Pussy Riot Trial: Who’s the Real Winner?

By
Share:

This morning, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, from the punk band/radical artist collective Pussy Riot were convicted of “hooliganism with the intent to incite religious hatred” to serve out a sentence of two years in a prison colony each. Their crime? Spending a whopping 40 seconds inside the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow dancing, kicking, and throwing up their fists to their anti-Putin protest song “Punk Prayer.”

Seem like a bit much? It’s a “softened” sentence, according to the judge, because some of the women have young children and this was their first offense. Some of the “victims” — that is, the Eastern Orthodox Christians who witnessed the act or glimpsed at it on YouTube or just merely heard it mentioned in the news and were thus thrown into moral “agony” over the blasphemous “interruption of social order” — had requested leniency. They complained about the bright balaclavas, the “fists,” the “demonic seizing,” the short skirts and high kicks that revealed offensive thighs, and, worst of all, calling for a prayer when only a church employee is authorized to do such a thing. The “victims” were scandalized after witnessing Pussy Riot trespassing in areas of the church were no women were allowed, and taking the Virgin’s name in vain by asking her to “become a feminist!” in their chants. However, watching the trial unfold for the last day on a live-streamed Russian channel, it was clear that this was much more than a case of Orthodox religious wrath.

What the judge didn’t say is, Russian president Vladimir Putin was the one particular victim who expressed a desire for leniency. “There’s nothing good in this,” the Russian president said recently in London. “I don’t think they should be judged too severely for this, but the final decision rests with the courts – I hope the court will deliver a correct, well-founded ruling.” Hint hint. Consider it a favor, Pussy Riot The “Punk Prayer” lyrics “The head of the KGB, their chief saint, leads protesters to prison under escort” had become prophetic, but he went easy on you. After all, the initial charge could have earned these young women a seven-year sentence.

The girls smiled and remained stoic during the trial, laughing when the judge finally read aloud the lyrics to Punk Prayer. “Shit, shit, shit, holy shit!” Indeed.

They were well aware that the case rested on something quite imbalanced and contrived. Pussy Riot had already apologized — not for their actions, but for any misinterpretations of their actions as attacks on Christian people. This was a protest against the religious institution and its un-Christian corruption, specifically “the visual culture” of that particular Cathedral, the backdrop to Putin-appointed Patiarch Kirill’s regular broadcasts over state-controlled Russian television — opulent, orchestrated productions. It was on one of these broadcasts that Kirill endorsed Putin for president as a Savior of Russia.

To stage footage that was later used in a viral YouTube video was an act of activist performance art and, if it didn’t displease Putin immensely, the international, celebrity-studded bandwagon of support must have. Yet, mentions of this protest in a political context were few and far between in the judge’s remarks today. Instead, she recalled testimony after testimony of similarly “victimized” Orthodox witnesses. In a defining moment this morning, it was revealed that one church employee who gave testimony did not realize this was an anti-Putin action, that all he heard was “some” offensive things about “God” and “the Virgin,” and that the cry “Virgin Mary, become a feminist!” was blasphemous — and not at all political. Right? Right.

The judge droned on arcanely, repetitively, harshly this morning, saying little of importance until she had to state the reasons for why an unprecedented number of objections were shut down. To be quite honest, those reasons seemed obscure, and it didn’t help that she mumbled her way through them. Outside the courtroom, Gary Kasparov and other outspoken political figures and media celebrities were plucked out of the crowd and arrested. When the condescending sentence was finally announced, jeers of “Shame!” and “This is an inquisition!” erupted in the court. Thousands are protesting outside and thousands are marching around the world.

Who won? Surely, this pleased Patriarch Kirill, who was personally attacked in his church. As the victims complained, Pussy Riot did not have the right to lead a prayer. They were too wicked, too female, too loud, and how dare they question their authorities? Even though to the Western public they seemed like angels, for months the state-controlled television networks demonized them as foreign (Nadia has a Canadian ID!), as devils (they participated in sexually explicit actions with Voina!), as corruptors (they dared to stand up for Russia’s medievally persecuted queer population!). Clearly, these women were not the authorities on “good and evil.” But Kirill, poor offended Kirill, was — despite a recent scandal involving a $30,000-$150,000 watch showing through his robes, inadequately Photoshopped by the church, a most favorite accessory of KGB agents back in the day. Kirill is the authority on “good and evil” and naturally, his statements and condemnations of Pussy Riot to hell, as well as alleged calls to Putin, had fueled the aggression, even as the world canonizes Pussy Riot over the Internet and in the streets. Now, these punk rock angels are going to prison. The judge “fed the wolves,” like the Russian saying goes. Sadly, it can all be summed up in this quote from journalist Julia Ioffe, tweeted from the courtroom: “This is what theocracy feels like.”