After a lengthy trial, three years of jail time is what two curators are facing after the Russian Orthodox Church went bananas over a 2007 art show where Christ was depicted in many unorthodox ways. The irony of this is that the show itself was meant as a protest against censorship of the arts.
Artists and rights activists have appealed to the Kremlin to put a stop to the prosecution of Yury Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev, warning of a return to Soviet-era cultural censorship with the rules now dictated by a conservative and politically powerful church.
Even Russia’s culture minister says the two men did nothing to break the law against inciting religious hatred.
But the prosecutors refuse to back down and have demanded a three-year prison sentence when the judge makes her ruling on July 12.
Samodurov sounds like someone who’s worth supporting. He’d taken flak at the museum before for another religiously inspired collection displayed in 2003; it was entitled “Caution: Religion” and cost him approx $3600 in fines after some fine upstanding alter boys vandalized the art. I admire him for not backing down. Other people might have put the kibosh on supporting another religious criticism show, given what happened to after the last one.
members of Narodny Sobor, or People’s Assembly, threatened him [Yerofeyev] in court and told him to remember the fate of “Caution: Religion!” curator Anna Alchuk. After she moved to Berlin, her body was found floating in the Spree River in 2008. German police said Alchuk most likely killed herself, but her husband blamed her death on persecution she faced as a result of the exhibit.
The curators have argued that this latest collection isn’t meant as blasphemy against religion, but to raise awareness of art censorship as every piece in the show had been banned from a museum at some point – usually because of the mocking of religious iconography.
The Russian Orthodox Church continues to stand behind the case against the two curators. “They should be punished,” Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, said this week.
Samodurov said the church was much more involved in this case than it was when charges were brought against him over the 2003 exhibit.
Rights activists see the trial as a sign of the expanding influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“The church has become an instrument of censorship like it was during czarist times,” said Gleb Yakunin, 76, a priest and Soviet-era dissident who has broken with the church. “It wants to control culture.”
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 82, a veteran rights activist who chairs the Moscow Helsinki Group, said she had little hope the defendants would be cleared, given the power of the church.
“I am very afraid for them,” she said. “The church is now younger, more energetic.”
And still powerful in the hearts and minds of believers everywhere — and in political arenas they shouldn’t have influence over in the first place. Open letters have been written by rights activists, popular artists, and anyone else who thinks this outcome is beyond outrageous. Some letters have also been sent directly to the President.
It also must be noted that a major art gallery in Moscow is completely willing to put pieces from this show on display again should these men be convicted. Censorship is the real crime here. I don’t care how large the Church is in Russia. What it is right now is a bully intimidating the entire country. That should not be tolerated or excused by anyone, whether you’re an art lover or just like those painted naked ladies. They should never have domination and veto power over the expression of ideas and feelings be they those of their own followers’ or anybody else in the country or the world.
If they succeed with an art show, then maybe that will give them the incentive to push harder on book publishers, filmmakers, and anyone else who’s critical of what they do and what they’ve become. What they do is shameful; what they’ve become is tyrannical.