This past year, I reported an opera being shut down after an Orthodox priest, who never bothered to watch it, complained. Then there was the Orthodox Jewish activist Dmitry Enteo and crew, who broke into a Moscow art exhibit they found blasphemous and caused $15,000 worth of damage.
The Moscow Times has a recent piece about this mob of religious thugs.
Visitors to the exhibit attempted to protect the works from the activists. One of the visitors, Lyudmila Dyagileva, called the activists "fanatics and extremists whose actions have nothing to do with faith and Christianity" in an interview with The Moscow Times.Indeed the head of the presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, drew a comparison between Enteo's group and ISIS, when it came to wholesale destruction of culture.
"If they get away with it, it will send a message that you can do anything you want. It is a signal that you can destroy everything if the authorities do nothing," she said.
Enteo was detained briefly by the police on Friday before being promptly released the same evening.
Well, on Wednesday, a century old St. Petersburg facade of the mythical devil Mephistopheles was dismantled in plain daylight and chucked into a garbage by a religiously motivated group posing as construction workers.
Local news outlets and social media users reported that the relief was removed from the building without explanation on Wednesday. According to one Facebook user, historian Dmitry Bratkin, the house was designed by 19th and early 20th century architect Alexander Lishnevsky.They they stuck it in the back of their truck and drove away. It was found in a dumpster not long afterward.
"Naturally, the monument was under protection," Bratkin said. "Or had been. Fifteen minutes ago, Mephistopheles was knocked off the facade."
One resident of the building, Kirill Alexeyev, told independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta that "workers showed up at 10 in the morning, did not introduce themselves, and did not say who had sent them."
Instead, the workers asked the building's residents to move their cars away from the building to avoid being damaged by falling plaster, and then proceeded with the removal of Mephistopheles, Alexeyev said.
When asked, the workers said that the facade was dilapidated and that they would construct a new one in plaster - these were all apparently lies. No government agency nor the construction firm of a new Orthodox Russian church directly facing the facade claims to know anything about this.
What? Did I say this facade happens to face a new church? Why yes I did. In fact, the crucifix had just been erected less than a week before the devil statue was busted up.
"A couple of days ago, a cross was placed on the roof of the church that is under construction across [the building]," Bratkin wrote on his Facebook page. "Yesterday, some sprightly people showed up and took photographs of the facade with the Mephistopheles, and today at 3 in the afternoon, a worker hung down from the roof and — whack, whack, whack."Well, that's not suspicious at all.
Natalya Levina, another local woman, said her neighbors had spotted "people from the church" looking around and inquiring about the "demon," the Metro news agency reported.
A short while after the destruction, one Denis Gorchin, self-described former head of the St. Petersburg Cossack community - although they have disowned him - wrote a letter to a local news site explaining his religious motivations for destroying the statue.
Gorchin, the self-described former leader of the Cossacks, indicated he was motivated by religious reasons, though he insisted the Orthodox Church had no involvement in the attack, Lenta.ru news portal reported, citing a letter it had received from them man.Yes, that's right! The statue had to go because there was a cross being erected! Note that this doesn't implicate church members, just this Gorchin guy who did the dirty work so to speak. Still, the Orthodox Russian church said they understood why such an action was done - way to not condemn the criminal act.
However, he added in the letter: "Opposite the church there is a figure of the devil, which prevents the [Orthodox] cross from being placed, and so on," St. Petersburg's Fontanka news agency reported.
"We were outraged by the fact that this horrible legend, this outlandish story, has effectively become an attraction, a draw for tourists, has become a [matter of] pride, and we have open worship of the Satan," the letter was quoted as saying.
St. Petersburg Orthodox leader Father Konstantin "would never have dared. So we dared," the letter said.
But a spokesman for the hugely powerful Russian Orthodox Church said the attack was an understandable reaction.Oddly, several media outlets have blamed this on right-wing or conservative groups, which appears to be nothing more than protecting religion.
"It's possible to understand the culprit. As a believer, he finds images of a demon disgusting," Orthodox Church spokesman Roman Bagdasarov told pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia.
"Mephistopheles embodies evil in this world and this person decided to act, most likely, to kill Evil," he said.
Lishnevsky, the architect, died during World War II after being evacuated to a hospital in Yaroslavl — a historical city 250 kilometers to the northeast of Moscow. Much of his work survived the devastation of the was [sic: war] and the secular policies of the Soviet Union.According to this story, police have identified those responsible for the destruction. Yet, as with Dmitry Enteo, no criminal charges have been laid. It would seem that Lyudmila Dyagileva could be right after all - the message has been sent that it's open season in Russia now for any art which offends anyone's religious sensibilities.
Let the cultural cleansing begin.