Ten Ways to Get in Trouble With the Law in Russia

"The bee dance" performed by a group of teenage girls from a dance school in Orenburg resulted in a criminal investigation and temporary closure of the school. A range of actions can result in charges, investigations or other actions by law enforcement in Russia. YouTube screenshot

Russian lawmakers have passed a lot of controversial legislation recently: a law that banned LGBT propaganda, a law that banned swearing in media and in the arts, a law that prevents Americans from adopting Russian children, a law that requires nonprofit organizations that get funding from outside the country to register as "foreign agents," and so on.

Just this week, both chambers of Russian parliament approved a law that will allow the government to close the operations of any "unwanted" organizations that might pose a threat to national security or the Russian constitution.

So it's hardly surprising that almost every week Russians find themselves in trouble for bizarre reasons. Here are 10 things that resulted in charges, investigations or other actions by Russian law enforcement.

1. Twerking in a Bee Dress

What happened: On April 12, a video was uploaded to YouTube that showed a group of teenage students of a dance school in Orenburg performing something they called "a bee dance" (it was a part of a show about Winnie-the-Pooh). Wearing orange-and-black leotards, the girls presented two minutes of choreographed twerking, apparently meant to symbolize the production of honey. The video went viral almost immediately, and soon attracted the attention of the authorities: The "moral safety" of children has been declared to be one of the highest priorities of President Vladimir Putin's government; the fact that the girls' costumes were the same color as St. George's ribbon, the patriotic symbol commemorating World War II, made the issue even worse. The presidential commissioner for children's rights, Pavel Astakhov, expressed his outrage on Twitter, declaring that "only a pig could stage such a dance."

The video that sparked the controversy.

The result: Two days after the video appeared on YouTube (the actual performance happened in late January), the Investigative Committee launched an inquiry, finding evidence of "depraved acts." The dance school was temporarily closed by municipal officials who also decided to create a committee that would check all private dance schools for indecency. On May 18, it was announced that the investigation didn't find any foul play, and the committee would not bring any charges. By that time, the initial video of the dance had more than 25 million views on YouTube.

2. Staging a Wagner Opera

What happened: In December 2014, the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre premiered a new version of Richard Wagner's opera Tannhauser, created by a young director Timofey Kulyabin. Two months later, the head of the local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church filed a complaint, arguing that the performance gravely offended many of his adherents (the priest himself didn't see the show). In this version of the opera, which presents a modernized view on Wagner's libretto, Tannhauser is a film director who tries to make a movie about the early years of Jesus Christ (which, according to his version, included a lot of earthly pleasures). At some point an imaginative movie poster appears on the stage, showing a crucifix between the open legs of a woman. All of this seemed inappropriate to church officials, and they demanded an investigation.

The result: On March 10, a local court ruled that the performance didn't violate any laws. The church, however, wasn't satisfied: It demanded that the federal Investigative Committee and the Federal Security Service look into the issue. The Russian theatrical community supported Tannhauser almost unanimously, but not the minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, who is known to be passionate about traditional Russian values. On March 29, Medinsky fired the general manager of the theater.

3. Twerking in Front of a War Memorial

What happened: At the end of April, six girls from a dance school in Novorossiysk posted a video advertisement for the school on YouTube in which they can be seen twerking with a local World War II memorial in the background. Even though the dance looks more modest and professional than in "the bee dance" case, the combination of twerking and war memorials was enough to provoke a scandal. The local government expressed its outrage, and the prosecutor's office launched an investigation.

The ad posted by the students on YouTube.

The result: A local court sentenced one girl to 15 days in jail and two other girls to 10 days in jail. Two girls got off with a fine, and the mother of the remaining underage girl was fined for being reckless "in regard to her child's intellectual and spiritual development."

