This week The Economist reported how Russian prosecutors are demanding a three-year jail sentence for the organizers of a contemporary art exhibition. “Forbidden Art” symbolically displayed art banned from previous shows and was shown in March 2007 at the Sakharov Museum and Public Center, a forum for human rights and named after the late Russian physicist and dissident, Andrei Sakharov.
It is evident a broad crackdown on cultural freedom is coming, and hints at an even worse ideological turn, because Russia’s religious orthodoxy feels threatened.
Insiders point to the militant religious radicals who called for the trial and fear that
“once the radicals and fundamentalists smell blood they will become even more aggressive and persistent in their efforts to turn Russia into a version of Ahmadinejad’s Iran. That will, in turn, provoke a powerful reaction from the educated public, especially among young people. To think that this trial would have no impact on the lives of people in Russia is as naïve as it was to imagine seven years ago that the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky would have no impact on business and politics.”
Equating art with a criminal offense is a typical way totalitarian governments begin to shut down a society’s voice. In recent years Russia took steps to improve its image on the world stage. But you don’t have to dig far to get past this false surface.
When it counts, it is clear nothing has changed; it’s all smoke and mirrors. If Russia were truly committed to human rights, it would do so in actions and policy. They say one thing and do another. But no modern nation can exist without creative freedom.
Learn more about the exhibition and trial from Rights in Russia, a website devoted to providing information about human rights in Russia in the English language.