FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Secret History of Pussy Riot

by ISRAEL SHAMIR

Moscow.

Universally admired, Pussy Riot (or PR for short) have been promoted as superstars. But what are they? A rock or punk group they are not.  A British journalist marvelled: they produce no music, no song, no painting, nada, rien, nothing. How can they be described as “artists”? This was a severe test for their supporters, but they passed it with flying honours: that famous lover-of-art, the US State Department, paid for their first ever single being produced by The Guardian out of some images and sounds.

We are able to stomach obscenity and blasphemy; I am a great admirer of Notre Dame de Fleurs by Jean Genet, who combined both. However, the PR never wrote, composed or painted anything of value at all. Chris Randolph defended them in Counterpunch by comparing them with “the controversial Yegor Letov”. What a misleading comparison! Letov wrote poetry, full of obscenity but it still was poetry, while the PR have nothing but Public Relations.

Hell-bent on publicity, but artistically challenged, three young women from Russia decided – well, it sounds like a limerick. They stole a frozen chicken from a supermarket and used it as dildo; they filmed the act, called it “art” and placed it on the web. (It is still there) Their other artistic achievements were an orgy in a museum and a crude presentation of an erect prick.

Even in these dubious pieces of art their role was that of technical staff: the glory went to a Russian-Israeli artist Plucer-Sarno of Mevasseret Zion, who claimed the idea, design and copyright for himself and collected a major Russian prize. The future PR members got nothing and were described by Plucer as “ambitious provincials on the make”, or worse.

Lately they have tried to ride on a bandwagon of political struggle. That was another flop. They poured a flood of obscene words on Putin – in Red Square, in subway (underground) stations – with zero effect. They weren’t arrested, they weren’t fined, just chased away as a nuisance. And they did not attract the attention of people. It is important to remember that Putin is an avowed enemy of Russian oligarchs, owners of the major bulk of Russian media and providers of the Moscow literati, so they print on a daily basis so much anti-Putin invective, that it’s lost its shock value. You can’t invent a new diatribe against Putin – it has been already said and published. And Putin practically never interferes with the freedom of the press.

My foreign journalist friends are usually amazed by the unanimity and ferocity of the anti-Putin campaign in Russian media. It can be compared with the attacks on G W Bush in the liberal papers in the US, but in the US, there are many conservative papers that supported Bush. Putin has practically no support in the mainstream media, all of it owned by media barons. A valuable exception is TV, but it is expressly apolitical and provides mainly low-brow entertainment, also presented by anti-Putin activists like Mlle Xenia Sobtchak. So PR failed profoundly to wake up the beast.

Eventually the young viragos were mobilised for an attack on the Church. By that time they were willing to do anything for their bit of publicity. And the anti-Church campaign started a few months ago, quite suddenly as if by command. The Russian Church had 20 years of peace, recovering after the Communist period, and it was surprised by ferocity of the attack.

Though this subject calls for longer exposition, let us be brief. After the collapse of the USSR, the Church remained the only important spiritual pro-solidarity force in Russian life. The Yeltsin and Putin administrations were as materialist as the communists; they preached and practiced social Darwinism of neo-Liberal kind. The Church offered something beside the elusive riches on earth. Russians who lost the glue of solidarity previously provided by Communists eagerly flocked to the alternative provided by the Church.

The government and the oligarchs treated the Church well, as the Church had a strong anti-Communist tendency, and the haves were still afraid of the Reds leading the have-nots. The Church flourished, many beautiful cathedrals were rebuilt, many monasteries came back after decades of decay. The newly empowered church became a cohesive force in Russia.

As it became strong, the Church began to speak for the poor and dispossessed; the reformed Communists led by the Church-going Gennadi Zuganov, discovered a way to speak to the believers. A well-known economist and thinker, Michael Khazin, predicted that the future belongs to a new paradigm of Red Christianity, something along the lines of Roger Garaudy’s early thought. The Red Christian project is a threat to the elites and a hope for the world, he wrote. Besides, the Russian church took a very Russian and anti-globalist position.

