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

 

 

Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece
Jeffrey R. Wilson
“It Started Like a Guilty Thing”: the Beginning of Hamlet and the Beginning of Modern Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Star Whores: John McCain, the Apache and the Battle to Save Mt. Graham
Pepe Escobar
The Eurasian Big Bang: How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington
Charles Larson
The USA as a Failed State: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Robert Fantina
Israel and “Self-Defense”
John W. Whitehead
The American Nightmare: the Tyranny of the Criminal Justice System
Leonidas Vatikiotis
Rupture With the EU: a Return to the Cave Age or a New Golden Age for Greece?
Murray Dobbin
Harper is Finally Right: the Canadian Election is About Security Versus Risk
Brian Cloughley
Meet General Joseph Dunford: a Real Threat to World Peace
Manuel García, Jr.
The Trump Surge and the American Psyche
Pete Dolack
We May Have Already Committed Ourselves to 6-Meter Sea-Level Rise
Eric Draitser
US Targets Venezuela Using Border Dispute as Pretext
Michael Barker
The Challenge to Labour and Tory Extremism
Robert Hunziker
America’s Purple Politics
Ishmael Bishop
Decentering Whiteness in the Wake of a North Carolina Tragedy
Chad Nelson
Something About Carly: Fiorina and the Professional Political Class