fbpx

Pussy Riot: Some New Angles

There are a few articles today, both in the Russian business and mainstream Western press, that offer a bit of relief from the hard line ‘Free Pussy Riot’ message that’s currently saturating the news channels.  I thought it might be worth posting a few paragraphs simply to offer some new perspectives and food for thought – summarily, that in their domestic and predominantly Orthodox context, the group’s actions are seen as opportunistic and offensive; that it is convenient for Western nations to back the group because it creates further irritants for the Kremlin, despite the fact that Voina/Pussy Riot’s message is anti-corporate (broadly, and not specifically anti-Russian-corporate); and lastly, that hasty and overbearing imprisonments are not globally uncommon.

John Bonar at BSR (a Russian, business-focused news source) points out that Russia is a strongly religious nation with a largely very devout citizenship, and that, as such, many Russians were offended by the antics both of Pussy Riot and their counterpart, radical art and performance group Voina, whose members include all of the jailed punk rockers, and whose previous art actions are often of a ‘grossly sexual and obscene nature‘.

What western commentators, immersed in a society which eschews religious conformity, have failed to grasp is that Russia is indeed a religious nation. The four acknowledged religions are Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Whether it is the three designated meeting places in Moscow  for mass Muslim prayer at the end of the Ramadan month of fasting, or the banners at Easter strung across main streets from Moscow to Vladivostok proclaiming “Christ is Risen” Russia’s new found adherence to religion is evident. In the 20 or so years since the collapse of communism religion has come out of Russia’s closet and in most orthodox homes there is a religious ‘corner’ with icons. The nation pays at least lip service to religion. There is no sympathy for a bunch of what are seen to be self-centred, obscenity obsessed, young women who should have outgrown their adolescent fantasies.

The New York Times also has a piece arguing for a level-headed evaluation of the group’s broad aims, rather than a carte blanche defense of the girls which, argues Vadim Nikitin, smacks of the 1970s, when ‘the United States and its allies cared little about what Soviet dissidents were actually saying, so long as it was aimed against the Kremlin.’  He points out that the group is:

targeting not just Russian authoritarianism, but, in Tolokonnikova’s words, the entire “corporate state system.” And that applies to the West as much as to Russia itself. It includes many of the fawning foreign media conglomerates covering the trial, like Murdoch’s News Corp.

And, finally, the Washington Post draws attention to other kinds of cases across the globe that draw disproportionate sentences, but much less press coverage.

Russia isn’t the only country where people are punished for offenses that many in the West might consider trivial. People can spend years in prison for insulting the king in Thailand, slaughtering cattle without government permission in Cuba, selling land to Israelis in the West Bank and having gay sex in Ethiopia. A British man was sent to jail for stealing a bottle of water.”