By Oksana Chelysheva
Russia’s State Duma will discuss a bill at the end of May 2017 that would seek to “protect high important values” in public, extending to art venues and cultural establishments, including galleries, theatres and museums.
In March 2017, Russia’s Civic Chamber, the country’s consultative civil society body tasked with analysing draft legislation and monitoring government activity, approved a legislation bill entitled “On Protection of High Important Moral Values”. The bill was developed by the body’s commission on Harmonisation of Interethnic and Inter-Religions Relations headed by Pr. Iosif Diskin.
When the bill was presented to the public that month, the full text of the legislation had yet to be made available to the public. The chamber assured the public that the draft law would be available on their website in the beginning of May 2017, though the text has yet to appear.
Therefore, only a glimpse of what will be entailed in the law has been able to be gleaned from video footage of the March 2017 public presentation, as well as independent reporting from various media sources.
Response to activist activity
Some media sources have reported that the bill was initiated in response to a number of scandals in 2016 wherein conservative activists tried to stop or disrupt performances, exhibitions and film screenings, including the cancellation of a musical and the shutting down of a photo exhibition.
In October 2016, rock opera ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was cancelled in the Siberian city of Omsk after Orthodox activists and members of the “Family, Love and Fatherland” activist group wrote to city officials complaining about the musical’s “continuous blasphemy” and “mockery of faith”.
Earlier, in September 2016, the Lumiere Brothers Centre for Photography in Moscow closed down its exhibition of American Jock Sturges’ photography after pro-Kremlin senator Yelena Mizulina called the photos images of child abuse, and an incident where a protester, posing a journalist, sprayed a mixture of urine and acetone at some of the photos.
The entrance to the ‘Jock Sturges: Absence of Shame’ exhibition was also blocked by a group of men in camouflage uniforms from the “Officers of Russia”, a non-governmental organisation made up of veteran and active officers who seek to ensure the “patriotic upbringing of the population”, who called the subject matter child pornography. Russia’s Children’s Rights Ombudswoman Anna Kuznetsova also condemned the show.
Creation of “social spaces”
One of the bill’s main initiatives would be to establish new “social spaces” that would be protected with a special status, which, according to the bill’s lobbyists, would bring down the number of such attacks.
The Public Chamber webpage quotes Diskin himself as stating: “Liability should be extended for offending not only religious feelings, but also other high morale sentiments. Such spaces and their primary status should provide visitors with guarantees that nothing contradictory to the purpose of the space or that would offend visitors will be committed within it”.
Further, according to the limited information available, the bill would envisage administrative accountability for any breach of such rules of conduct in venues such as theatres and museums, as well as at historical monuments and sites of religious worship.
In such cases, visitors should be notified about such rules of conduct with special written notices mounted at entries to venues. These rules of conduct, which are expected to be developed by each cultural or religious venue, would have to be registered by a responsible body.
There is no information on which bodies of power would be given such authority over exhibition halls or theatres.
Further, if made into a federal law, theatres or exhibition halls would face fines if, for instance, they failed to warn a visitor about the controversial character of a piece of art or performance.
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» The Bells of Russia – 31 March 2017
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» Nakanune.ru – 29 March 2017
Law designed to protect “high vales” discussed in the Public Chamber
» Public Chamber of the Russian Federation – 29 March 2017
The concept of the law “On the Protection of Highly Valuable Moral Values”
» Public Chamber of Russian Federation – 29 March 2017
The concept of the law on the protection of moral values
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