Monday, June 27, 2016


The Power Vertical

Punk Prayers, Stitches, Carcasses, And Nails

Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer, Pyotr Pavlensky's "Stitch," "Carcass," and "Nail."
Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer, Pyotr Pavlensky's "Stitch," "Carcass," and "Nail."
If the Kremlin actually follows through with prosecuting Pyotr Pavlensky, then hold onto your hats -- it promises to be one hell of a show.

Pavlensky, of course, is the 29-year-old St. Petersburg artist who seized Russia's attention on November 10 when he stripped naked on Red Square and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones -- an act of protest on the Police Day holiday against what he called a creeping police state. He dubbed the act "Nail."

"I used a metaphor," Pavlensky told DozhdTV after being released from police custody the next day. "It was a metaphor for the political indifference that threatens to become irreversible." 

Prosecutors have opened up a criminal case against Pavlensky for "hooliganism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred" and he has been summoned for an interrogation on November 21. He could face as many as seven years in prison. 

As Kevin Rothrock, editor of Global Voices' RuNet Echo project, notes in a recent post, his case is based on the exact same article of the criminal code used to prosecute Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich for their anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. 

And if the authorities decide to prosecute Pavlensky, the case should just be picking up steam by March -- just as the two remaining Pussy Riot prisoners, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, are due to be released after completing their two-year sentences.

In many ways, a Pavlensky trial could turn into a Pussy Riot redux -- another example of guerilla artists taking on The Man.

Writing in the online magazine "Russia!" Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies called his Red Square action "an assault on the stasis that grip contemporary Russia" and a challenge for it to rise up.

"The greatness of Pavlensky’s work is that by nailing himself to the pavement, he neutralized police power," Guillory wrote.

"With a nail, a hammer, and a naked body, Pavlensky symbolized Russian society’s impotence at the same time he reveals its potential power."

If the Pussy Riot trial in the summer of 2012 was, in the words of the playwright Natalya Antonova, "a circus of grandiose proportions and with sinister overtones," one can only imagine what the spectacle of Pavlensky in the dock might entail.

"Opening a criminal case against me would be the the authorities' latest colossal mistake," Pavlensky told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "It would only serve to amplify my actions." 

During the Pussy Riot trial, media in Russia and around the world endlessly played the video of the feminist collective's "punk prayer" appealing to the Virgin Mary to free Russia from Vladimir Putin.

In a prospective Pavlensky trial, we would presumably see -- over and over again -- the artist, nailed to Red Square's cobblestones and shivering naked in the cold November rain in the shadow of the Kremlin.

Clever, personable, and articulate, the three Pussy Riot defendants showed remarkable poise and dignity during their trial. They used the stage they had been given to get their message out and, in the process, impressed even many who were appalled by their protest.

Pavlensky also comes across in interviews as smart, likable, and lucid. And he clearly has the courage of his convictions. He would, no doubt, turn any show trial the state tried to stage into an opportunity to showcase his political message. 

This, after all, is a man who has a history of putting his body through incredible pain to make a political point. It is somebody who, in an act he called "Carcass," wrapped his naked body in barbed wire in front of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly in May.

If Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and Samutsevich made for sympathetic defendants, imagine a young man on trial for an act of self-abuse that the renowned theater director Kirill Serebrennikov called a "powerful gesture of absolute despair."

And if Pavlensky is tried, and if this happens after Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are released, it will give the feminist punkers a golden opportunity to return a favor.

In his first piece of performance art, which he titled "Stitch," Pavlensky sewed his mouth shut in front of St. Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral in the summer of 2012. He called it an act of solidarity with the women of Pussy Riot.

"The 10 holes around my mouth were minor wounds," he told "The Washington Post." 

Indeed, Pussy Riot's friends, supporters, and associates are already rushing to Pavlensky's defense -- and to ridicule the authorities.

"Criminal charges for nailing your own balls to Red Square -- this is an utterly new level of judicial hell in the country. Unbelievable," Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, tweeted on November 15. 

And lawyer Nikolai Polozov, who served on Pussy Riot's defense team, tweeted this zinger:

"The artist who nailed his own scrotum to the pavement is being charged with hooliganism. Motivated by hatred toward his own genitals, I presume?"

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: This post has been updated to add Pavlensky's comment on the criminal case against him. I would also like to extend a huge h/t to both Kevin Rothrock and Sean Guillory for providing some of the inspiration for this post.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 20, 2013 18:20
A good article on some of the most interesting clowns of our time! Please do have a look at the Clown of the Century - the democratically elected (twice!) president of the United States George W talking to Jay Leno. I am sure the nation that he has represented for 8 years is proud of all of his achievement - enjoy, guys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-ke6wKzPwM
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 21, 2013 21:10
Bush was (is) an idiot- what's your point?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 22, 2013 15:53
My point is that those who elected him to be their president twice in a row are a nation of geniouses, which is a strong reason for taking the materials of this US-sponsored site very seriously :-)).

by: Bea O Neill from: kerry Ireland
November 21, 2013 10:35
Oh Im extremely upset and angered to read that any human being has to do such a totally brave action to highlight ,

the horrors continuing in Russia today
its sad to know after all the many people in russia and around the world that have campaigned tirelessly thia evil torture continues driving people to do otherwise on thought of acts upon themselves purely to seek help from the world
it is crimes like this that cause calm people
to become enraged
the Russian government are causing incitement to hatred

one day soon I hope to see people united against bad government

by: Mamuka
November 21, 2013 16:11
These acts of protest get a lot of attention in the West (at least in the US) but I wonder how much they impact Russians. Is this the foundation of a real opposition, or is it some kind of "fringe" element? Of course in the 1950s in the US they dismissed such people as "beatniks" but now they are running the country.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 21, 2013 19:16
Those who organize those "acts of protest" get paid by some western org-zations with the only purpose: desperately trying to divert the attention of those few in the west who have still not had a chance to grasp that the Western societies are on the verge of an imminent financial collapse. Look at daily images of violent protests that regularly occur in Italy, Spain, Potrugal, Greece and a number of other Western countries and you will understand why the inept oligarchies misgoverning those societies absolutely need to divert the attention of those living here from bad news at home.
In Response

by: PermReader from: not in Vienna
November 24, 2013 20:25
Eugenio! Still in Vienna! So hard work for RFERL, no promotion?
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
November 25, 2013 12:58
So let me see if I understand, Eugenio: Although Russia does not rank in the top 125 nations of the world for life expectancy, and although Russians work for less than $5/hour on average, and although the Kremlin itself has just admitted Russia won't have significant economic growth for the next ten years, you are 100% sure that Russians have nothing whatsoever to complain about and that anyone who does complain has been bribed to do so by Russia's enemies abroad.

Have I got that about right?

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or