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In ruling on artistic expression, some Russians see signs of broader crackdown

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Exhibit A is a Moscow court’s July 12 decision to fine former museum curators Yury Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev over “Forbidden Art,” a 2007 art exhibit. It displayed controversial images of Jesus, including one that replaced his head with Mickey Mouse’s face, and another with the Soviet-era Order of Lenin medal.

Many intellectuals had hoped for an acquittal. “It’s not just a particular art exhibit that was condemned ... but all social criticism as expressed through art,” says Yevgeny Ikhlov of the Moscow-based group For Human Rights. “It says we are not moving toward a normal society, with tolerant attitudes, but in another direction.”

'Inciting hatred'

The defendants were convicted of “inciting hatred” under a tougher and broader version of Western hate-speech laws. Alexander Dugin, one of the leading intellectuals of Russian nationalism, defends the court decision as standing up for Russian values.

“In Russia we consider [religion] a public matter, and take any mockery ... or profane expression as a crime against public opinion,” says Mr. Dugin. “These are our standards, and Samodurov and Yerofeyev are Russians who committed their acts in Russia.”

But Mr. Samodurov, former director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow, says the social atmosphere is deteriorating, while hard-liners in government and the Russian Orthodox Church appear to be gaining.

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