The television station posed a question to their viewers, “Would it have made sense to give up Leningrad to save hundreds of thousands of lives?”, Bloomberg reports.
January 27th marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the siege of Leningrad. The blockade that was set up by the Axis forces lasted 872 days. This blockade was to cut off the supply lines into the Soviet Union’s second city. Here, because of the blockade, hundreds of thousands of people starved to death. The city held on even as the German’s marched on Moscow and then flooded southern Russia. The composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the acclaimed Seventh Symphony in the city and it was performed on 1942 by musicians who lived on a meager 4 ounces of brown bread a day.
Of all days, TVRain decided that day was an appropriate time to ask the question. The channel could not anticipate the reaction they received.
Loyal patriots used every social media outlet they could in order to display their anger toward the channel who boasts to garner 8 million viewers per month on cable and 1.5 million from the internet. “A good thing my mother cannot see this,” wrote one. “Would it make sense to hand over TVRain to normal people?” and “Have they gone nuts over there?” were reactions many people shared.
“I do not even know what to call these people,” state radio host Armen Gasparyan tweeted, referring to the management of TVRain. Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky replied to the tweet by writing, in capital letters, “THEY ARE NOT PEOPLE.”
The television channel has a liberal slant and they are the only broadcast outlet for news that the state-controlled national networks refuse to cover. They also run interviews with personalities that are banned on state television.
The channel responded to the uproar by removing the poll from their website and issuing apologies. Ilya Klishin, the site’s editor, said the poll was a mistake made by the producer and the social networks editor.
Too little, too late…
The parties in the Russian parliament made a point of condemning the channel. “Such actions should be punished as crimes aimed at exonerating Nazism,” said Irina Yarovaya of the ruling United Russia party.
By this time, it was clear that friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin had found a pretext to end the channel. “It is obvious to us that a campaign has been unleashed against us,” wrote TVRain editor Mikhail Zygar. The poll “did not aim to insult anyone.”
Yuri Pripachkin is the head of the Russian Cable Television Association and he suggested that TVRain be taken off the networks. He then later clarified that the decision is to fall with the individual cable providers. In the meantime, Russian broadcasting regulator is considering to issue a formal complaint against the channel which could result in official sanctions.
TVRain’s owner and chief executive, Natalia Sindeeva, was horrified. “I did not go to work today and I am crying,” she wrote on Facebook. “I feel very bad for all of us, for myself, my family. For those who are trying to get something done in a country that runs a steamroller over the smallest sprouts of common sense and conscience.”
Sindeeva does have some friends out there. Social networks full of liberals pointed out that the website of the state television’s main news program, Vesti, published a quote from Josef Goebbels under the heading “Great People’s Quotes about Lenin.” The television company for the state, VGTRK, quickly removed the offensive quote from their site and social networks account. The company issued an apology on their Facebook page and stated the entire social media team had been fired as their punishment.
To call Goebbels a great man is a more serious problem than questioning the decision of Josef Stalin to defend Leningrad. Either situation, they touch on the sensibilities of the nation that views the victory of WWII as one of their greatest achievements. To underestimate the power that the deep-rooted feelings that have repercussions that range from the dismissal of ignorant state TV nobodies to the possible closure of the only television channel that would dare to defy the Kremlin. As fake as much of the official outrage may be, the memory of WWII is much more sacred to Russians than any form of religion. To mess with it is no less dangerous than dancing in a church was for the group Pussy Riot.