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‘Persecuted’ Russian artist finds no refuge in France

Russia's Vesti news network reported on how an ultra-liberal Russian artist wound up sharing bunks with Muslim terrorists outside Paris after he had been granted political asylum in France.

Published: July 17, 2018, 9:38 am

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    Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky made headlines with such daring stunts as sewing his lips shut in protest over the arrest of anti-Russian punk band Pussy Riot, cutting off his earlobe with a chef’s knife while sitting naked on the roof of a psychiatric hospital in Moscow to protest against Russian authorities, and nailing his scrotum to Red Square’s cobblestone paving.

    “A naked artist, looking at his testicles nailed to the cobblestone is a metaphor of apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of Russian society,” he said in a press statement.

    Celebrated among liberal intelligentsia at home and abroad, Pavlensky’s last major stunt in Russia – in 2015 – was to set an entrance to the FSB headquarters on fire, an offense for which he was fined.

    He fled to France with his partner and their two children after being accused of sexual assault by a Moscow actress. There he received political asylum, and was feted in Paris as a champion of freedom persecuted by Vladimir Putin.

    The couple from St Petersburg and their two children were granted political asylum in France in May 2017 after fleeing Russia in January of the same year. Both claimed they had been persecuted by Russian authorities. After numerous detentions by Russian law enforcement agencies, Pavlensky was charged by the Russian government with the sexual assault of the actress Anastasia Slonina.

    But a repeat performance of his FSB stunt at an entrance to the Banque de France in Paris landed Pavlensky in one of the worst prisons in Europe.

    He is being kept in France’s Fleury-Mérogis prison complex where jihadists are imprisoned and is being denied visitation rights to friends of the family.

    In an extreme twist of irony, Oksana Shaligyna, the artist’s partner, is alleging that the French government is worse than Putin’s Russia. France has unduly censored Pavlensky’s contact with the outside world to a degree unseen in their native Russia, she says.

    “At the moment there is a blockade of the artist from information,” Shaligyna told art magazine Hyperallergic.

    On October 17 of last year, both Pavlensky and Shaligyna were charged by a Paris judge with damaging property at the risk of endangering others. They were arrested after Pavlensky’s action two nights earlier, “Lighting” during which he set fire to France’s central bank, the Banque de France.

    Pavlensky defended his arson as “artistic expression”. The Banque de France was erected on the grounds formerly occupied by the Bastille, where the French Revolution started. “The Bastille was destroyed by a people in revolution; the people destroyed its symbol of despotism and power,” Pavlensky explained at the time.

    His statement was released via the FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko.

    Hyperallergic contacted France’s Ministry of Culture for commentary on Pavlensky’s case and its implications for issues of freedom of expression in the country, but has received no response.

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