Thursday, April 24, 2014


The Power Vertical

What A Bio Putin Is Creating For Pussy Riot

Members of female punk band "Pussy Riot," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), Maria Alyokhina (right), and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit behind bars before a court hearing in Moscow on July 20.
Members of female punk band "Pussy Riot," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), Maria Alyokhina (right), and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit behind bars before a court hearing in Moscow on July 20.
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Six months or so ago, few people in Russia -- and even fewer abroad -- had even heard of Pussy Riot. Now they're not only an international cause celebre, but well on their way to becoming a global brand.
 
And all it took was a little Kremlin-sponsored repression.
 
Sting is the latest artist to publicly express support for three members of the band -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- who are languishing in pretrial detention and face stiff prison terms for their infamous unauthorized performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. 
 
It’s appalling that the musicians from Pussy Riot could face prison sentences of up to seven years in jail. Dissent is a legitimate and essential right in any democracy and modern politicians must accept this fact with tolerance. A sense of proportion – and a sense of humor – is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Surely the Russian authorities will completely drop these spurious charges and allow the women, these artists, to get back to their lives and to their children.
 
Sting's comments, made prior to his July 25 concert at Moscow's Olympic Stadium, follow onstage gestures in support of the imprisoned punk rockers by Faith No More, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Franz Ferdinand during shows in the Russian capital.
 
And "The Moscow Times" reports that Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis is trying to enlist Madonna and Bono into the ranks of artists supporting the women, who have already been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Back in 1964, when a Soviet court in Leningrad sentenced the writer and future Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky to five years of hard labor for "social parasitism," the poet Anna Akhmatova was among the first to see the upside.
 
“What a biography they've created for our little redhead," Akhmatova said. "You’d think he'd hired them.”

And while comparing Pussy Riot to Brodsky, one of world's great writers, is more than a stretch, it is fair to say that the Kremlin has indeed created a quite a biography for these women.
 
Once an obscure performance art act, they are now global stars with the dignity that comes with being oppressed.
 
Their trademark bright pastel ski masks have become a fashion statement as well as a political statement. A popular website (in English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian), a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page chronicles every development in their case.
 
On any given day -- from Miami to Prague to Helsinki -- you can find events like house parties, concerts, and social media events in their support.

And then there are the charges against them, the crime they are accused of committing, and the reasons for their controversial action at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
 
The group's performance in the cathedral on February 21 -- shortly before Vladimir Putin's reelection as president -- was an attempt to draw attention to the close ties between the Kremlin leader and the Russian Orthodox Church and to protest what they consider Russian Patriarch Kirill's inappropriate support for Putin in the election.
 
Contrary to most reports, the women apparently didn't actually play a concert in the church. According to a video released by their lawyers...

WATCH: Pussy Riot mime their performance in the church


...they stood in front of the altar and mimed their performance there and later spliced in the music and lyrics of their anti-Putin "punk prayer" -- "Mother of God, Banish Putin" -- to produce the now-famous final clip.

In the days after the clip was posted on YouTube it was only watched by several hundred people. After they were detained and charged following an outcry by Orthodox officials, it shot up to over a million (and counting). It went viral, in other words, thanks largely to the authorities.
 
Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and Samutsevich have been formally charged with hooliganism. But the indictment also levies a series of other allegations against them including "debasing the feelings and beliefs" of Orthodox Christians, "diminishing the spiritual foundations of the state," and "blasphemy."
 
The language of the indictment, which reflected statements by Orthodox officials -- including Patriarch Kirill -- before the three were charged, starkly illustrated the issue the women were protesting to begin with.
 
The issue of the church's undue influence over the Putin regime is now front and center in Russian politics.
 
