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Theater director asks Putin to protect arts from pressure

Associated Press logo Associated Press 12/2/2016 By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin, gestures, as he meets leader of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia Raul Khadzhimba in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool photo via AP) © The Associated Press Russian President Vladimir Putin, gestures, as he meets leader of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia Raul Khadzhimba in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin pledged Friday to protect the freedom of artistic expression in Russia, but urged artists to be careful not to offend religious believers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) © The Associated Press Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Putin's comments at a meeting with Russian cultural figures came amid increasing attempts by officials and conservative vigilantes to meddle in the arts sphere.

Russia's growing conservative streak has worried many in the country's artistic community. A Moscow art gallery recently shut down an exhibition of nude photos by an American photographer after a raid by vigilantes. The Siberian city of Omsk also banned a performance of the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" following a petition by devout Orthodox believers.

During Friday's meeting, Yevgeny Mironov, a prominent actor who is the artistic director of Moscow's Theater of Nations, pleaded with Putin to stop officials and conservative groups from trying to censor the creative arts.

"Any hooliganism, any attempts to thwart a theater performance or an exhibition are absolutely inadmissible and must be punished in all severity of law," Putin said.

But he also added that "any freedom has another side: responsibility."

"There is a very narrow edge between dangerous buffoonery and freedom of expression," Putin said.

He pointed to a 2015 attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 12 people as an example of the dangers of offending religious feelings.

"A question arises, did those cartoonists need to offend Islamic believers?" he said. "The artists might not have wanted to offend anyone, but they did."

"We must bear that in mind and not to allow that, not to split the society," Putin added.

Russia's conservative trend has come in sync with the tightening of controls over the nation's political scene after Putin's election to a third presidential term in 2012.

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