4. Persuading People Not to Celebrate New Year's Eve

What happened: On December 25, 2013, Elvira Sultanakhmetova who lived in a city in the Sverdlovsk region wrote three comments to a post about forthcoming New Year celebrations published in a local group on VK.com, the most popular Russian social network. Sultanakhmetova argued that Muslims shouldn't celebrate New Year's Eve, calling the holiday "a great fraud." She also wrote that other non-Muslim holidays, such as the Victory Day, should not be celebrated either. Another local resident, who earlier had been convicted for spreading anti-Semitic statements, saw the comments and decided to file a complaint.

The result: The prosecution brought charges against Sultanakhmetova on the grounds of instigating religious hatred and demanded a sentence of two years in a penal colony. On May 18, 2015, a judge sentenced the woman to 120 hours of community service.

5. Posing Naked With Snowboards in Front of a War Memorial

What happened: Several days ago, a photo was posted online about the life of Kemerovo, Siberia, on VK.com. On the photo, two naked girls whose lower parts were covered with a snowboard were standing, their backs to the camera, near a local World War II memorial. A lot of commentators expressed outrage and the local press picked up on the story. The mayor of Kemerovo promised to conduct an investigation, arguing that the photo might have been fake.

Clothes Call: This picture caused a lot of outrage. VK.com screenshot

The result: Local police indeed started an investigation and, on May 18, announced that they were able to identify the girls on the picture. They also determined that the photo itself was made in September 2014. The investigation is ongoing.

6. Selling Toy Soldiers

What happened: In early April, Moscow criminal investigators discovered that the Central Children's Store that recently opened on Lubyanka Square after a long renovation was selling toy soldiers in Nazi uniforms with swastikas. (A law that declared the public demonstration of Nazi-related symbolism illegal was passed in Russia last fall.) The store was ransacked. Later that day, the same kind of soldiers were discovered in another store.

The result: The Moscow prosecutor's office opened a criminal case on the grounds of instigating hatred and enmity. Later in April, one of the largest bookstore chains in the city decided to stop selling the Russian translation of the Pulitzer-prize winning Art Spiegelman's graphic novel about the Holocaust Maus, which has a big swastika on the cover.

7. Twerking on a Tank

What happened: Combining twerk and military objects seems to be popular, albeit dangerous, in Russia. On May 2, another scandalous video related to the World War II memorial in Novorossiysk surfaced. On the video, five students of a local cossack military school announce that they're going to show that military service isn't that hard and then, dressed only in swimsuits, proceed to wash a tank while dancing to Benny Benassy's "Satisfaction."

The video made by the students. The dance itself starts at 0.50

The result: The local prosecutor's office announced it would conduct yet another investigation, but soon enough a school official made a statement, saying the video was shot four years ago for a comic competition and teachers had explained to students that it was inappropriate.

8. Fighting Corruption With Feces

What happened: Early morning on May 14 in a small town in the region of Omsk, a man approached a local judge near the courthouse and poured a bucket of feces over her, declaring, "This is for everything you have done!" The man, who for many years had been engaged in an exhaustive litigation with a local immigration office, explained later, that this was his way of bringing corruption in the judicial system to public attention.

The result: The prosecutors brought criminal charges against the man. He is facing a potential sentence of one year of community service.

9. Holding an Exhibition That Includes Photos of Smiling Children

What happened: On April 11, a photo exhibition opened in the city of Bryansk in the western part of Russia. The exhibition showed photos that were taken during the occupation of the Bryansk region by German troops in the World War II. At the opening party, an activist of an ultraconservative group The Essence of Time showed up. He expressed his outrage about the fact that there were smiling children in several photos. In his opinion, the exhibition was glorifying the occupants. The group filed a complaint against organizers.

The result: Worrying about possible consequences for the venue that held the exhibition, the curators decided to close it right away.

10. Being a Fancy Cat

What happened: A businessman from the Stavropol region owed more than 200,000 rubles to a local bank. The court demanded that he pay the money back, but the man didn't budge. Then officers of the court decided to detain the man's cat—a Don Sphynx, a hairless breed from Russia.

The result: The cat was detained on May 18, and the man has 10 days to pay the debt back. Otherwise the cat will be sold to someone else.