This probably hastened the attack, but it was just a question of time when the global anti-Christian forces would step forward and attack the Russian Church like they attacked the Western Church. As Russia entered the WTO and adopted Western mores, it had to adopt secularization. And indeed the Russian Church was attacked by forces that do not want Russia to be cohesive: the oligarchs, big business, the media lords, the pro-Western intelligentsia of Moscow, and Western interests which naturally prefer Russia divided against itself.

This offensive against the Church began with some minor issues: the media was all agog about Patriarch’s expensive watch, a present from the then President Medvedev. Anti-religious fervour was high among liberal opposition that demonstrated against Putin before the elections and needed a new horse to flog. A leading anti-Putin activist Viktor Shenderovich said he would understand if the Russian Orthodox priests were slain like they were in 1920s. Yet another visible figure among the liberal protesters, Igor Eidman, exclaimed,“exterminate the vermin”- the Russian Church – in the rudest biological terms.

The alleged organiser of the PR, Marat Gelman, a Russian Jewish art collector, has been connected with previous anti-Christian art actions which involved icon-smashing, imitation churches of enemas. His – and PR’s problem was that it was difficult to provoke reaction of the Church. PR made two attempts to provoke public indignation in the second cathedral of Moscow, the older Elochovsky Cathedral; both times they were expelled but not arrested. The third time, they tried harder; they went to St Savior Cathedral that was demolished by Lazar Kaganovich in 1930s and rebuilt in 1990s; they added more blasphemy of the most obscene kind, and still they were allowed to leave in peace. Police tried their best to avoid arresting the viragos, but they had no choice after PR uploaded a video of their appearance in the cathedrals with an obscene soundtrack.

During the trial, the defence and the accused did their worst to antagonize the judge by threatening her with the wrath of the United States (sic!) and by defiantly voicing anti-Christian hate speeches. The judge had no choice but to find the accused guilty of hate crime (hooliganism with religious hate as the motive). The prosecution did not charge the accused with a more serious hate crime “with intent to cause religious strife”, though it could probably be made to stick. (It would call for a stiffer sentence; swastika-drawers charged with intent to cause strife receive five years of jail).

Two years’ sentence is quite in line with prevailing European practice. For much milder anti-Jewish hate talk, European countries customarily sentence offenders to two-to-five years of prison for the first offence. The Russians applied hate crime laws to offenders against Christian faith, and this is probably a Russian novelty. The Russians proved that they care for Christ as much as the French care for Auschwitz, and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ may be applied only to protect Jews and gays. The Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.

The anti-Putin opposition flocked to support PR. A radical charismatic opposition leader, the poet Eduard Limonov wrote that the opposition made a mistake supporting PR, as they antagonise the masses; the chasm between the masses and the opposition grows. But his voice was crying in the wilderness, and the rest of the opposition happily embraced the PR cause, trying to turn it into a weapon against Putin. The Western media and governments also used it to attack Putin. A Guardian editorial called on Putin to resign. Putin called for clemency for PR, and the government was embarrassed by the affair. But they were left with no choice: the invisible organisers behind PR wanted to have the viragos in jail, and so they did.

Commercially, they hit jackpot. With support of Madonna and the State Department, they are likely to leave jail ready for a world tour and photo ops at the White House. They registered their name as a trade mark and began to issue franchises. And their competitors, the Femen group (whose art is showing off their boobs in unusual places) tried to beat PR by chopping down a large wooden cross installed in memory of Stalin’s victims. Now the sky is the limit.

In August, vacation season, when there is not much hard news and newspaper readers are at the seashore or countryside, the PR trial provided much needed entertainment for man and beast. Hopefully it will drop from the agenda with the end of the silly season, but do not bet on it.

Israel Shamir reports from Moscow, his email is adam@israelshamir.net  

Israel Shamir can be reached on adam@israelshamir

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail