MOSCOW -- Being chosen for an annual European award that recognizes groundbreaking museums would seem like quite the honor for Russia's Yeltsin Center. But to an acclaimed filmmaker and Kremlin ally, it's the equivalent of getting the Iron Cross from Nazi Germany.
Outspoken film director Nikita Mikhalkov was not impressed when the Yekaterinburg-based Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center claimed this year's Kenneth Hudson Award, awarded by the European Museum Forum.
Mikhalkov, however, said the award handed out earlier this week showed he was correct in his earlier assessment that the museum dedicated to the legacy of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president, distorts facts.
"There can be no better confirmation," he told Govorit Moskva radio on May 7. "I am not surprised and I am reacting to this in exactly the same way as if I had found out that a citizen of the Soviet Union...had received the Iron Cross from the Wehrmacht."
Mikhalkov -- a close Putin ally -- has publicly accused the Yeltsin Center of "destroying the national identity of the young" since it was opened in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin in November 2015.
In December 2016, speaking before the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, he called for the museum's "destructive" program to be corrected.
The Yeltsin Center, according to the European Museum Forum, which operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe, "raises questions and provokes debate around issues such as democracy, freedom, and liberty of speech."
"It is both a memorial to a high-caliber politician and a chronicle of the most dramatic period in living memory, which leads visitors to draw their own conclusions on Russian history," the forum said on May 6.
The Hudson prize is awarded annually to museums in recognition of the "most unusual and daring achievement that challenges common perceptions of the role of museums in society."
Mikhalkov's comments are in keeping with the prevailing pro-Putin narrative that sees Yeltsin's rule as a calamitous time for Russia.
After the Soviet breakup, Yeltsin presided over political liberalization, but also deep social upheaval, a wave of criminality, and economic crisis. The negative perception of this period has served as one of the wellsprings of support for Putin, under whom living standards rose with the boom in the price of oil.
On May 7, the Yeltsin Center in a statement offered its "apologies to our European colleagues who were publicly insulted and humiliated by a person with a passport of our country."
Aleksandr Drozdev, the executive director of the Yeltsin Center, noted in comments to RFE/RL's Russian Service that in the 1990s Mikhalkov was himself close to Yeltsin.
"We have in the museum archive in Yekaterinburg weighty material with his correspondence with the presidential administration and personally with Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin. So he really can't complain about those years!"
Noting Mikhalkov's current "anti-Westernism" and "anti-Americanism," Drozdev mused how the public should relate to Mikhalkov’s Oscar, which he won for his 1994 film Burnt By The Sun about Stalin-era repressions.