Russian art curators fined for controversial images of Jesus
Two Russian art curators were found guilty, after a 14 month trial, of violating Russia's tough hate-speech law. Some say the verdict protects religious values, but others decry it as censorship.
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Samodurov was convicted under the same law in 2005 for a controversial display entitled "Caution: Religion," but was sentenced only to pay a fine of about $3,500. At the time, a group of ultrareligious vandals who had triggered the case by defacing the exhibit – by spray-painting the word "Blasphemy!" across some of the works – were released without charge by the court.Skip to next paragraph
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Cat's paws for Orthodox church?
Some analysts see Narodny Sobor and similar groups as cat's paws for forces within the resurgent Russian Orthodox church. In recent years, the church has used its increasingly close relations with the Kremlin to recover much of its Czarist-era property, formerly held by state museums, and has been assuming a more prominent political role as well.
"This trial reflects the growing clericalization of Russian society," says Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent analyst. "The fact is that inside the Church itself there are some very dark forces, who instigated this trial, and even the leaders of the Church are afraid of them."
A spokesman for the Orthodox Church hailed the verdict Monday, although he urged moderation in the punishment of the guilty.
"This is an important precedent, because society has to protect the national and religious sensibilities of its citizens, with the help of the law," Vladimir Vigilansky, head of the press service of the Moscow Patriarchate, told the Monitor. "Everyone must be responsible for their actions and words. But I'm against a prison term; I believe that would be excessive."
Religious intolerance considered a public matter
Iosif Bakshtein, an expert with the official Russian Institute of Cultural Studies, says the verdict threatens to drag Russia back into Soviet-era artistic intolerance.
"This will worsen the situation for all Russian artists," he says. "Artists and exhibition organizers will be fearful and on edge about whatever they do. It reminds of the past times in this country, when art was judged by criteria that had nothing to do with art.... Anybody can be accused."
But Alexander Dugin, a Moscow University professor who is regarded as one of the leading intellectuals of Russian nationalism, says the key issue behind the trial is not about art but Russia's essential differences with the West.
"In the West they take tolerance as the main principle, and see religion as a private matter," Mr. Dugin says. "But in Russia we consider it a public matter, and take any mockery of religion, or profane expression, as a crime against public opinion. These are our Russian standards, and Samodurov and Yerofeyev are Russians who committed their acts in Russia, and have been judged by a Russian court.... I would advise Western public opinion not to try to impose your values on us."
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