Russia's Hermitage Museum denounces blasphemy investigation

MOSCOW Mon Dec 10, 2012 4:12pm EST

People launch floating paper lanterns into the sky in front of the Hermitage museum to mark Earth Hour in St. Petersburg March 31, 2012. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

People launch floating paper lanterns into the sky in front of the Hermitage museum to mark Earth Hour in St. Petersburg March 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The head of Russia's renowned Hermitage Museum accused Russian authorities on Monday of fostering "mob rule" in taking up complaints by Russian Orthodox Christians over a British exhibit they said injured religious feelings.

The row coincides with a surge in religious, nationalist sentiment in Russia, with President Vladimir Putin moving closer to the Orthodox Church to consolidate his support after facing the biggest protests since he rose to power nearly 13 years ago.

The display, entitled "The End of Fun" and launched in the St Petersburg museum in October, includes figurines draped with Nazi insignia and a crucified Ronald McDonald, the mascot of the McDonald's fast-food restaurant chain.

It has drawn over 100 complaints and state prosecutors are checking whether it violates a law against incitement to hatred, under which two members of the Pussy Riot punk protest band opposed to President Vladimir Putin were jailed.

"This (investigation) is an attempt to dictate conditions to us by mob rule and we should not allow this," said Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of Hermitage, one of the world's oldest and biggest museums.

Prosecutors acted after receiving complaints from visitors who said the exhibition by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman offended the feelings of Russian Orthodox Christians.

"You can't force a celebrated actor to cancel his show just because someone would come and make a noise ... about someone's feelings," Piotrovsky told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Moscow. "Art has its own language, one needs to understand it. If you don't get it, just step aside."

The Hermitage Museum is housed in buildings including the Winter Palace, a former residence of the Russian emperors, and is now owned by the state.

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The Hermitage website describes the centerpiece of the Chapman brothers' display as a "three-dimensional collage consisting of miniature plastic figures ... arranged in such a way that it resembles a (Nazi) swastika from above".

"In the display cases, a single landscape of hell unfolds in which the figures ceaselessly kill one another with diabolical cruelty ... By placing cruelty in seal museum display cases or dioramas, the artists strive to cure society of that cruelty."

The museum's website said the exhibit belonged to a "Disasters of War" genre and that it was not suitable for viewing by anyone younger than 18.

Traditional religious conservatism has revived markedly in public since Pussy Riot members burst into a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow in February and, dressed in short dresses and colorful ski masks, performed a protest song against Putin's close ties with the church.

The two-year prison sentences handed down to two members of the all-women collective were criticized in the West, but the protest outraged many Russian Orthodox Christians and stirred a debate over the state of society in Russia.

Since the Pussy Riot trial this summer, Russian lawmakers allied to Putin have called for the introduction of jail sentences for people found guilty of offending religious feelings.

Critics say the law would blur the line between the state and the church. They regard the move as part of what they see as a clampdown on dissent and civil liberties since Putin began a new six-year term in May. He denies launching a crackdown.

Among other prominent instances of conservative Russians trying to protect their beliefs in court, American pop singer Madonna was sued by a group of Russians for spreading gay "propaganda" when she gave a concert in St Petersburg in August. The case was eventually thrown out.

The launch of patrols in Moscow by cossacks has also been widely interpreted as a result of Putin's calls for patriotism and his promotion of Russian traditions.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (3)
Reuters1945 wrote:
There will always be human beings who attempt to foist and even enforce, their likes and dislikes on other people.

Imagine if no one was allowed to listen to Jazz or Rock and Roll because some individuals hate those music forms.

The solution is so simple even a child knows the answer. If you do not care for a certain type of music- then don’t listen to it.

And if you do not care for a certain type of visual Artistic expression, then don’t look at it.

It is not as if the Hemitage placed this exhibit containing Nazi themes in the same gallery as paintings of Christ painted by Rembrandt, Titian and Rubens, so that one was forced to avert his eyes from that which offended his “infinite sensibilities”.

I am amazed and surprised the Director of the Hermitage did not make this clear with a simple statement such as:

“No one is forced or required to visit the new Exhibit from England.
By all means, stay away and allow more room for those who are curious”.

That would apply to the writer of this comment who is strictly interested in Classical Art and the Old Masters. That said, my disinterest and even occasional disgust for what often attempts to pass itself off as Art, does not incline me to wish to stop others from viewing such offensive to some, attempts at self expression.

I would draw the line at a parade of uniformed Nazis marching through a neighborhood filled with Holocaust Survivors on the Sabbath.
But this exhibit can hardly be compared to such an event.

The Director of the Hermitage needs to learn how to deal with the public. He has no reason to feel defensive. The days of “thought police” seem to be getting replaced with “visual Arts police”.

What’s next ? Food tasting police in the local supermarket ?

Dec 10, 2012 12:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
DeanMJackson wrote:
Ladies and gentlemen, recall from your high school history that the Russian Orthodox Church inside the USSR was thoroughly infiltrated by the KGB. The infiltration was so complete that by the 1970s KGB officers posing as priest were listening to confessions!

Well, when the “collapse” of the USSR took place in December 1991, guess what didn’t happen. The Russian Orthodox Church was never cleansed of the Communist agents that controlled it! I bet you never thought about that, did you? Yeah…those Soviet-era Communist agents are still in control of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is proof that the collapse of the USSR was a strategic ruse as warned by KGB defector Major Anatoliy Golitsyn, the only Soviet era defector to still be under protective custody in the West.

Patriarch Alexy II, acknowledged that “compromises” were made with the Soviet government by bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, himself included, and publicly “repented” (note: Alexy II didn’t resign, nor was he forced to resign, which would have happened if the “collapse” of the USSR was real) of these compromises. Yet Patriarch Alexy II remained Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russia until his death in 2008, and no investigations were conducted to ferret out Soviet era Communist agents still inside the Russian Orthodox Church who also “cooperated” with the evil Communist regime that persecuted not just Christians, but all others who weren’t Communist Party members!

Of course, after the “collapse” of the USSR, a de-Communization program would also have been necessary to ferret out Communist agents still in power within the various levels of government, otherwise the “collapse” would be merely a clever Communist ruse. Such a program also never took place!!

Dec 10, 2012 2:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JT18565 wrote:
It does not matter whether the Russian Orthodox Church was cleansed of former
KGB agents or not, because Russian Constitution maintains in article 14 that RF is secular state and in article 29 the Constitution grants the freedom of thought and speech. What matters is who rules the State. Putin himself is former KGB officer and a communist, which is common knowledge in Russia. Another common knowledge in Russia is that in last decades of the USSR many people became members of the party because that was the only way to make career, which makes Putin and his goals even more obscure.
Russia has never had democratic traditions and civil society. This is why declared freedoms have always been subject to interpretation by those who ruled.

Dec 11, 2012 10:53am EST  --  Report as abuse
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