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Self-Mutilating Russian Artist Says 'There's No Greater Evil Than Law-Abiding Citizens'

  • Dmitry Volchek

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky slices off his right earlobe on the roof of Moscow's Serbsky psychiatric center to protest the forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents. The stunt, titled "Separation," was meant to denounce Russia's growing use of psychiatry to silence dissidents.

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky slices off his right earlobe on the roof of Moscow's Serbsky psychiatric center to protest the forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents. The stunt, titled "Separation," was meant to denounce Russia's growing use of psychiatry to silence dissidents.

If Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky planned to shock the public, his latest stunt can certainly be described as a success.

On October 19, Pavlensky stripped naked, climbed onto the roof of Moscow's Serbsky psychiatric center and sliced off his right earlobe with a huge kitchen knife.

The stunt, titled "Separation," was meant to denounce what he says is Russia's growing use of psychiatry to silence dissidents.

"Like the knife separates the earlobe, this wall separates the society of 'normal people' from 'crazy patients,'" he told RFE/RL. "The question is -- where is this wall, where is this threshold, who establishes it?"

Pavlensky, who is based in St. Petersburg, is known for his self-mutilating protests.

Previously, he has wrapped himself naked in barbed wire in front of St. Petersburg's legislature and sewn his lips shut to condemn the prosecution of two members of the opposition punk collective Pussy Riot.

In November 2013, he gained international attention after nailing his scrotum to the cobble stones of Moscow's Red Square to protest the "political indifference" of Russians.

But it's a seemingly more innocuous stunt -- burning tires on a St. Petersburg bridge to support pro-European protesters in Kyiv -- that has landed him in hot water with the Kremlin.

A vandalism case was brought against him and he is battling efforts to have him committed to a psychiatric institution.

He underwent a psychiatric evaluation earlier this month and was declared sane.

Pavlensky has openly accused Moscow of backing the pro-Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

He brands the separatist movement "a fiction for which many people have lost their lives."

His latest stunt at the Serbsky clinic ended with police dragging him away, with blood streaming down his chest, after a two-hour spell on the rooftop.

WATCH: Pyotr Pavlensky Cuts Off His Earlobe (graphic content)

The Serbsky Institute is notorious for delivering questionable diagnoses that helped Soviet authorities lock up dissidents in psychiatric wards or ship them away to labor camps.

In April, Mikhail Kosenko, a man charged with assaulting police during protests on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square in 2012, was sentenced to indefinite psychiatric treatment after the Serbsky center declared him insane.

The case has caused international outrage, with Amnesty International and other rights groups saying the decision harked back to repressive Soviet-era tactics.

Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, whom Moscow accuses of being involved in the murder of two Russian journalists in Ukraine, is also undergoing psychiatric evaluation at the Serbsky center.

"The return of punitive psychiatry testifies to the return of the Soviet regime," Pavlensky says. "We're seeing a very strong revival."

Pavlensky, who describes himself as a "political artist," urges Russians to overcome their political apathy before it is too late.

"There's no greater evil than law-abiding citizens," he says.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Protest Art Of Pyotr Pavlensky

Pavlensky believes that the authorities' confusion over his latest stunt might empower ordinary Russians to stand up to what he sees as an increasingly despotic government.

"Numerous officials gathered, psychiatrists, police officers, firemen and members of the Emergencies Ministry," he says. "They didn't know how to act because I wasn't doing anything, I wasn't threatening them in any way, but they were scared. They were scared of a defenseless man without clothes, although they were all armed and had bullet-proof vests."

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