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IMMIGRATION

‘Putin in nightie’ artist seeks asylum in France

An artist who painted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev in women's underwear has fled to Paris where he is applying for politican asylum from France, he claimed on Thursday.

'Putin in nightie' artist seeks asylum in France
45-year-old artist Konstantin Altunin stands next to his painting of Putin and Medvedev wearing women's underwear, before it was seized by police on August 27th. Photo: Olga Maltseva/AFP

Police on Tuesday raided an exhibition in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, which next week hosts the G20 summit, and confiscated works including a painting of Putin in a strappy nightie and Medvedev in a bra and skimpy knickers.

The artist, Konstantin Altunin, 45, said by telephone from Paris that he had requested political asylum and was now gathering the necessary documents.

"Yesterday I went to the prefecture in Paris… and made this request. I now need to go through the procedure and bring written confirmation of where I am staying," he said.

Altunin said he flew out of Russia as soon as he heard that the exhibition had been shut down on Tuesday evening and the organisers had been detained by
police and questioned into the night.

He said that the police had described the exhibition at the newly opened Museum of the Authorities as extremist and he feared criminal charges.

"They have already said directly that my exhibition is extremist – that's a very serious charge," he said.

The exhibition also included paintings of Lenin and Stalin.

Altunin said he had expected the authorities would view the works with humour and was shocked by their reaction.

"They just said 'We don't like it' and sealed up the doors and that was it. I don't think there is such backwardness in any other country."

Altunin said he had created the painting of Putin and Medvedev when they announced in 2011 a job swap with Putin returning to the Kremlin and Medvedev becoming prime minister.

"It is absolutely innocent irony," he said.

Police also confiscated a painting of local lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, known for his backing of a controversial law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors that Putin signed into law this summer.

Altunin said the organisers of the exhibition had commissioned him to paint the portrait, which shows Milonov with the rainbow flag of the gay pride movement.

The director of the Museum of the Authorities, Alexander Donskoi, told AFP that Altunin had not yet been charged with any crime.

"He is not charged with anything, but if the authorities confiscated the paintings, they could do anything."

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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