Activist Asks If Russia Is Living In The 'Stone Age' After 'Body Positive' Images Called Pornographic
KOMSOMOLSK-NA-AMURE, Russia -- Yulia Tsvetkova thought she was doing something useful when she launched a hashtag campaign last summer with the slogan "A woman is not a doll" (#женщина_не_кукла).
"This project is aimed at reminding us that women are living beings and that our bodies are not ideal and are subject to changes," she wrote at the time. "Women are not dolls. And that is wonderful."
She illustrated her campaign with six hand-drawn images with texts like "Real women have body hair, and that is normal" or "Real women menstruate, and that is normal."
But on March 21, the 25-year-old artist and activist in the Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-na-Amure was summoned by police for questioning.
"As I understood it, they are gathering information," Tsvetkova told RFE/RL. "It is a new complaint and a new case. They threatened me with prosecution, but for now they aren't saying any more."
The problem, she said, is that police received an anonymous complaint that the images were pornographic and that Tsvetkova is "corrupting children" by posting them online and in the Merak children's theater that she operates.
"Do you see any pornography here?" she wrote in a post on the VK social-media site on March 22 in which she described her interrogation and reposted the images in question.
"I propose adding to the hastag Feminism Is Not Extremism (#феминизмНЕэкстремизм) a new one -- Body-Positive Is Not Extremism (#бодипозитивНЕэкстримизм)," she wrote. "Because if they have already started coming after images of real women, then we cannot be silent. But be careful when you are drawing body-positive sketches. I didn't think they could find anything provocative in this -- but it turns out that they can if they really want to. Be careful!"
The body-positive pornography accusation is not Tsvetkova's first run-in with the law this month. On March 14, she was questioned for three hours by the local office of the Interior Ministry's anti-extremism center about a youth theater festival that she was organizing. Her interrogation came a couple of days after police appeared at a festival rehearsal and questioned the children performing in it.
The planned festival featured productions on themes including nonviolence and anti-bullying, but police were focused on one called Pink And Blue, a performance about gender stereotypes.
"It is about pressure, about little boys and girls," Tsvetkova said of the show. "It is about the fact that one's personality is more important than stereotypes."
The name of the performance, she said, was the brainchild of an 11-year-old actor in the troupe.
In Russian slang, however, "pink" and "blue" can be used to refer to lesbians and gay men.
Officials accused Tsvetkova of illegally trying to hold a gay-pride event under the guise of a youth theater festival.
"The administration accuses me of bringing depravity from Europe because I lived there," Tsvetkova told RFE/RL. "And that is an argument they are using to shut the festival down. It really is the Stone Age."
One 15-year-old actor told RFE/RL that he felt "defenseless and stupid" during his questioning.
"They kept asking the same things: 'Did you ever discuss LGBT issues?'" he said, referring to the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. "'Did Yulia tell you about that? Did you learn about gays from her?' I told them that anything I know about that I learned from the Internet, the media, my friends, and that it never came up in the theater. But they kept asking me over and over."
The festival, scheduled for March 16-17, was canceled on March 15 when the owner of the venue pulled the plug. Tsvetkova said he was pressured by the administration -- an accusation that municipal spokesman Ivan Lavrentyev denied.
"The man doesn't work in any structure connected with the city, so how could we pressure him?" Lavrentyev told RFE/RL. "As far as I know, no one from the administration of the city was involved in this. We heard that [festival organizers] have problems with law enforcement. We know that. But that is not our job."
The festival was scheduled to be held in February, but the owner of the original venue also got cold feet and organizers were forced to relocate the event to another location on the outskirts of the city.