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Pavlensky’s six performances. Getting more dangerous each time

Pyotr Pavlensky stands before the door of the Moscow HQ of the FSB. Photo:
Pavlensky’s six performances. Getting more dangerous each time
Translated by: Alya Shandra

Pyotr Pavlensky is in pre-trial detention for setting the doors of the FSB, Russia’s secret police that became the successor to the KGB, on fire, facing charges for vandalism and up to three years of prison. However, he wants to be charged with terrorism:

“I am flattered by such an article – “for reasons of ideological hatred,” Pavlensky was quoted as saying in court. “I demand that I be suspected of terrorism. I believe that it is in the logic of your system. As long as the demand is not met, I refuse to fulfill all of your court rituals.”

The allusion to the politically motivated case of Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko is clear. Rostov’s military court sentenced the two men on August 25 to 20 and 10 years in prison for “committing an act of terror,” which involved setting fire to the doors of Putin’s United Russia party HQ in Crimea after the peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation.

Previously, Pavlensky had severed his earlobe in support of the kidnapped Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko and created his own Euromaidan in St.Petersburg at the time when protesters were being shot in Kyiv’s streets. We remember them all with the help of the Russian channel TVDozhd.


Pyotr Pavlensky became famous after his first performance in support of the punk-rock group Pussy Riot. He stood for one and a half hours in front of the Kazan cathedral with a poster saying “Pussy Riot’s performance was a remake of Jesus’s famous performance.” In his words, the arrest of the women’s music group which sung “Mother Mary chase Putin away” in Russia’s main orthodox church contradicts fundamental Christian values. Pavlensky was then detained and sent to undergo a psychiatric examination.


Nearly a year later Pavlensky made an artistic protest against Russia’s repressive policies that, in his words, “turn people into gutless and securely guarded cattle, which can only consume, work, and reproduce.” His assistants brought the undressed artist inside a cocoon of barbed wire to the building of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg. He lay there for 20 minutes, then police cut the wire and Pavlensky was led into the building for questioning. In this action the artist protested against the laws aimed at suppressing civic activism, intimidation of the population, steadily growing number of political prisoners, the laws against NGOs, the 18+ laws, censorship laws, activity Russia’s censorship organ, Roskomnadzor, “promotion of homosexuality” laws, and others.

The third event was held in Moscow. On the Day of Police, Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to the pavement on the Red Square. According to Pavlensky, in this way he opposed the arbitrariness of law enforcement. A criminal case under article “Hooliganism” was opened against the artist, but the court refused to hear the case, since the protocol was not written correctly.


In “The Freedom” Pavlensky together with colleagues created their own Euromaidan in the center of St.Petersburg  by building a barricade our of tires and setting it on fire, while beating on metal to recreate the sounds of protest of the protests in Kyiv. The Ukrainian popular uprising, portrayed as a “far-right coup” by Russian state-controlled media, was receiving exceedingly negative coverage in Russia. Pavlensky and colleagues first faced administrative charges, but the court found no corpus delicti. Then a criminal case under the article “Vandalism” was opened against Pavlensky. During his conversations with the investigator, Pavlensky held discussions about art, as a result of which the employee admitted that he too was an artist, retired from law enforcement and wanted to stand up in the Pavlensky’s defense.

During “The Separation” Pavlensky severed his earlobe with a kitchen knife while sitting naked on the roof of the Serbsky Institute of Psychiatry in Moscow, in which Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot kidnapped to Russia and accused of being complicit in the killings of Russian journalists, was forced to undergo an examination. The action, according to the artist, was directed against the use of psychiatry for political purposes. Police removed the artist from the roof and forced him to undergo a psychiatric examination himself. Pavlensky was found to be sane.


Pyotr Pavlensky’s last action, “The threat,” was on 9 November 2015. The artist has set the door of the FSB building in Lubyanka on fire and calmly waited for to be detained by the police. “The threat of imminent reprisal hangs over everyone who is within reach for surveillance devices,” said Pavlensky. At the moment he is in pretrial detention and a suspect in the article “Vandalism.” The following day Pavlensky declared that he wanted his action to be reclassified to terrorism, in solidarity with Oleh Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners sentenced to up to 20 years of jail for the same offense – arson.


Translated by: Alya Shandra
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