14 February 2012
On 14 February a painting by the artist Aleksandr Savko ‘Sermon on the Mount’ [link added by translator - ed.] from a cycle of works entitled ‘Mickey Mouse’s Travels Through Art History’ has been definitively ruled to be extremist in Russia.
The decision by Kaluga regional court entered into force from the moment it was pronounced, said Damir Gainutdinov, a lawyer with Agora representing the artist.
On 14 February the court announced the reasoning behind its decision to dismiss the appeal by Aleksandr Savko against the ruling of Zhukovsky district court in the town of Tarusa, Open Information Agency reports. While the decision of the court of first instance had found Savko’s work of art to be extremist, the regional court added a new element: ‘The work of art on the website zdravomyslie.ru is extremist material.’ In this way the ruling emphasises that the work of art was disseminated via the Internet. The rest of the ruling by the court of first instance was left without any changes. Savko’s appeal was dismissed.
‘After receiving the ruling today, the Ministry of Justice of Russia will enter the picture into the federal list of extremist materials,’ Agora lawyer Damir Gainutdinov said. ‘From this moment dissemination of the work by Aleksandr Savko will come under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (‘Producing and disseminating extremist materials’). For bloggers and owners of websites this could lead to a fine of up to 3,000 roubles or 15 days in prison, combined with confiscation of the computer. For legal persons, including media, there would be a fine of up to 100,000 roubles and closure for up to 90 days, combined with confiscation of the organization’s computers. People who publish this picture themselves could risk facing criminal charges for extremism (Articles 280, 282 of the Criminal Code of Russia). The Federal Agency for Communications and Information Technology, with the help of the controversial new system for monitoring extremist materials, will independently monitor media for pictures and can punish editorial boards for violations. Despite the fact that under the law liability will start only after Savko’s picture has been entered into the Ministry of Justice’s list of extremist materials, knowing the legal practice and the current situation in the country, unfortunately it is necessary now to recommend that bloggers, owners of websites and media that they remove copies of Savko’s painting published earlier on the Internet in order to avoid problems in the future. For our part we are ready to provide assistance to all those who may encounter problems in this regard and we also declare that an application to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Savko will be submitted in the near future.
In December Leonid Bazhanov, artistic director of the State Centre for Contemporary Art, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Arts, and member of the International Association of Art Critics, and Aleksei Sosna, director of the Zverevsky Centre for Contemporary Art (the Anatoly Zverev Moscow Non-Profit Art Centre) spoke in Savko’s case at the Zhukovsky district court in Tarusa. Bazhanov said that the work by artist Aleksandr Savko did not insult the feelings of believers, its basis was not an icon, but a secular work by a Western-European artist.
‘There was no intention to insult anyone,’ Leonid Bazhanov said. ‘Moreover, this work has been taken out of context. It is part of a series of works that in general are not concerned with religious issues. There is not the necessary evidence of a crime here. The expert assessments that were conducted earlier were not made by specialists in the field of contemporary art.’
‘The charges that have been brought are absolutely absurd,’ said Aleksei Sosna. ‘This work is not directed against Christ, Christianity or Orthodox Christians. On the contrary it is against the dominance of media and media images, through which dangerous substitutes are being introduced, for example Mickey Mouse instead of Christ.
On 18 August Zhukovsky district court in Kaluga region, in the absence of Aleksandr Savko, found the painting in question to be extremist. The Prosecutor’s Office did not conduct any new assessment of the painting by experts, but merely used the materials of the criminal case that had been brought against the organizers of the Moscow exhibition ‘Forbidden Art’. Despite the fact that assessments by the experts had considered the exhibition in general, the court found find that their assessments were sufficient evidence and ruled that one particular painting was extremist in nature. In October, after the intervention of human rights defenders, the same court annulled its own ruling, made in the absence of Aleksandr Savko, and ruled that the case should be considered again.