By Lyndsey Cole
Russian artist and political activist Pyotr Pavlensky, who was arrested in Moscow on November 9 for setting fire to the door of Russia’s federal security headquarters, has been institutionalized for psychiatric evaluation that could take up to 21 days, according to CBS News. Pavlensky was previously arrested and evaluated in 2014 when he cut off part of his ear while sitting outside of a government psychiatric research center. The stunt was part of a protest Pavlensky called “Segregation,” which was “against the use of forensic psychiatry for politically motivated purposes.”
Pavlensky’s first psychiatric evaluation took place at the Serbsky Center, where, according to The Observer, people who opposed the Soviet regime were regularly diagnosed with psychological disorders due to their views. Analysts fear that this may mean a resurgence of the past. Pavlensky himself believes, “The Investigative Committee wants to demonstrate that I am crazy and to show their own craziness.”
Analysts debate whether Pavlensky’s latest act can be considered art or an act of terrorism. In The Moscow Times, art critic Marat Guelman pointed out some of the symbolism present in Pavlensky’s stunt, Threat: Тhe Burning Doors of Lubyanka.
He said, “The imagery of the doors of Lubyanka as the Gates to Hell, the source of evil, is very strong. The stunt was also a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, who is a product of this building.”
Pavlensky’s actions are often compared to those of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director who was sentenced to 20 years in a maximum security prison in August on a terrorism charge. Though Sentsov says that the charges were false, he and another Ukrainian activist for Crimea, Alexander Kolchenko, were convicted of arson attacks on the Russian political party, United Russia. According to Kyiv Post, Sentsov indicated that the charges were fabricated due to his participation in pro-Ukrainian protests throughout 2013 and 2014.
Amnesty International has said that the trial against Sentsov was illegal. Under international law, the removal of citizens of an occupied territory is prohibited. They maintain that Sentsov and Kolchenko should have been tried under Ukrainian law and should be released or retried in a legal manner.
Since the time of Sentsov’s pro-Ukrainian protests over Crimea, the region has been placed under Russian rule. According to The National Review, conditions there have worsened. While Russia has promised to invest in the area and integrate it fully into Russia, aggression has prompted Western sanctions that have negatively impacted the economy and put progress on hold. Instead, Russia is forced to use money that would otherwise be invested in Russian citizens on Crimea. Government employees are even forced to allocate some of their own earnings to the region.
However, economists have said that the allocation of these funds has not lead to an improvement in Crimea, but that the area has seen a decline since coming under Russian authority. Tourism, the largest source of revenue in Crimea, has fallen by 50 percent and food prices have risen by over 60 percent in some cases.
There have also been social ramifications. Particularly, the Tartar Muslim population has faced discrimination since becoming Russian citizens. Elvira Ablyalimova, a member of the Muslim population, told Yahoo News, “In every Crimean Tatar family there is a feeling of fear and lack of security while living in our own homeland.”
These events necessitate scrutiny of the Russian regime internationally, giving rise to fear that Soviet methods may be resurfacing and furthering tension between Russia and the Western world.
These events necessitate scrutiny of the Russian regime internationally, giving rise to fear that Soviet methods may be resurfacing and furthering tension between Russia and the West.
According to The Moscow Times, Pavlensky directly asked to be tried on a terrorism charge because of the similarities between his case and Sentsov’s. He believes that the more aggressively the authorities behave, the more they will be living up to their image.
With the declining state of Crimea furthering the artists’ political agendas against the Russian regime, prosecutors are unsure of how to proceed with legal action for fear of “acting according to [Pavlensky’s] scenario.”