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27 May, 2020 18:12

'Cancel Culture' reaches Russia: Legacy of Cheburaska author under threat after daughter's accusations of violence & abuse

'Cancel Culture' reaches Russia: Legacy of Cheburaska author under threat after daughter's accusations of violence & abuse

“A domestic tyrant.” That's how Tatyana Uspenskaya describes her late father Eduard, best known as the creator of Cheburashka. She wants his name removed from a children's literature prize, and the row has Russians enthralled.

It raises questions about how a society should treat a cultural giant, once their legacy has been tarnished by accusations of private transgressions. The story has parallels with Western battles over the music of Michael Jackson, the comedy of Louis CK, and the films of Woody Allen.

In an open letter, Uspenskaya, accuses her father of committing domestic violence throughout his adult life. Uspensky, who died in 2018, was a renowned Russian children's author, and was recently honored by having the 'Big Fairytale' prize for children's literature named after him. Uspenskaya wrote to the creators of the award, the Russian State Children's Library, asking them to remove her father's name from the prize. So far, they have refused.

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For those who grew up in the USSR and later almost all Russians, the work of Eduard Uspensky is synonymous with childhood. The prolific author and poet created the characters Cheburashka and Gena the Crocodile, both of whom have been on Soviet and Russian screens for five decades. He also founded the long-running TV program Good Night, Little Ones, a bed-time show for kids, which has been continuously broadcast on television since 1964. There are barely any Russians alive who haven't been exposed to his work, as either children or parents.

Uspensky's fame meant that he enjoyed almost universal admiration, and the latest accusations come as a great shock to many.


“I think that a person who has a state prize named after them should be, first of all, kind and moral,” Uspenskaya wrote. “My father was a very cruel person who committed domestic violence throughout his life; this was his system of relationships in the family.”

According to the writer's daughter, Uspensky committed “physical, psychological, emotional violence” against her, her mother (his then wife), his grandchildren, and his children from a different wife.

“I believe that the name of a person who has practiced violence in his family for many years, including against children, should not be awarded a prize in such a humanistic field as children's literature,” she wrote.

In a follow-up interview with sobesednik.ru, the website which originally published the letter, Uspenskaya called her father a “domestic tyrant” and asked, “So, it turns out that any person who has reached a high social status can do anything?”

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The accusations are not the first to taint Uspenky's character. In 2018, his third wife, Eleonora Filina, accused him of cheating and “tyranny.” Uspensky has also come under criticism for his connection to Viktor Stolbun, the notorious leader of a 1970s commune.

The relationship between Uspenskaya and her father was never repaired, and after his death in 2018 she did not attend his funeral, calling him an “evil man.”

Despite multiple allegations, not everyone believes them. The late writer received support from fellow children's entertainment figure Yuri Entin, co-screenwriter of the popular movie “The Bremen Town Musicians.” According to Entin, the words of Uspenskaya amount to “slander.”

Speaking to the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, Entin explained that he knew Uspensky “for many years.” According to Entin, “there was no tyranny, he just had a family in which souls did not agree.”

The response on social media has been divided, with some Twitter users suggesting that Uspensky’s personal life is irrelevant. "The prize is literary, not Father of the Year," one user wrote.

Other users showed support for Tatyana Uspenskaya. "Maybe people will begin to think that not only public affairs are important, but also behavior in general, and in the home," another user wrote.

Despite the accusations, the Russian State Children's Library is refusing to back down. Speaking to the Federal News Agency, the library's director Maria Vedenyapina explained that the decision to honor Uspensky is solely due to his work.

"When it comes to the literary prize, we do not consider personal qualities," she explained. According to Vedenyapina, the library is only taking into consideration the contribution that he made to Russian children's literature.

"Over the past 50 years he has been the main storyteller, the heroes of these tales are still with us."

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