very closely."

For Medinsky, might be that his appointment is part of an emerging initiative in Russia to reconstruct their history and political trajectory towards a paradigm that denigrates Western ideals of democracy, multi-ethnicity, rule of law, gender rights, human rights and liberalism (ohh...those liberasts!), while privileging an emerging Russo-centric world view that ignores or penalizes such Western values when they conflict with the new Russo-centric hegemony. For example, Alexander Dugin and his version of "Eurasianism" seems to be gaining currency amongst Russophiles. Dugin's main point appears to be that those Western values are just social constructs that, in a new Eurasia, would be subjugated to values such as national sovereignty.

As the European Court of Human Rights now has 35,000 pending cases against Russia, Dugin's ideas might be appealing? And now that Russia is getting flack from the Baltics, Poland, etc, Medinsky's ideas might also be appealing?
In Response

by: Frank
June 05, 2012 07:05
If I correctly surmise, while leaning in a Eurasian direction, Dugin doesn't rule out close Russia-West ties.

One can find a number of diverse views in Russia - a facet evident in other countries.

At last notice, Dugin isn't in the Russian government involved Valdai Discussion Club, unlike Ariel Cohen.

by: martin dewhirst from: UK
June 05, 2012 19:00
Perhaps one reason why Medinsky got the job is that Putin also wrote (or commissioned) a dissertation which contained a good deal of plagiarism. It's quite common - and not only in Russia - for disreputable people to use research assistants and not to have the time or requisite knowledge to check and correct the results. But to claim that Putin and Medinsky belong to the Russian 'elite' would be tantamount to an attack on Russian culture in general.
In Response

by: Frank
June 05, 2012 20:32
Prominent American media elites include people like Limbaugh and Hannity with no college degrees.

American based academia includes people with advanced degrees who make historically inaccurate comments.

Whether in America, Russia or elsewhere, some so-so in ability individuals get promoted over others more qualified.

In Russia, Pavlovsky and Markov don't always come across as being erudite. From a pro-Russian position, there's room to be critical of RT. You'll be hard pressed to find such criticism featured in Western mass media.

by: Baltic.
June 06, 2012 20:44
This is highly offensive for someone from the Baltic states. He is trying to deny part of history and the fact, that Russia occupied our country and thanks to the leaders of PSRS many innocent people died. The same for Germany, but i`d say that Russia did more evil atleast to the Baltic states.
P.s sorry for my bad English.
In Response

by: Frank
June 07, 2012 12:23
Provide direct quotes on what he said, including when and where, in addition to seeking follow-up from him.

To date, a hack job is evident.

In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 09, 2012 09:43
Dear Baltic, ok, you are excused for your bad English, but one can definitely NOT excuse you for calling yourself a "country". Look, a couple of losers who are going bankrupt are not a country - it's just a couple of guys who are waiting to be sent to Siberia forever a couple of years from now (once Greece and Spain have gone bankrupt, the EU and NATO have disintegrated, and your US friends have been defeated in Afghanistan).
So, you can starting packing up your stuff already, fellow - this is going to be a long trip. And in a concentration camp you will for sure have time to tell other inmates about all the crimes that the evil Russians have committed against your unexistent nation. And you will most probably also have time to improve your English there too - Beavuses and Buttheads will most probably be placed in cells neighbouring to yours :-)))).

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