Why the World Needs to Pay Attention to Pussy Riot

RICHARD BOUDREAUX’S euphemistic coverage yesterday, in the Wall Street Journal, of an “anti-Putin band” underscores the respective limits of polite discourse both here and in the former Soviet state. In Putin’s Russia, which is increasingly also the Mother Russia of the Orthodox Church, the cost of transgressing polite discourse’s state invigilated boundaries mounts.

The upping of the stakes is an outcome of cynical legalistic elegance: the formal alliance of Russia’s church and state (whose chummy public faces are Patriarch Kirill and Vladimir Putin) now makes it possible to cast civil disobedience as blasphemy also, meaning an affront to the uncriticizeable sentiments and values of Orthodox Christians. Thus the formal charge of hooliganism, serious enough in itself, is being pursued with an added vindictiveness and cost fed on the outraged sentiments of believers — for example a church security guard who now claims to suffer from insomnia brought on by the trauma of a thirty second punk rock performance.

The facts concerning this tights-and-balaclava agit-prop female performance collective are as follows. Three of the twenty-something members have been imprisoned since their February performance of the song “Punk Prayer” in a Moscow church. One week ago the detention was extended six months. The trial of these three performance collective members underway, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Aliokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich have before them the prospect of a seven-year imprisonment, all of this the result of the performance of a song.

Reading an English-language translation of “Punk Prayer,” the non-speaker of Russian can with little effort imagine the purple faces of the church’s uppermost tier. Here is an excerpt to help you see what I mean:

The head of the KGB, their chief saint / Leads protesters to prison under escort / In order not to offend His Holiness / …  The Church’s praise of rotten dictators / The cross-bearer procession of black limousines / A teacher-preacher will meet you at school / Go to class — bring him money! / Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin … better believe in God instead ….

 The chief inconvenience of these lyrics, from the view of the Russian power brokers, is how crisply they summarize all that is rotten in Putin’s dirty realm — as even a casual observer of the country must now understand. The song, or rather prayer, has been widely and improperly denounced as irreligious, but this too is a piece of propaganda. “Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!” conclude the lyrics, and given the crass material and political cravings of the Patriarchate, amply on display and in one recent and revealing case incompletely Photoshopped away, they may be right.

Within Russia itself there has been debate over the tactics of this group, which some supporters argue unduly provoke otherwise sympathetic Russians. Perhaps in recognition of this, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has issued a statement asserting, “We aren’t enemies of Christians …. Our motives are exclusively political. If anyone was insulted, then I am prepared to accept that we made an ethical mistake.” She correctly observes however that this “ethical mistake” is not, and ought not to be, construed as a political crime.

It is surely however a matter of meagre prospects to argue this point in the very courtroom where the bloodthirsty show trial of Putin adversary Mikhail Khodorkovsky occurred. The only hope for these young women now is the moral authority and censure of the watching world, much of which is distracted by the spectacle of the Olympics. If the Russian state is able to make an example of these young women, it will be yet another discouraging marker on the hellbound pathway of Russia’s dangerous decline.

One response to “Why the World Needs to Pay Attention to Pussy Riot

  1. Reblogged this on debsimms and commented:
    Wayne K. Spear on Russian democracy…..click on the link for the rest.

    Like

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