[Paleopsych] NYT: Russia Fines Museum Aides for Art Said to Ridicule Religion
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Tue Mar 29 19:41:53 UTC 2005
The New York Times > International > Europe > Russia Fines Museum Aides
for Art Said to Ridicule Religion
March 29, 2005
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
MOSCOW, March 28 - A Russian court on Monday convicted a museum
director and a curator of inciting religious hatred with an exhibition
of paintings and sculptures that, to many, ridiculed the Russian
In a criminal case that tested the boundaries of artistic expression
in Russia, the court ruled that the exhibition at the Andrei Sakharov
Museum was "openly insulting and blasphemous." It rejected the
prosecutor's appeal to sentence the two defendants to prison, however,
and instead fined them the equivalent of $3,600 each.
The case against the exhibition, titled "Caution! Religion," has
deeply divided Russia's religious and artistic groups ever since it
opened briefly in January 2003, provoking alternate charges of
censorship and animosity toward religious believers. Monday's verdict
satisfied neither side entirely.
Yuri V. Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum, which is named for
the late Soviet dissident and human-rights advocate, said he was
relieved by the nature of the punishment, though not by the court's
ruling. He said he had gone to court with his prescription medicines,
assuming that he would immediately be imprisoned.
Still, he said, the court's verdict asserted the state's power to
dictate the limits of artistic expression. "In essence," he said in a
telephone interview, "the court declared a certain kind of art
Aleksandr V. Chuyev, a member of the lower house of Parliament who
played a role in pressing prosecutors to bring criminal charges
against the museum, agreed that the verdict would set a precedent, but
one he considered healthy.
He said the case had established the legal foundation for prosecutions
relating to other exhibitions, as well as pornography, films and other
works that offend the faithful. He cited a recent exhibition by an
artists' collective called Russia 2, which addressed similar themes at
the First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art last month and also
prompted calls from Orthodox leaders for criminal prosecution.
"The people and the authorities now understand that religion and the
feelings of believers should not be touched on," Mr. Chuyev said in a
telephone interview. "They should understand that their rights end
where the other person's begin."
The exhibition had been open only four days before six men from an
Orthodox church in Moscow ransacked the museum, damaging or destroying
many of the 45 works on display. Criminal charges against four of the
men were dropped, while two others were acquitted last year in a trial
that led to the new charges against Mr. Samodurov; the museum's
curator, Lyudmila V. Vasilovskaya, who was also convicted and fined on
Monday; and one of the artists, Anna Mikhalchuk.
Ms. Mikhalchuk, who exhibits under the name Alchuk, was acquitted
Monday. She said the verdict in effect erased the separation of church
and state in today's Russia. "I am afraid the formulation of the
court's ruling will be used as a precedent for the authorities," she
said. "It practically crosses out Russia on the list of secular
The works addressed spiritual and political aspects of the Orthodox
Church, whose influence over politics, if not society generally, has
grown since the Soviet Union collapsed.
One sculpture depicted a church made of vodka bottles, a biting
allusion to the tax exemption the church received in the 1990's to
sell alcohol. A poster by Aleksandr Kosolapov, a Russian-born American
artist whose work often satirizes state symbols, depicted Jesus on a
Coca-Cola advertisement. "This is my blood," it said in English. The
court refused a request by prosecutors to destroy the artworks,
ordering that they be returned to the artists who created them.
The Rev. Aleksandr Shargunov, a priest from the church, St. Nikolai in
Pyzhi, whose parishioners attacked the exhibition, derided the fines
as too lenient. He described the exhibition as a deliberate and
hostile provocation and called for more stringent laws against
desecration of icons and other sacred symbols.
"The prophecies say that once God is insulted, expect trouble," he
said. "And this is what happened."
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