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March 23, 2012

Artist’s “Orthodoxy or Death” T-shirt is Extremist, says Russian court

A man wearing an "Orthodoxy or Death" t-shirt (left) watches the Russian artist Pyotr Verzilov (centre) from the activist art collective Voina is arrested after storming into a courtroom in Moscow in 2010.

Russian Orthodox monarchist’s fashion statement falls foul of anti-extremism laws.

Sophia Kishkovsky
March 22, 2012
The Art Newspaper

While a storm of media attention followed the arrest of members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot when they protested against the re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russian president, a Moscow court has upheld a decision that a pro-religious t-shirt design constitutes an extremist work and should be banned.

The t-shirts, bearing the logo “Orthodoxy or Death”, are designed by Igor Miroshnichenko, a former underground artist and fashion designer who became a Russian Orthodox Christian monarchist. They feature a cross, skulls, crossbones and knives, and have been openly displayed by Orthodox activists protesting against the band Pussy Riot, the members of which are being prosecuted for performing a “prayer” against Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February. Now, the Moscow City Court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that t-shirts bearing the logo are extremist. The logo is on a Russian Justice Ministry certified list of extremist literature and slogans, ranging from Muslim fundamentalist materials to Jehovah’s Witness leaflets.

Various cases against Miroshnichenko have been heard in Moscow courts since 2010. Those who wear the t-shirt risk prosecution, however last year another Moscow court, in a separate case over the same logo, ruled that it is not extremist.

“Where is the logic?” says Anatoly Pchelintsev, a religious rights lawyer representing Miroshnichenko. “Two courts in the same city: one rules that it’s extremist, the other rules that it’s not.”

Miroshnichenko, who was born in 1955, is a member of a nationalist organisation called the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers. On 15 March, a member of the Banner Bearers wearing the “Orthodoxy or Death” t-shirt appeared on an episode of the TV show “Let them Talk” devoted to a vociferous debate over the Pussy Riot protest, and whether the band was making an artistic and political statement or is guilty of blasphemy. The Banner Bearers say that band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who are being held on remand for allegedly participating the performance, should face corporal punishment rather than prison.

“We are for public punishment, in the Russian tradition, on a square, with rods,” Miroshnichenko told The Art Newspaper. “Prison can break a person, but this is a corrective measure that makes them think about the shameful thing they have done and about what shame is.”

The populist newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported in February that an activist in an “Orthodoxy or Death” t-shirt “set the tone” at public hearings in St Petersburg over a proposed law against “gay propaganda” that was subsequently passed. The Banner Bearers and supporters among Russian Orthodox clergy defend the logo as a call to spiritual focus rather than to arms. Banner Bearers in the t-shirts were present at the trial of the curator Andrei Erofeev and the former Sakharov Museum director Yuri Samodurov, who were found guilty by a Moscow court in 2010 of inciting religious hatred after organising a contemporary art exhibition called “Forbidden Art”.

Read also:

'Orthodoxy or Death!' T-shirt Russian Controversy

Orthodoxy or Death?