What a biography indeed.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Pussy Riot

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA, USA
July 26, 2012 01:20
Seven years in prison is a term too harsh for these three young idiotesses. But Sting is wrong too. The girls' criminally tasteless prank offended the feelings of millions of peoples, and they need to be held responsible for what they did.
In Response

by: Sey from: World
July 26, 2012 05:37
I would quite frankly give them seven years. To be realistic, if they hold them just for some months, they're going to get out and start desecrating holy sites again as soon as they can.

That is the "dissident" behavior.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
July 26, 2012 16:46
You can't be serious? Their statement was POLITICAL not religious! If they were released tomorrow, I highly doubt they will be showing up in churches again. I guess in your mind Putin and his cronies are a blameless lot...

by: Gordon Ball from: Ottawa Canada
July 26, 2012 07:33
Youth is often rebellious, anywhere in the world.

by: michelemichele from: Toronto
July 26, 2012 08:49
...I sure hope the comments cheering their imprisonment are facetious, sarcasm can be hard to detect on the Internet.

7 years for 'hurting peoples' feelings'. holy crap.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
July 26, 2012 16:32
I’m reminded of the story in the NT, where the original Pussy Riot (Salome) does a nice dance for Herod, and he promises to give her whatever she asks for. Herod probably wasn’t expecting having to decapitate one of his favorite pundits, but because he made the promise in public, ordered the Baptist’s head removed.

Personally, I suspect the folks in the Kremlin realize what a crock this whole prosecution has become, but because of their overt coziness with the ROC, they are now afraid to back down and show mercy. And in Putin and the Patriarch’s thinking, how many divisions does Sting (and the virtual community) command? The steel boot, the truncheon and jail cell (combined with their control over major media) almost guarantee that these courageous women will sit in prison for a while.

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 28, 2012 03:59
So I guess if Guttermouth elected to perform, "Mother of God, Cast Out That Black Muslim" on the altar at Saint John the Divine, Americans would just chuckle tolerantly and say, "It's POLITICAL, not religious!!" The band's lead singer was arrested for performing an interpretive dance - a "harmless magic trick" - he called "the disappearing penis" onstage with an underage fan. What is it about artistic expression the Canadian police don't get? At one of their performances, Guttermouth also distributed free shots of Jack Daniels to anyone who bought a T-shirt, some fans were as young as 11. Grow up, America!!! Punk bands are just trying to shake up your dowdy world, learn to love and embrace it!!!

I suppose you'll say that giving booze to underage children and performing thinly-veiled sexual acts with minors are actually illegal, while performing noisy political songs on the altar of a church without permission is not. So I guess Russian lawmakers will have to write that one into the books, because if they don't everyone will be doing it to get attention.

If Guttermouth did it at Saint John the Divine and if they said they were inspired by the leadership of Pussy Riot, would that make it all right?

by: Paul from: Australia
July 29, 2012 08:36
They walked into a church and started to yell out a protest song to against Vladimir Putin. They get what they deserve, not for protesting, but for rudely hijacking a place of worship to create a political commotion. They are opportunistic and behave cowardly, let see them do this in an Islamic prayer room.
In Response

by: Ilya
July 29, 2012 12:55
They wouldn't have been there if the Patriarch hadn't rudely hijacked a religious institution to shill for Putin. And obviously they're pretty brave to do this in a country where you can get years for a peaceful political protest.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 29, 2012 21:55
Really? You can still get years for a peaceful political protest in Russia? Give me an example. Try not to use the phrase "the Soviet Union".

In reality, journalists like Yulia Laynina heap abuse on Putin's head daily, much of it just crazy hyperbole, such as her story for Novaya Gazeta which averred that one of the first things Putin would do once he regained the presidency would be to invade Georgia "again". Lyudmila Alekseeva said her agency, the Moscow Helsinki Group, would refuse to register as a Foreign Agent under the new laws. Neither is in jail, or looks likely to be. Let's see an example of someone who is currently serving years in jail for nothing more than peaceful protest. Even Navalny and Nemtsov only get their token 15-day slaps on the wrist when they attempt to hold protests without permission - required everywhere, even in the most enlightened of democracies - or to break out from a legal demonstration to lead an unsanctioned one. Both appear occasionally to deliberately provoke arrest in order to get attention.
In Response

by: Ilya
July 30, 2012 06:03
I hope you're right Mark. We'll see what happens to them. BTW, what sort of backwards country charges people with blasphemy?
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
August 09, 2012 10:18
People get arrested all the time, while being peaceful, for exercising their right under the Russian constitution to freedom of assembly and protest.

