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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: March 16, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Orthodox Extremist Arrested for Rampage at Manezh Sculpture Exhibit Deemed 'Sacrilegious'
6 years
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Russian Human Rights Lawyer Kalyapin Assaulted by Masked Men in Grozny
A Russian Orthodox believer who allegedly took part in the destruction of an exhibit of the works of artist Vadim Sidur on August 2015 at the Manezh has been detained, Novaya Gazeta reports, citing TASS.

Ludmila Yesipenko is charged with "deliberate damage to cultural valuables" under the criminal code which is punishable by imprisonment up to three years.

Her lawyer maintains that Yesipenko is not an activist in a radical Orthodox group called Bozhya Volya [God's Will] and was outraged without prompting when she saw the artworks. 

Last August, Dmitry Enteo, the head of Bozhya Volya who is notorious for physically attacking gay pride demonstrators, democratic opposition activists and other liberals, set his sights on an exhibit by the sculptor Sidur which he deemed to be "sacrilegious" and "pornographic" although it had cleared existing state control even to be in the Manezh in the first place.

Using the "theory of applied theology," as Novaya Gazeta's Yan Shenkman has dubbed it, Enteo and his supporters stormed the exhibit and overturned and broke some of the works. Moscow liberals wondered if Enteo would ever be punished for such an outrage, and figured he wouldn't, given the many times that he and his supporters have attacked opposition or human rights activities, including a session on gay rights held at the Sakharov Center.

To their surprise, his follower was arrested, and state experts began to examine the material to see if it "offended the feelings of religious believers," another statute in the Russian criminal code. As Shenkman pointed out, the expert analysis was flawed, as one work, called "Mutations" was criticized for being pornographic, yet it wasn't even in the exhibit that supposedly offended the Russian Orthodox extremists.

Curiously, the Russian "expertise" also cites US law, which isn't relevant in Russia, notably the Miller v State of California decision of 1973 defining obscenity as works "utterly without socially redeeming value" which lack "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value". But some aspects of Miller have been overturned by the 2002 Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition case in which the court held that sexually explicit material appearing to depict minors may be constitutionally-protected expression.

Russian jurists have suffered before from failing to understand the difference between their magisterial civil law system and the US adversarial common law system where dynamic court decisions can reinterpret law based on precedent.

The case is being watched closely to see if the Putin regime will establish any limits on the unofficial movements they tacitly encourage to savage the liberal opposition -- until they don't, when it seems they might come for the Kremlin next.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick