In the latest manifestation of the influence of Russia’s conservative movement, the powerful Russian Orthodox Church has joined forces with communists and pro-Kremlin politicians to secure a government probe into the international Body Worlds exhibit, which uses genuine body parts to teach human anatomy.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, its senior investigative body, announced on March 24 that it is “verifying” whether or not the displays, now housed at Moscow’s VDNKh exposition area, “violate moral values, express clear disrespect toward society, and can be regarded as an insult to believers’ religious feelings.”
The Russian Orthodox Church, Communists of Russia party, and the ruling United Russia party contend
that showing human skeletons playing hockey or performing gymnastics crosses the line between science and morality, and violates Russian laws.
If the exhibit’s main critics seem like an unusual band of allies, they are not. The Church and atheist communists both look to the same traditional, conservative parts of Russian society for supporters on various social issues. The Kremlin has no desire to be left behind, political analysts have noted.
In response to the outcry, the Body Worlds exhibitors counter that their displays are educational. On March 31, however, they raised the “recommended” age of visitors to 18 and over.
Meanwhile, visitors to Body Worlds are left espousing a message reminiscent of Soviet times: “This is science, this is medicine,” commented one young man. “I don’t understand what this has to do with the Russian Orthodox Church.”