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151 Eagles Nest Rd
Judge Vladimir Proschenko
the Taganskaya Court
I am a journalist living and working in the United States, and for a
number of years I taught journalism at the New York State University, the
largest school of higher education in our state. I also traveled widely
and reported from many countries in the world, publishing my work in
virtually all international magazines. In the course of many years, I came
across a number of dramatic political and societal changes affecting
entire nations, and I am familiar with conflicts and uncertainty resulting
from such changes.
I am also aware that on March 2, 2005, after a long trial in Moscow's
Taganskaya District Court, the prosecutor Kira Gudim asked for sentences
of imprisonment for several people: Yuri Samodurov, the director of the
Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center; Ludmila Vasilovskaya, curator of
the museum; and artist Anna Mikhalchuk. All of them were charged under
Article 282 of the Criminal Code defined as "inciting religious hatred"
and offending the feelings of religious believers, in connection with
their role in organizing the art exhibition "Caution! Religion" at the
Sakharov Center in January 2003. Prosecutor Gudim also asked that
Samodurov and Vasilovskaya should be banned from working in their
profession, and that the paintings from the exhibition be destroyed.
I appreciate deeply held religious convictions of many people and the fact
that some of those who visited the exhibit or heard about it may have been
annoyed or even insulted by its content. But art -- all art, for many
centuries and in many corners of the globe -- always has a potential to
fire strong emotions of all kind, from inspiration to dislike, from
admiration to hatred. It all depends on the sensitivity and ethical,
eastetical and moral view points held by those who view the art. And the
same painting, sculpture, installation, poem, play or a musical
composition may elicit many different reactions from many different
people. No art pleases everybody; it never will.
So it would be a sad day indeed, if in the post Communist democratic
Russia the very freedom of expression which is now constitutionally
protected in your country after many years of dark and stubbornly enforced
oppression, this kind of punishment became an accepted part of civil life.
The importance of this trial lies in the idea that -- if these people are
indeed sentenced and the works of art destroyed -- it would be possible
again to imprison artists for their works, and curators for displaying
them. This is what happened to Sinyavsky and Daniel in the Soviet Union
for their works of fiction, in the old, admittedly very terrible times.
And the prosecutor's demand to destroy the works shown in the exhibit
reminds many people of book burning by Nazis in Hitler's Germany and other
atrocities of censure, control and un-democratic processes.
I do not speak as a citizen of the U.S. but a citizen of the free world of
which Russia is such an important part. And I appeal to you, Sir, to stand
on the side of democratic freedoms and fulfill the letter of the law which
protects free expression --including all art -- in your country.
24th March 2005