Hundreds of Russians descended upon Saint Petersburg to protest the destruction of a century bas-relief that depicted the demon Mephistopheles. Some fear religious intolerance is growing under President Vladimir Putin.
“I’m actually in shock from what’s going on in our country, where some people think they have the right to destroy architectural monuments,” stated protester Oleg Mitskevich.
The Cossacks of Saint Petersburg claimed responsibility for destroying the sculpture since “its depiction of the devil is offensive Russian Orthodox adherents.” Those who protested lashed out at the explanation.
“What happened is awful,” exclaimed Anna Astakhova. “If it’s true that the bas relief was destroyed for religious reasons then we are descending into the Middle Ages. This is inadmissible.”
“I am an Orthodox Christian myself but I do not support this absurdity,” said Galina Vanina. “Art cannot offend anyone.”
Mephistopheles appeared in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play “Faust.” Dr. Faust is very successful, but yearns for more out of life. He offers his soul to the devil, who appears as Mephistopheles, for more knowledge. The statue appeared on an old building that overlooks “the nearby construction site of a new Orthodox church.”
Saint Petersburg is well known for its landmarks and statues, including the small statue. Historian Dmitry Bratkin said the statue was under state protection due to its historical significance. One resident explained what occurred on August 28:
One resident of the building, Kirill Alexeyev, told independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta that “workers showed up at 10 in the morning, did not introduce themselves, and did not say who had sent them.”
Instead, the workers asked the building’s residents to move their cars away from the building to avoid being damaged by falling plaster, and then proceeded with the removal of Mephistopheles, Alexeyev said.
“I said: What have you done, this is after all a monument protected by the state,” he said, Novaya Gazeta reported. “They responded: Not to worry, it is old and dilapidated, and it will be restored in plaster.”
Putin signed an “anti-gay propaganda” law in 2013 in an effort to push through conservative values. The Duma also passed a law that states a person may receive three years for “offending religious feelings.” Both laws “boost the power of the Russian Orthodox church, a religious body that professes total allegiance to the state.”
In March, Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky arrested and fired theater director Boris Mezdrich after he “included a controversial interpretation of the life of Jesus in the Richard Wagner opera ‘Tannhauser.’” Medinsky later “denied that the Kremlin was the enforcement arm of the Russian Orthodox Church.” However, Putin presented “a state medal for ‘service to the homeland’ to Aleksandr Novopashin, a priest in the Novosibirsk diocese who helped to lead the campaign” against the opera.