French trial opens for radical Russian artist who set bank ablaze

Paris (AFP) –


An exiled Russian artist and his partner went on trial in Paris on Thursday for setting fire to the facade of a French central bank building, a performance that was filmed and circulated on social media.

Pyotr Pavlensky, 34, fled to France and was given asylum in 2017 after several provocative protests drew the ire of Russian authorities, not least one in which he nailed his scrotum to Moscow's Red Square.

Pavlensky kept up his work once in France, and in October 2017 he and Oksana Shalygina torched the front door of the Bastille branch of the Banque de France to protest what they deemed the outsize role of bankers.

"The Bank of France has taken the Place de la Bastille," he explained, referring to the square where the French Revolution began in 1789, "and bankers have taken the place of monarchs".

He faces charges of "dangerous destruction of property".

Shalygina was freed ahead of trial in January 2018, but the court deemed Pavlensky a flight risk and ordered him jailed, though he was released last September.

"There will be only one meeting. Come all who care," a Facebook account in Pavlensky's name said in a post on Monday.

The judge could issue a ruling immediately following the trial, or set it for a later date.

After making global headlines with his Red Square scrotum performance titled "Fixation" in 2013, Pavlensky doused the doors of Russia's FSB secret police headquarters with petrol and set them on fire.

He has also sewn his lips together to protest the jailing of members of the feminist Russian punk group Pussy Riot, wrapped himself in barbed wire and chopped off part of his ear.

In December 2016 Russian authorities said a theatre actress had accused Pavlensky of sexual assault, charges which he has denounced as fabricated.

He says he risks 10 years in a prison camp if returned to Russia.