Is the Russian Orthodox Church afraid of zombies?
On August 19, around 300 young people gathered at the Irtyshskaia Embankment in the Russian city of Omsk.
Initially, 25-year-old Mikhail Yakovlev had wanted to organize a so-called Zombie Walk in Omsk and had received a permit to do so. But his permit was abruptly withdrawn, so Yakovlev called off the event, according to Global Voices.
The flash mob that gathered on August 19 was reportedly organized by others through Vkontakte, the Russian social network.
In the end, Yakovlev attended the flash mob sans costume but armed with a camera; he claimed to be attending the event as a photographer.
Following a warning by police about the unlawful gathering, Yakovlev called on the Zombie Walk participants to disperse. That was before officers unceremoniously dragged him off in a police car.
His treatment may have had something to do with the fact that Yakovlev had organized several demonstrations against the December 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia, widely considered to have been fraudulent.
However, what has caught the attention of the media is the possibility that the Russian Orthodox Church may be starting to expand its influence beyond the state and into the entertainment arena.
Konstantin Sayenko, an administration chief of Omsk's Sovetsky district, says that citizens, public organizations, and the Omsk and Tavric dioceses believe that allowing the Zombie Walk would have been a violation of people’s rights.
"The diocese thought that scenes with bloody clothes could harm the mental health of nervous citizens and children,” Sayenko told Gazeta.ru.
Yakovlev has likened the ban on the Zombie Walk to the persecution of the feminist punk performance-art group Pussy Riot in Moscow.
“As an Orthodox believer, I see no evil in Zombie Walk," he told Interfax. "Nothing that would offend believers.”
The timing of the Zombie Walk, along with the August 17 guilty verdict in the Pussy Riot case, has sparked debate concerning what appears to the increasing involvement of the Russian Orthodox Church in not only state issues but also criminal and cultural affairs.
According to Global Voices, a rumor has been spreading online that the Orthodox diocese was against the Zombie Walk because “raising the dead” is un-Christian and could disturb bystanders.
Additionally, there were also claims that Omsk’s Muslim authorities had argued that a Zombie Walk went against the spirit of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. On August 19, millions of Muslims around the world began celebrating the festival of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.
In addition to the religious authorities, Global Voices reports the involvement of yet another group, called Parental Control, in the Zombie Walk controversy. This is the same organization that petitioned the city of St. Petersburg to sue Madonna for violating the city’s ban on “homosexual propaganda.” The group had argued that the Zombie Walk would have increased crime by gathering so many young people in one place.
Several incidents that occurred during the unsanctioned Zombie flash mob, reported by local bloggers, hint at the possibility that “concerned citizens” at the flash mob had been planted by local police.
One incident in particular caught the attention of bloggers.
During the flash mob, a large man accused Yakovlev of traumatizing his daughter. He threatened to file a complaint with the police. Video of the event, however, shows the man's daughter in high spirits and even playing with the pet rabbit of one zombie.