Russians Forced to Seek Asylum as Putin’s Regime Tightens
Published: September 1, 2013 (Issue # 1775)
Police raided the newly opened Museum of Power in St. Petersburg last week and confiscated four paintings by the artist Konstantin Altunin. One of the paintings depicted President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women's undergarments. Another showed the St. Petersburg politician Vitaly Milonov, notorious for his homophobia, against the background of an LGBT rainbow.
Now the paintings are being analyzed to determine if they are "extremist." If they are, the artist could face two years in prison. Altunin decided not to wait for the authorities' conclusions and fled to France.
Altunin did not have much choice because he might face other charges as well. One of his paintings depicted Patriarch Kirill with a bare torso covered with gangster-like tattoos. This could easily be interpreted as violating another new law, "insulting the feelings of religious believers" — which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison. The last painting depicts a young woman performing oral sex. The potential criminality is not in the painting itself, but in its name: "Erotic Dreams of the Deputy Mizulina." With a bit of a stretch, the investigators might deem that "insulting a public official," which carries a maximum sentence of one year of community service.
State Duma Deputy Mizulina initiated the homophobic law banning the dissemination of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to children." Although the law is primarily aimed at the LGBT community, it is written so vaguely that it was also interpreted in society as a ban on information about oral sex. Television talk show host Ksenia Sobchak made a joke about it on Twitter: "What's that about? Does it mean we can't eat an ice-cream cone in public?"
That joke cost Sobchak dearly. A few days after her tweet, she was summoned to an interrogation by the Investigative Committee to determine if she had slandered a deputy. As Sobchak described the interrogation in an interview on state-controlled Rossia 24 television: "I'm embarrassed to comment on my talk with the investigator. It was strange to discuss oral sex with a young man for a half hour."
But she did share one detail of the interrogation on Twitter:
— The main question was "Why do you think that Mizulina is against oral sex?"
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