Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pussy Riot Affair

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The members of the Russian punk rock (some prefer to call it porn) band Pussy Riot await the out come of their appeals after being sentenced to two years imprisonment for their song “Mother God, drive Putin out”.  It wasn’t that they sung it, so much as where there did it – in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, thereby landing them convictions on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.  “It’s bearable,” claims the colourful band leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pre-Trial Detention Facility No. 6, nicknamed the “Bastille.”[1]

Tolokonnikova is an activist schooled in acts of public notoriety. She has led, along with her members, a publicly filmed orgy that commanded a few headlines.  For now, she is calmly cultivating the image of a tormented cultural symbol in her quarters.  She reads the Bible, she tells Der Spiegel. She also, for good measure, reads the writings of the Slovenian Marxist Slavoj Žižek.  “The lack of freedom of movement doesn’t constrict the freedom of thought.”

The marginal band has shot up in popularity, not because of its brimming talent, so much as the way it revealed its contentions against the Putin regime. The trials, for one, were considered Stalinist show trials in the good Soviet tradition. But there is a twist.  Yes, the protest in Church was considered by many Russians to be an outrage.  To Moscow lawyer Alexi Navalny and professed Orthodox Christian, “the action was itself despicable”. The punitive response was, however, a “heathen act of revenge.”[2]  No icons were desecrated, and nothing destroyed.  Stupidity, surmises Navalny, is not a crime.

The comparison to a Stalinist show trial is hard to make given that the protest was filmed and very public.  Michael White, writing in The Guardian, saw it as a case of a shadowy legal system and a general slide into “authoritarianism”.[3]  A global murmur has been registered, with protest groups doing everything from shedding their clothes to sawing down crosses (witness the actions of the Ukrainian protest group FEMEN).[4]  Protesters have had their mouths sewn in solidarity.

The affair, however, is a murky one.  The band is on firm ground in so far as their conviction shows heavy-handedness – two year convictions in a labour camp suggests the jerkiness of the regime, a terror, perhaps, that women are now joining the ranks of protest.  Tolokonnikova speaks of this with satisfied martyrdom.  “This system delivered a verdict on itself, by sentencing us to two years in prison although we committed no crime, and of course, I’m glad about that.”[5]

Revolts, even against the most brutal despots, are never neatly patterned incidents.  They contain in them the seeds of contradiction that, when they grow, puzzle those who choose to simplify them.  Persecution tendencies may well be detected in the reaction of the authorities, but the extreme disposition of the three women suggest that authoritarianism is never far from the debate. Extremes, in short, breed extremes.

For one group, the Kingdom of God has become a state front.  The state under Putin has veered towards stern traditionalism where petro currency is linked to the Church.  The band in question has suggested another, more pungent approach.  For them, sexual strictures are just that, a patriarchal nonsense in need of a good trashing.

Every day, limitations are placed on behaviour in public places, be they of worship, travel or otherwise.  They exist with a burdensome presence that has become all too real, though many in a political and religious community would accept them. Laws against obscenity and public nuisance exist, even in the most liberal societies.  And what of the protest on religious premises, holy ground, as it were?  Few would protest if the Israeli authorities took stern measures against those who would deface the Wailing Wall.  What matters in such instances is the sheer disproportionate nature of the punishment.

The Pussy Riot demonstration has also provided another angle in this debate.  How “hurt” is measured in exacting punishment or compensation is law’s permanent challenge.  A Siberian case is afoot where three people are claiming damages against Pussy Riot for their church indecencies.  One is Irina Ruzankina, who is being represented by Alexei Krestyanov.  “She suffered because this punk group performed their punk prayer in a place where they should not have, in a place where she worships and that she considers sacred.”[6]  30,000 roubles is being demanded in compensation.  Krestyanov, it must be said, is ambitious, intending to launch 12 lawsuits against the band members, each representing the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ.

What is unfortunate about the debate surrounding the band members will be how martyrdom, something this fringe band have yearned for, will be bestowed upon them.  The loud clarion calls will die, leaving a confused reaction against the group. What the band members will do with their sentence will be what history has done to Russia’s revolutionaries, genuine or pop – immortalise them then, when the time is appropriate, ignore them.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]