Russian Artist Sets Fire to Former KGB Headquarters

PHOTO: People pass by Federal Security Service (FSB) building entrance hidden behind metal panels in Lubyanka square in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2015. PlayYuri Kochetkov/EPA
WATCH Russian Artist Sets Fire to Former KGB Headquarters

A radical Russian artist has set fire to Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters as part of what he said was a piece of political performance art.

On Sunday night, the artist, Pyotr Pavlensky, walked up to the front entrance of Lubyanka, the hulking building in central Moscow that was once home to the Soviet KGB, poured gasoline over the doors and lit them ablaze.

A video released by Pavlensky showed orange flames filling the building’s entranceway and crawling up the doors. In a statement published with the video, Pavlensky named the act “Threat” and said it was meant to protest what he called the methods of terror used by the FSB to control Russian society.

Police quickly arrested Pavlensky, as he stood arms folded, with his back to the fire. Two journalists filming the piece were also arrested with him. Pavlensky has been charged with minor hooliganism, his lawyer told the Russian news agency Interfax.

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PHOTO: Artist Pyotr Pavlensky listens during a hearing at a Russian courthouse in St.Petersburg, Russia, Feb. 24, 2014.Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters
Artist Pyotr Pavlensky listens during a hearing at a Russian courthouse in St.Petersburg, Russia, Feb. 24, 2014.

Lubyanka is still a byword in Russia for terror and political repression, known as a place where under Stalin thousands of people were tortured and executed. The FSB now inhabits the building, a fact some Russians view as symbolic of a unbroken repressive lineage between modern Russia’s security services and the Soviet secret police. Russian security agencies still play a key role in running the political trials that are brought against those critical of Vladimir Putin’s rule.

“The Federal Security Service acts with methods of uninterrupted terror. Terror transforms free people into a sticky mass of isolated bodies,” Pavlensky wrote in his statement. “The threat of inevitable retribution hangs over everyone who finds themselves within the reach of surveillance, of having their conversations eavesdropped on, and at the borders of passport control. ”

Pavlensky is known for his extreme performances, the most famous of which saw him nail his scrotum to the paving stones of Red Square in front of the Kremlin. In 2012, he sewed his mouth shut to protest the trial of Russian punk activists, Pussy Riot, and in 2014, he cut off part of his ear on top of a psychiatric institution to highlight what he said was the use of forced psychiatric treatment as a political punishment.

Pavlensky’s latest act was praised by some Russian oppositionists, although one of Russia’s most revered human rights activists, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, condemned the action.

"Why set fire to doors? Even if it's a performance, it's an idiotic performance. Imagine if a fire began, there were people inside, they could not have come out. If people burned, how would that be?" Alekseyeva told Interfax.

"He should be examined by doctors. A normal person would not think about doing such a performance," she said.

A Russian court has previously ordered Pavlensky to undergo psychiatric tests after the ear-cutting performance. He was found to be sane.