Two art curators, Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev, were convicted Monday by a Moscow court of “inciting religious hatred’ for putting on an exhibet called “Forbidden Art” in 2007. A Mickey Mouse Jesus, a Coca Cola Christ with the slogan “this is my blood” and a Christ on the cross with an Order of Lenin medal in place of a head, were among the offending items. The two curators escaped jail sentences but were ordered to pay fines of of 200,000 roubles ($6,477) and 150,000 roubles ($4,858) respectively. They could have faced a maximum 3 year sentence.
Their actual crime was offending the Russian Orthodox Church, resurgent in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union and believed to have a cozy relationship with the current Medvedev/Putin government. Gleb Yakunin, a priest who has severed ties with the church years ago, told CBS 13, “The church has become an instrument of censorship like it was during czarist times. It wants to control culture.”
After the Church pushed for the prosecution, it told the court through Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyanksy, press spokesperson for the bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, that prison sentences would be inappropriate. “Any believer will tell you that they can be convicted for inciting religious strife,” Vigilyansky said, “but I think that their conviction should not lead to imprisonment. I’m asking the authorities to show clemency and leniency toward them.”
The trial brought forth a lot of emotion from both sides. Many of Russia’s leading artists and cultural figures signed an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev asking for the prosecution to be dropped. They said that a guilty verdict will make Russia look bad in the international artistic community and signal a return to bad old Soviet-style cultural censorship at the hands of a powerful right-wing church. At one point, radical artist Pyotr Verzilov burst into the courtroom and released dozens of cockroachs while criticizing authorities.
The defendant Yerofeyev described the court as “an insane asylum” that he has been forced to visit every week. “In front of us opened a pagan wilderness,” he said. “Old women shook with anger, they spat in my face.”
After the verdict, “men clad in black leather jackets raised icons and crosses and two priests looked on in silence as Samodurov and Yerofeyev, a prominent intellectual who once curated Moscow’s state-run Tretyakov Gallery, emerged from the courtroom” (according to a report by Reuters).
Mikhail Nalimov, head of the United Orthodox Youth movement, told reporters in court the curators should be sent into exile.
1) Icon of Mickey Mouse as Jesus. The Disney Corporation, which has it’s animation studios here in Burbank, California, has offered no comment on the use of their iconic mouse in a Russian icon.
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