Hands off Mephistopheles! Hundreds protest destruction of demon statue in St. Petersburg

A demonstration to protest the destruction of the Mephistopheles bas relief, which was crushed on Wednesday © Alexey Danichev
Up to 500 people gathered in a St. Petersburg street where a statue of the demon Mephistopheles had been smashed earlier in the week under suspicious circumstances, to object to what they believe is the willful destruction of the city’s cultural heritage.

“This is our city! This is our building!” chanted the demonstrators, who were encircled by police cars, with multiple cameras looking on.

The bas relief of the smirking demon was built as an adornment for a modernist guest house completed in 1914, and had become a city landmark. On Wednesday, a group of workmen, who refused to identify themselves, drove up to the sculpture, knocked it down, smashed it to pieces, and carted the fragments off to a dump. The statue cannot be restored.

© Alexey Danichev

A criminal investigation has been opened, but in the meantime, St. Petersburg is awash with theories about the vandals’ motivation.

The bas relief was located directly opposite an Orthodox church that is currently under construction, and is scheduled to open next year.

Initially, Denis Gorchin, ostensibly a former leader of a conservative group calling itself the Cossacks of St. Petersburg, took responsibility for the destruction of the “Satan-worshipping” monument in a letter to the media. But Irbis, an umbrella union for Russian Cossacks, said they had never heard of Gorchin or his organization, and promised to “find and arrest the provocateur.”

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By the weekend it emerged that the van that had hauled away the fragments of the relief had been rented by Andrey Breyus, a member of the city assembly and the ruling United Russia party. Breyus, whose office is located several hundred yards away from the Mephistopheles house, claims that he merely saw remnants of the statue scattered in the street, and decided to clean up the mess.

One of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most senior spokesmen, Synodal Information Department Head Vladimir Legoyda, condemned the attack.

“Such acts may be religiously motivated, it does not mean that they follow the word of God, and in fact often come in direct conflict with it,” he told the media, also calling on journalists not to blame the entire church for the actions of a few individuals.

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But the crowd gathered at the site of the former monument was not in a forgiving mood.

“This is the last straw,” said city assembly member Boris Vishnevskiy, who said that citizens must defend St. Petersburg from “medieval-minded obscurantism.”

The organizers hoped to place a photograph of the bas relief at the spot where the sculpture had resided, but were prohibited from accessing the roof by city authorities.

However, the activists refuse to give up and are going to ask St. Petersburg’s governor to finance a project to recreate the impish figure with money from the city’s reserve funds. A special quadrocopter drone was used at the rally to take detailed photos of the facade, which the activists say can be used to create an accurate 3D-model of the ‘cast down’ Mephistopheles.

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