08/28/2015, 00.00
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The Cossacks of St. Petersburg remove bas-relief of Mephistopheles from historic building

by Nina Achmatova
The artwork, from the early '900, offended religious sensibilities. A new Orthodox church being built close-by.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - From theater to painting and sculpture, through literature, in Russia it seems that every art form risks offending "religious sensibilities" (protected by an ad hoc law) and thus is subject to the attack of fanatics. After the vandalism at an exhibition of Soviet art, led by the notorious activist Enteo, the "Cossacks of St. Petersburg" group has claimed responsibility for the removal from the facade of a historic building of a large bas-relief depicting the demon Mephistopheles that dated to the early 1900s (see photo).

The work was guilty of being close to a new Orthodox church. Just a few days earlier, the cross has been erected on the building which is still under construction.

 In a letter sent yesterday to the Local Fontanka agency, the Cossacks explained that it had become offensive to see that statue in front of which tourists and passers-by stop, "which has become a source of pride and of open worship of Satan."

The group states that the priests of the neighboring parish have no responsibility in the initiative, they "would never have dared to do it." The Cossacks conclude their letter urging citizens to join their cleanup campaign to "put an end" to "dirty legends and many other attractions," which are located in the former capital of the czars.

It is not yet clear how involved the local authorities are in the affair: the work is recognized as part of the architectural heritage of the city and according to reports from local residents, it was as if its removal had been planned and was not an improvised act of vandalism. A local deputy asked to open a criminal investigation on charges of destruction of cultural heritage sites.

The Mephistopheles adorned a historical site, although not very famous, in St. Petersburg: the building on Lakhtinksaya St. known as the House with Mephistopheles. The bas-relief is the work of Alexander Lishnevsky, who died during the Second World War after being evacuated to a hospital in Yaroslavl, 250 km north-east of Moscow – according to the Moscow Times. Most of his work has survived the devastation of war and the policies of the Soviet Union.

The group 'Cossacks of St. Petersburg "is not new to these, often of blatantly criminal, actions. Among other things, they broke windows at the museum of the writer Nabokov, author of the novel Lolita, and wrote "pedophile on the walls of his house.

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