In Russia, ‘Horde’ Blockbuster Drawing Tatar Objections

CategoryLife of Tatars
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With its $12 million budget, lavish sets, and elaborate costume designs, “The Horde” is expected to draw large crowds of movie fans when it opens in Russia on September 20.

But not everyone is eager to see the film, which depicts life under the Golden Horde, the Mongol khanate that controlled large portions of Eurasia during the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.

The main detractors are expected to be Russia’s nearly 6 million Tatars, who are considered the country’s modern-day descendants of nomads who joined Genghis Khan’s army and eventually helped to create the Golden Horde.

They say the film — which received financial backing from Orthodox Encyclopedia, a company that has backed numerous movies glorifying the Russian Orthodox Church and the lives of its saints — falsely depicts the Golden Horde as an empire dominated by random violence, greed, and ignorance.

The film’s director, Andrei Proshkin, has defended the film as a work of “historic fiction,” saying it was never intended as a true-to-life depiction of the Golden Horde.

Still, he has acknowledged that the movie is likely to displease many viewers in Tatarstan, Russia’s prosperous and predominantly Muslim republic that is home to the majority of the country’s Tatars.

“It’s difficult to predict what kind of reaction there’s going to be [in Tatarstan],” Proshkin says. “Probably, people are going to be offended. But what can you do?”

‘Worst Traditions Of Soviet Films’

Among those offended are the very researchers who were hired to help Proshkin and his screenwriter re-create the sights and sounds of life under the Mongol Empire.

Vadim Rudakov: “The overall impression is of brutal, bloodthirsty, evil-minded, greedy people.”

​​Vadim Rudakov, a researcher specializing in the Golden Horde, was the first consultant hired by the Orthodox Encyclopedia staff in June 2009.

He came away from the first meeting feeling enthusiastic that Russia would “finally” have an accurate depiction of life under its Mongol forbearers, who are widely credited with establishing regional government, a postal system, census-taking, and military organization.

But once the script was developed, Rudakov was crestfallen. Most of his suggestions about historical accuracy had been ignored, he told RFE/RL. And the depiction of the Mongols, he said, was deeply degrading.

“Some of them were given human qualities, but the overall impression is of brutal, bloodthirsty, evil-minded, greedy people. Even the jokes they told were flat and stupid,” Rudakov says. “It was all of the worst traditions of the old Soviet films about Tatar Mongols and nomads.”

Building ‘Stereotypes’

Despite such controversy, “The Horde” has earned early accolades, with Proshkin taking the top directing award at this summer’s Moscow Film Festival and one of his stars, Rosa Khairulina, taking the prize for best actress.

WATCH: The trailer for “The Horde”

And many movie fans are likely to be drawn in by the film’s ambitious set design, which involved the reconstruction of the city of Sarai Batu, the capital of the Golden Horde, outside the Russian city of Astrakhan.

But Rudakov, who originally recommended the Astrakhan site, says the film designers took liberties with the architecture, clothing, and customs of the times, building a “stereotype” of an eastern city but ignoring long-established facts about the Horde.

Rudakov and others say “Horde” is little more than an attempt to denigrate Russia’s Mongol roots and herald the role of Christianity in throwing off the “Mongol yoke.” In the film, the character of Metropolitan Aleksei is credited with protecting Moscow from a Tatar raid in the 14th century.

The release of “The Horde” comes at a time when the Kremlin’s cultural arm is looking increasingly to the movie industry to promote the government’s national aims.

Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky this week said his ministry would provide select funding and tax-free status only for films made on Russian territory and whose content had been vetted by the government.

Most ‘Civilized’ Nation

The movie’s release also comes at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and its Tatar population, which has accused the Kremlin of seeking to restrict minority-language rights and even Muslim worship.

Tatar historian and novelist Wahit Imamov says “The Horde” and earlier movies like “Yaroslav the Wise” are part of the Kremlin’s determination to use culture to promote Russia’s image as a Slavic, Christian nation.

“Russians have always tried to picture themselves as the most ‘civilized’ nation,” Imamov says. “Non-Russians can hardly accept films such as ‘Yaroslav Mudriy’ or any other similar ones. They show Tatars as a wild tribe constantly eating raw meat and moving from one place to another. What is really sad is that Tatars or the Tatarstan government are doing nothing [in terms of making their own movies].”

Written in Prague by Daisy Sindelar based on reporting by Rimma Bikmukhametova in Kazan and with contributions by RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service

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