By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
June 2, 2009
Despite continued pressure from the authorities, an artists’ hunger strike against the police’s arbitrariness went into its fifth day on Monday. The protesters are demanding the investigation and punishment of those responsible for the May Day mass arrests, when some 300 anarchists, artists and musicians were seized or dispersed by the OMON, preventing them from taking part in an authorized demonstration in St. Petersburg.
Their other demands include launching a federal commission to investigate the activities of the “E” (anti-extremism) Center that is reportedly used to spy on and persecute dissidents and the release of Artyom Loskutov, an artist and activist arrested on drug charges in Novosibirsk last month (the protesters say the drugs were planted).
“We’ll be holding a hunger strike until at least one of these demands is met,” Anastasia Nekoza, one of the protesters, said.
“We appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office, the GUVD (the Interior Ministry Department) and the Human Rights Commission about the May 1 events a little over a week ago, and we’re expecting that some sort of enquiry will begin. We’re aiming at producing an intensifying effect.”
The group of artists, who have been holding the demo since Thursday, have been staying in a public garden in front of the former Smolny Institute, now City Hall’s residence and painting pictures dealing with the police’s unlawful behavior – a helmet-wearing OMON special-task policeman standing on a pedestal in front of City Hall, currently occupied by the Soviet-era Lenin monument; little children scared by the OMON police or a policeman’s boot ready to trample a colorful beetle.
“The paintings reflect the unlawfulness of both the police and the authorities, including the “E” Department, that society can’t control in any way,” Nekoza said.
On Thursday, the artists came to the site with chains, ready to chain themselves up and thereby complicate any possible arrests, but no attempts to detain them were made.
“We thought we’d get arrested at once, we didn’t really expect it to last this long,” Yevgeny Schyotov, one of the protesters, said, adding that they are considering holding an exhibition of the works painted during the hunger strike.
According to Schyotov, the hunger strike was launched by five artists, but a few more joined as time passed, increasing the number to nine. Schyotov was a co-organizer of the thwarted May Day demo and was one of the first arrested by the OMON.
However, some pressure is being applied, according to Nekoza.
“The FSO (the Federal Protection Service) is putting pressure on the policemen who are on guard here to clear out the park, but the policemen can’t find any lawful grounds to do it,” she said.
“But because they’ve been put under pressure by the FSO, they tell us about it and ask us [to leave.] But, they say, ‘If you obey our demands, it’s good, if not, we can’t do anything.”
Novosibirsk artist Loskutov, who has been one of most prominent participants of the “Monsterations” — colorful May Day events featuring artists and musicians, was arrested on May 14 after receiving calls and invitations for a “conversation” from the “E” Center, according to his artist friend Leonid Gegen, who came to St. Petersburg to join the protest.
“When he was returning home from work, several plain-clothed men came to him and pushed him into a car,” Gegen said.
“He was taken to a nearby courtyard where he was searched and the police said they found 11 grams of marijuana. The most strikingly cynical thing about it is that you need to have over 10 grams to be prosecuted.”
According to Gegen, artists in Leipzig, Germany, have launched a foundation in support of Loskutov.