Russia Watch

When Pussies Riot

August 13, 2012

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When Pussies Riot

A Russian judge is expected to deliver a verdict on Friday in the highly publicized show trial of three members of Pussy Riot, who’ve already won a cultural war of sorts by forcing broadcasters across the globe to say the word “pussy” on TV. The trio of young, unscrubbed radical lasses—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich—are accused of “hooliganism” and “inciting religious hatred” for storming the altar at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February wearing Day-Glo balaclavas, fist-pumping and high-kicking as they performed a “punk prayer” that urged the Virgin Mary to become a feminist and help them drive Vladimir Putin from power.

Arrested in March, they’ve already spent five months behind bars. They initially faced a maximum of seven years in prison, although the prosecutor is pushing for a three-year sentence.

With a clipped, maniacal performance that by most accounts lasted less than a minute before security guards intervened, Pussy Riot has managed to split Russia in two. The trial pits patriarchy v. matriarchy, religion v. secularism, nationalists v. globalists, urban intelligentsia v. rural traditionalists, and Putin’s supporters against his already rabid detractors. It has also pried open a rusty can of worms by spurring an international debate over what exactly is sacred and what is profane.

A loosely aggregated art “collective,” Pussy Riot formed in the fall of last year in protest of what appeared to be Vladimir Putin’s inevitable return to Russia’s presidency. The three Pussies on trial—all of whom are described as middle-class and well-educated—had previously belonged to a self-described “terrorist” performance-art group called Voina (War), whose feats included painting a giant penis on a St. Petersburg bridge, shoving a raw chicken inside a human vagina at a supermarket, and having live group sex at an art museum. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova participated in the latter event while nine months pregnant and reportedly gave birth four days later.

“Beneath the superficial sparring about who’s holy and who’s a sinner is a frantic power struggle over how society should be managed.”

Since it’s cool to bash Russia now that it’s no longer communist, and it’s A-OK to incite hatred so long as it’s against pale Christians, Pussy Riot has garnered massive support amid ideologically bedraggled Westerners who value indefinable deconstructivist constructs such as “raising awareness and solidarity and getting people involved” and those who’ve been waiting 35 years to see “punk rock [have] a future as a global force for justice and freedom.” Yoko Ono, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have demanded that Putin FREE PUSSY RIOT immediately. At a Moscow concert last week, Madonna temporarily put down her sweaty boob-cones and delivered an impassioned speech on Pussy Riot’s behalf, prompting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to inaccurately call her an “ex-wh*re” on Twitter. (Consensus is that Madonna’s still a wh*re.)

Support has apparently been scant from mainstream Russian musicians, and large swaths of the Russian heartland seem convinced that Pussy Riot are useful idiots being used by Western powers who are unhappy that Putin was reelected by what even the election-monitoring group Golos admits was a majority quotient in a crowded field. Still, a recent poll indicated that most Russians feel imprisoning Pussy Riot would be an overreaction.

Upon their arrest, two members initially denied participating in the “action” at the cathedral but now seem to take pride in their involvement. In a prepared statement at trial, Tolokonnikova said, “we had no idea that the punk performance could hurt or offend someone” and that there was “no hate, not a drop” in what they’d done. But she conceded they’d made an “ethical mistake” in choosing to stomp around in the cathedral rather than a more neutral venue.

And this is where I agree. Not only did Pussy Riot make a mistake in storming the cathedral, Putin’s regime made a mistake in charging them with an anti-religious hate crime. If there’s any crime here, it’s something simple such as trespassing. What they did was rude. I’m sure they wouldn’t like it if a gaggle of Russian Orthodox greybeards crashed one of their pajama parties and started calling them a bunch of filthy whores. Or maybe they would. These chicks are weird.


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