EU removes Chechnya exhibition

An exhibition of photos depicting Russian brutality in the war in Chechnya was removed from the European Parliament building in Brussels only hours after it opened this month.

Polish and Lithuanian members of the parliament, who helped organize the exhibition, screamed that it was censorship to appease the Russians. But the Hungarian socialist member of parliament who ordered the removal said some photos violated parliamentary rules about exhibitions in the building that are too graphic. Konrad Szymanski of Poland and Vytautas Landsbergis of Lithuania helped organize “Chechnya: The Final Solution,” which opened October 2.

The title was a not-so-subtle allusion to the Nazis’ “final solution” to the “Jewish problem,” i.e. total ethnic extermination.Szabolcs Fazakas, who is in charge of exhibitions in the building, ordered it taken down the same day. Those who put the exhibition together wanted to show the scale of Russian brutality against civilians in Chechnya. Szymanski and Landsbergis chose pictures taken by international war correspondents.

Journalists, such as Sergei Kovalyov and Anna Politkovska, provided the captions. The exhibition also contained excerpts of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about atrocities against civilians in Chechnya during Russia’s two wars there – in the mid-1990s and today.

It was no accident that the exhibition was organized ahead of a EU-Russia summit this month. Those who put it together wanted to get full political value out of it. But members of parliament charged with overseeing the organization’s internal regulations felt some photos were too disturbing. Szymanski and Landsbergis called the exhibition’s removal a shameful act of politically motivated censorship. Szymanski said he thinks Fazakis ordered it taken down simply to score points with the Russians.

Although Szymanski says there is no doubt the exhibition would upset the Russians, it should have been allowed to stay up because it shows the truth. Fazakas denied that the removal of the exhibition was censorship. He said he was just ensuring that European Parliament rules against displaying bloody photos would be followed. Szymanski said there was no reason to take down the entire exhibition because a few photos were too graphic. He said other members of parliament who deal with exhibitions had wanted photos they considered disturbing to be covered with black sheets – but the other photos to remain up.

Fazakas rejected that approach. He said putting black sheets over some photos would simply call more attention to the controversy. Szymanski and Landsbergis are not giving up. They have asked the chairman of the European Parliament, Hans Georg Pottering, to order the exhibition reinstated.

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