Russian artist Pavlensky gives prize money to anti-police guerrillas

Source: AFP / /

Moscow (AFP) – Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who is on trial for torching the door of the security service headquarters, said Friday he would give his prize money from a prestigious award to a group of vigilantes serving life sentences. Pyotr Pavlensky

On Wednesday, the 32-year-old artist was awarded the Vaclav Havel award for creative dissent, previously given to Russia’s punk band Pussy Riot and Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei.

He could not attend the ceremony in Oslo because he is standing trial for setting fire to the door of the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB.

Pavlensky shares the prize — and the 350,000 Norwegian krone ($42,000, 38,000 euros) that come with it — with two other laureates, Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani and Uzbek photojournalist Umida Akhmedova.

Speaking from a courtroom cage ahead of a hearing on his case, Pavlensky said that his chunk of the money would be given to a group of young anti-police vigilantes, nicknamed the Primorye Partisans.

They were convicted in 2014 of murdering two policemen and four civilians, with some getting life in prison while others were sentenced to lengthy terms.

“They deserve (the prize). Vaclav Havel fought for justice and the Primorye Partisans also fought for justice,” Pavlensky said.

He called their actions the “struggle against the silence that has consumed our society.”

Apparently motivated by a grudge against the force, the group carried out attacks against police in the far east in 2010.

The media at the time compared the men to Robin Hood, the legendary English mediaeval outlaw said to have robbed the rich to feed the poor.

Widespread public support for the group underlined what critics say is near-daily abuse of office by the police force, whose officers are regularly accused of violent crime and bribe-taking.

The artist, who is famous for a string of shocking self-mutilation stunts, sees his trial as a farce and has refused to testify in protest.

– ‘Continuation of art’ –

In court, Pavlensky spoke out against the “lawlessness” of the Russian justice and prison system, calling it an “apparatus of destruction” that “wipes people out” before falling silent and refusing to speak again during the hearing.

He faces up to three years in prison on charges of damaging a cultural heritage site.

The defence however argues that the doors are new and have no historic value.

His lawyer Dmitry Dinze said the case is rife with violations.

“Pavlensky must be acquitted,” he said, adding however that the artist himself does not care too much about being behind bars.

“He does not see himself as a victim. The trial is the continuation of his art.”

In November, he poured petrol on a door of the FSB headquarters on Moscow’s Lubyanka square in a performance called “Threat”, which he said was a protest against the security service’s total control and rule of terror.

In previous radical performances to protest against the authorities, he has sewn his lips together, nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square and cut off part of his ear.

This week a 16-year-old Russian teenager was taken to a psychiatric hospital after he stitched his lips shut in Pavlensky’s support.

The Vaclav Havel Center