December 18, 2022

Art and Punishment


Art and Punishment
A search report into the artists bearing the name of one Lieutenant Putin. Facebook, Konstantin Shmolov

Back in 1976, two young KGB agents in Leningrad investigated a brazen act of political protest art. One of them went on to become Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Historian Konstantin Sholmov recently found records at the St. Petersburg Museum of Political History showing Putin’s involvement in the investigation and posted them on Facebook.

On August 3, 1976, artists Oleg Volkov and Yuly Rybakov painted the phrase, “You can crucify freedom, but the human soul knows no shackles!” on the walls of Peter and Paul Fortress (a prison in tsarist Russia). It was an act of political protest aimed at bringing attention to the artist Evgeny Rukhin, who they believed to have been murdered by the KGB in a mysterious house fire for his leading role in Soviet non-official art.

KGB agents immediately tried to get rid of the phrase, but to no avail: the Neva rose unusually high, making the walls unapproachable. Scrambling, they covered it with coffin lids from a display at the fortress, unwittingly adding to the artwork’s message.

Rybakov was not aware of Putin’s role until the documents surfaced.

Rybakov and Volkov were sentenced to six and seven years in a penal colony, respectively. Volkov passed away in 2005.

After returning to Leningrad, Rybakov was a co-founder of the first official opposition party in the USSR, Democratic Union, and began participating in human rights groups, where he is still active. In a new interview, he expressed hope that the war in Ukraine will eventually galvanize civil society in Russia, turning the country towards democratization.

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