A raid by Russian Orthodox vigilantes on “blasphemous” artworks in central Moscow has highlighted the influence of traditional, ultra-conservative values in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The Orthodox Church has long had close links to the Kremlin. And during Russia’s stand-off with the West over Ukraine that relationship has only grown stronger.
On 14 August a radical group called God’s Will raided an exhibition of Soviet-era underground art at the Manezh hall, near the Kremlin.
They especially objected to avant-garde depictions of Jesus Christ and Orthodox saints – a video posted online showed them throwing exhibits onto the floor and shouting “You can’t offend Christ like that!”
Some compared that with the destruction of ancient statues by Islamist militants, but some also accused the government of deliberately creating an atmosphere of impunity for Orthodox extremists such as God’s Will leader Dmitry Enteo.
“Unless the state immediately isolates him, this will mean either that the sate itself is criminal and shares his criminal beliefs, or that there is no state any more,” wrote independent journalist Viktor Shenderovich.
The head of Russia’s world-famous Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, deplored the attack, saying “our society is sick”.
Dmitry Enteo was released after questioning.
In 2012 the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church jointly condemned the punk band Pussy Riot for their “punk prayer” inside Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral, in which they crudely mocked Church support for Mr Putin. Three of the participants were each sentenced to two years in jail.
Many other groups in Russia have joined the conservative chorus led by government and Church figures. Some of the most vocal are affiliated with the traditional Cossack movement.
In 2014, a group of Cossacks whipped Pussy Riot members as they were about to perform another song critical of Mr Putin.
Hundreds of Cossack militants from Russia are also fighting for the rebels against Ukrainian government troops and volunteers in eastern Ukraine.
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