A shift in the balance of power at the Kremlin occurred earlier this week, when Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed a new cabinet led by the new Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. Key ministers—including those in finance, foreign affairs, and defense—kept their posts. But a major change took place when it was announced that the current culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, would be replaced by Olga Lyubimova.
The decision to elevate Lyubimova, 39, to the nation’s top culture post was met with immediate criticism. On Wednesday, Ilya Shumanov, of the anti-corruption group Transparency International, tweeted a 2008 blog post by the new minister where she wrote, “I simply can’t stand going to exhibitions, museums, opera.”
Blogging on the online platform LiveJournal, she went on to write about hating ballet and classical music. Additionally, she said, “I’ve been to Paris, but not to the Louvre … I haven’t been on a gondola trip on the Venice canals.”
She continued, “I’ve been to the British Museum, the National Gallery, and a few dozen more European and Russian museums, and reckon I wasted my time there.”
After news of the posts broke yesterday, the entries were quickly deleted. Lyubimova has yet to comment about the blog.
Reacting to the LiveJournal, Shumanov wrote on social media: “Clearly you could have appointed such a person to whatever job, just not to head Russia’s cultural policy.”
The culture minister previously headed the cinematography department in the ministry, serving under Medinsky as he banned films like The Death of Stalin (2017), a British farce in which Russian officials gleefully await the passing of the famed dictator, and required movie theaters in the country to show more Russian films than foreign ones. Although removed from office, Medinsky’s influence remains strong at the Kremlin; he now serves as Putin’s adviser on culture.
Lyubimova is the fourth woman to serve as culture minister and one of only three women in the new government. She is the daughter of Boris Lyubimov, acting president of the Mikhail Shchepkin Higher Theater School, and the great-granddaughter of Vasily Kachalov, a famous Russian actor from the early 20th century.
Lyubimova graduated with a degree in journalism from Moscow State University (MGU), and was also in the theater studies department of the Russian Institute of Theater Arts. In 2001, she became a TV correspondent and produced documentaries about the Russian Orthodox Church.
During her television career she produced documentaries about the Russian Orthodox Church. From 2006 onward, she was in charge of social and media programs on Channel One, Russia’s premiere state-owned TV channel.
Despite her experience with documentaries, according to the BBC, she has previously written that she “can’t watch the vast majority of documentary films” and that she doesn’t “understand a bloody thing about arthouse cinema.”
Some Russian officials have praised Lyubimova’s appointment in spite of all the criticism. On Facebook, Galina Yuzefovich, a book critic, wrote of Lyubimova’s appointment, “You can think whatever you want, but based on my personal experience working with her, I think this is great news. Hurrah!”
Yuzefovich later added: “I’ve realized: you have to live all your life on social media as if one day you could become a minister of culture. Today’s teenagers, take note.”
The popular Russian film critic Anton Dolin also came out in support of the new culture minister. He wrote on Facebook, “I’ve known Olga Lyubimova for quite some time … Today I’m sincerely happy that Russia has as culture minister a young, intelligent, educated, pragmatic woman devoid of fanaticism or cynicism.”
He concluded, “She loves culture, or at least, cinema.”