How the Russians Continue to Censor Artists

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.

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17 thoughts on “How the Russians Continue to Censor Artists

    • Agreed, it’s why I decided to start this blog. The arts and human rights are interdependent. And I feel artists of all disciplines have a responsibility to act and speak out.

      Thanks for visiting! :)

      • I agree- It’s interesting to think about different social movements, largely in the 20th century, that used different forms of art as their vessels.

    • The verdict is due July 12th. We can only hope that somehow, these supporters of the arts are not jailed. If they are, then it’s up to us to keep the awareness up about the situation and take action as well, through human rights groups, like Amnesty.

      Thanks for your comment.

  1. prosecuting artists was such a stupidity! Thanked God these people who are requesting for trial have survived the 20th century living in a world full or “arts”

  2. Amen. Creativity encompasses far more than the arts. It’s the intellectual process that moves civilization forward. Artists are part of that movement and must be encouraged, not censored.

    • Absolutely. When the artists are working on “all cylinders,” then all aspects of the cultural and social conversation get going. Even if you don’t agree with what a particular artist is doing or saying, s/he has the right to say it.

      Thanks, Renee.

  3. Years ago I traveled in eastern Europe, and was shocked to learn that when artists were creating there were ‘art guards’ looking over their shoulders making sure they were in keeping with what was allowed.

  4. Smoke and mirrors indeed. Beneath the facade of new Russian openness lurks a far older creature concerned primarily with order and control. I think the death of Anna Politkovskaya reflected that well…
    Thanks for an excellent and thoughtful blog.


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