http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15991425,00.html

by: Anonymous
July 30, 2012 19:03
"BTW, what sort of backwards country charges people with blasphemy? "

The United States and The United Kingdom, to name two. Anti-Blasphemy laws remain on the books in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming,

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/21/us/21religion.html?_r=1&em

and while Anti-Blasphemy law was repealed in the UK only in 2008, at least under that title, its stipulations were merely shifted to the umbrella of religious discrimination or hate speech.

http://www.secularism.org.uk/blasphemy-law-returns-with-a-ven1.html

In the American case, a Pennsylvania man was refused permission to name his company I Choose Hell Productions, while in Britain a man was charged with causing "religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” for leaving anti-religious cartoons in the prayer room at John Lennon airport in Liverpool. Both insisted on their right to do as they please. In neo-soviet Britain, religiously-aggravated offenses carry a potential 7-year prison term, just like in Russia.

It might sound like heresy to you, but there is such a thing as too much freedom. Groups like Pussy Riot are simply testing the envelope to see how obnoxiously they can behave in public and get away with it., and it is in no way an artistic statement. If you decide complete freedom is the goal, better disband your police force, because you won't need it. Robbery, drunk driving and gun crimes are just people expressing themselves, after all. You're either going to have the rule of law, or no rules. If you think the leader of the ROC was himself misusing the church to "shill for Putin", then charges should be brought against him as well. That's how it's done, not a system where the rules have to be bent for people whose cause you happen to champion.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 31, 2012 00:30
Sorry; the "Anonymous" above was me. I guess I forgot to fill in the identification details.
In Response

by: Ilya
July 31, 2012 02:56
Hi Anon. Not letting someone name their business that is ridiculous but it's not quite the same as possible prison time. As for the UK, they've just become very politically correct, not due to any conservative influences but because of their left - and in the case of offences against religion due to fear of certain groups retaliating with violence.
There could be such a thing as too much freedom but Russia is very far from it and people should be allowed to peacefully protest against this. The church has been politicised so it's fair game.
Jack: I agree that those are backwards countries. As are Iran and Syria.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
August 01, 2012 02:37
Hello, Ilya. You keep coming back to "people should be allowed to peacefully protest".. Is this not allowed? I'm curious, because it was my impression that peaceful protest - which does not extend to throwing rocks at the police - was permitted as long as the event had permission from the authorities. So far as I know, no such request has been refused in 2012, and the requirement to obtain permission is the same as regulations in democratic countries.

People that have been arrested as a result of demonstrations recently were arrested because the protest on May 6th turned violent, and there is some evidence that the escalation was deliberate. People who obtain the permission to hold a demonstration and do so without breaking the law have no reason to fear arrest. Deviating from the stated parade rout to hold an unauthorized march on the Kremlin is a violation and would be punished in democratic countries just as it is in Russia.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
August 09, 2012 10:14
I see Mark is being "economical" with the truth as usual.
http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/20/russia-new-wave-detentions-peaceful-protests

by: Jack from: US
July 30, 2012 19:37
"BTW, what sort of backwards country charges people with blasphemy? "
US-supported democratic countries of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Libya, Jordan have laws to execute people for blasphemy


by: Anonymous
July 31, 2012 03:01
The irony of this story. Three young women, probably atheists, are being charged with blasphemy in a city that was the capitol of the Soviet Union just twenty years ago. Maybe they don't like seeing their country fall back into the stone ages?

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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

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