A court in Moscow has remanded the theater director Zhenya Berkovich to custody in a pretrial detention center and almost inevitably will render the same decision about the playwright Svetlana Petriichuk (whose pretrial restrictions hearing is still underway). This is the first criminal case in Russia against the authors of a work over its content. Both are accused of “condoning terrorism” in the play Finist the Brave Falcon, which recounts how Islamists recruited Russian women as wives. Last year, the production was awarded the state-sponsored Golden Mask theater prize in two nominations.
Before the court hearing, it transpired that the case was based on a forensic examination conducted by Roman Silantyev, head of Moscow State Linguistic University’s Destructology Laboratory, and his colleagues.
“Destructology” is a science invented by Silantyev himself. He claims that the new discipline “comprehensively examines extremist and terrorist organizations; psychotic cults and non-religious sects; totalitarian sects and the magical services sector; suicidal games and hobbies; deadly youth subcultures (Columbine, AUE, etc.) and medical dissidence.”
There are many experts in Russia whose findings are used by the security forces to imprison people for what they say and write. Often such experts are ignorant, their conclusions are unscientific, and their public statements are frankly obscurantist.
But Roman Silantyev stands out even in this crowd.
A former employee of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Ecclesiastical Relations (the church’s equivalent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), at the outset of his expert career, Silantyev presented himself as a specialist in Islam. In 2005, the publication of his book “The Modern History of the Russian Islamic Community” triggered a scandal: Russia’s Council of Muftis wrote that the author’s stance was at odds “with the most elementary norms of universal ethics and morality.”
To understand the outrage of the muftis, we should take a look at Silantyev’s statements. For example, he said that in order to fight the Wahhabis, “physical force—destruction and gouging—is maximally effective” and dreamed that “law enforcement agencies would finally realize that in this case it is better to cross the line than to come up short.”
Over time, Silantyev felt that he had outgrown his narrow remit as a scholar specializing in Islam and since then he has been commenting on everything. He has opposed Star Wars (calling Jediism an “anti-Christian multifunctional propaganda project”), claimed that Ukrainians profess the “religion of Ukrainianism,” and called for a legislative ban on Satanism in Russia, accusing Ukraine of spreading it.
In 2020, Silantyev traveled around Russia giving lectures on “extremism prevention.” He boasts that he has taught classes to officers and staffers at the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), and the Interior Ministry. And they seem to actually pay heed to him, or at least to successfully use him for their own purposes. It seems that Silantyev has already helped to send dozens (if not hundreds) of people to prison, including Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
And now he has helped send artists to jail. In their expert report, Silantyev and his fellow destructologists write that Berkovich and Petriichuk’s play contains “traces of the ISIS ideology, as well as the subculture of Russian Muslim neophytes.” In addition, the experts detected the “ideology of radical feminism” in the play.
“The ideology of radical feminism, based on the idea of women’s immanent humiliation, is far from harmless. Destructological science has recorded cases in which adoption of this ideology led to the deliberate planning and execution of a terrorist act,” the self-styled experts teach us. And the court, by sending artists to jail, seems to share this opinion.
Source: I Don’t Get It email newsletter (Mediazona), 5 May 2023. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader