History

Literature and Films Banned in Soviet “Slavery”

6 June, 2018

On 24 May 2018, online media outlet Georgia and World published an interview with Valeri Kvaratskhelia – an anchor of TV Obiektivi and leader of political party Neutral and Socialist Georgia. He compares the present situation in Georgia negatively to that of the Soviet Union and states that science, art and sport used to flourish in Georgia in Soviet period. The same narrative is voiced by photographer Yuri Mechitov in the 14-20 May issue of newspaper Asaval Dasavali. He observes that Soviet epoch spawned “genius films” and “scientific schools” which would have been impossible in slavery.

Yuri Mechitov: “Georgia, as a country, existed as a Soviet Socialist Republic and that very epoch produced the population of 5.5 million, as well as numerous scientific schools and genius films. If all this was accomplished under slavery, then long live such “slavery”!”

The claim that the Soviet Union should be credited for the achievements in Georgian Art is wrong and aims at stirring Soviet nostalgia. In fact, masterpieces were created in response to the very Soviet rule to unmask its totalitarian system. The masterpieces that are considered genius presently were not recognised under Soviet rule and neither were their authors. Instead, they were banned and persecuted under Soviet regime. Under censorship that lasted almost for 70 years, numerous artists had to pay for their freedom of speech and expression with their lives.

Repressing the Artists

After Joseph Stalin rose to power, in 1930’s, Soviet system started the mass destruction of individuals, including artists that had different opinion. According to the data of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, in 1937-1938, in the period of Great Terror, through Stalin’s Lists that were signed by members of Politburo along with Stalin himself, up to 3,700 persons from Georgia were tried. Of the 3,700 tried, 3,100 individuals were punished with death penalty.

Banned Literature

In 1922, by creating a Censorship Office (Glavlit), the Soviet Union embarked on total control of literature. In 1927-1947 alone, the number of employees of the Censorship Office increased from 86 to 6,453. The censors decided about printing, dissemination and banning both soviet and foreign books.

"
Under the extensive censorship, Soviet citizens were unable to read books that were already classics. For instance, the following books and plays were banned in the Soviet Union:

Banned Films

Similar to soviet cinematography, Georgian films could not escape censorship either. Some of the masterpieces of the Georgian film industry were banned by Soviet censorship due to formalist charges. Some of the banned films were: Nikoloz Shengelaia’s Eliso, Mikheil Kalatozishvili’s Salt for Svaneti, Kote Mikaberidze’s My Grandmother, Mikheil Kalatozishvili’s Nail in the Boot, and Otar Ioseliani’s debut film April, etc.

"
Some of the film directors had to stop making films. Mikheil Kobakhidze – a laureate

of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen – was among such film directors. He was unable to produce a film independently under Soviet regime.

Exemplary punishment was served on Sergei Parajanov too. After having made the film, “The Colour of Pomegranates”, he was accused of homosexuality, sentenced to five years in prison time and later for many years the film director was banned from making films.  

Censorship had not been kind to those compelled to serve propaganda against their will either. Despite the fact that Sergei Eisenstein made the major film on the revolution – Battleship Potemkin – later soviet censors so destroyed his film that viewers could not watch it on the screen. Sequel to the film Ivan the Terrible was banned by the direct order of Stalin. The film was only screened in theatres 5 years after Stalin’s death.

Censorship was strict towards classic Soviet film maker Alexander Dovzhenko too. His film Earth was attacked both by censors, film critics as well as high ranking party officials. The filmmaker was forced to find shelter in Western Europe.


Prepared by Nini Shvelidze
Myth Detector Lab