The trial of Pussy Riot: “Mother Mary, drive Putin away”

20 Jul

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/moscow-court-extends-pussy-riot-detention-to-january/story-e6frf7k6-1226431300417

The three young Russian women above–members of Pussy Riot all–have been sentenced for another 6 months of  pre-trial imprisonment in a Moscow court. The women have been imprisoned since February, and were arrested after storming the stage of the Christ the Savior Cathedral and staging an anti-Putin prayer. In January of 2013, they will stand trial on charges of hooliganism and face another 7 years of prison if convicted.

The band members are accused of  “a malicious, carefully planned act to denigrate the feelings and beliefs of the many Orthodox Christian worshippers and to belittle the state’s spiritual foundation.” Although Russia seemingly considers itself a secular nation, charging artists with blasphemy is definitely not in line with a non-religious state structure.

However, perhaps the true blasphemy at issue here is against Russia’s self-appointed god, Vladimir Putin. It cannot be argued that Putin is devoted to stamping out national blasphemy and non-religious attitudes; but it is undeniable that Putin is devoted to eradicating non-believers of his religion.

Pussy Riot is a sprawling collective of young female artists. Generally dressed in short skirts and tights, their faces always sheathed in balaclavas, the women have performed in the Red Square, on the tops of buildings, at anti-Putin protests, and in Moscow streets. While only three of its members are on trial, their arrest must serve as a warning to their bandmates and other vocal critics of the Putin regime.

The prayer to the Virgin Mother to protect her Russian children from an atheist dictator has not been answered.

P.S. July 30: The accused members of Pussy Riot were again in front of  a judge where they still pleaded “Not Guilty,” with the following caveat: “We are admitting that we made an ethical mistake, but an ethical mistake should not be punishable as a crime.”

This change in response might be attributable to the intense scrutiny and severe imprisonment the women have faced, or a relative admission of contrition. It is difficult to speculate. The women are most definitely uncomfortable and upset regarding their situation, so their words of contrition must be taken at least partly as the result of such conditions. Whether singing  in protest on the dais of an Orthodox church is “unethical” is another issue entirely. How might a passionate prayer of protest against an evidently authoritarian leader be deemed unethical? Could it not be argued that to live in compliance is itself a breach of community ethics?

P.S. August 1: Pussy Riot’s imprisonment has been followed by the recent imprisonment of opposition blogger Alexei Navalny on charges of government theft in 2009:

http://www.euronews.com/newswires/1605800-putin-critic-navalny-says-crackdown-just-starting/

Navalny is unsurprised by the arrest, considering it a correlative of a repressive regime intent on authoritarian rule.

It is interesting to consider the arrests of punk rockers Pussy Riot and blogger Navalny as acts on a continuum stretching outside of the political confines of Moscow and into far more nebulous regions of art, speech and the internet. With the advent of the anti-Putin protests last December, it must have been increasingly clear to Putin that he had to respond. However, responding pre-election would have appeared too reactive, his actions too clearly reflecting the charges levelled against him by the protesters. By biding his time, he provided an illusion of tolerance. By now focusing his intimidation on 2 of the more vocal and popular factions, he is able to create a more pressing climate of fear of dissent amongst the common protester;  the latter will be tempted to think: ‘if a group now made famous by their acts and the state’s aggressive response is forced to remain in prison, what might happen to a lesser known, “unimportant” member of the White Ribbon campaign?’

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