здравствуйте! как дела?
I’m great, in case you were wondering. And not just because I get to make a reference to my favorite Russian boy-band, Hands Up. I’m pretty happy because the lovely ladies of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk band have finally gotten their day in court.
In February, members of the band staged a protest at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow, protesting Vladimir Putin as a presidential candidate. The video below intermixes footage of the protest with the band’s public prayer “The Virgin, Putin Banish”.
Lyrics to the song are fearless:
“Black robe, golden shoulder straps- all of the parishioners crawl to bow. The ghost of liberty is in heaven while the gay pride is sent to Siberia in shackles. The head of the KGB, their main saint, brings protestors to prison under an escort. So that their main saint will not be offended, women must give birth and love. Virgin Mary, mother of God, become a feminist. Virgin Mary, mother of God, banish Putin.”
And precisely because of that fearlessness, members of Pussy Riot have been imprisoned since February. Three women were arrested and charged with hooliganism committed for the motives of political, ideological, racial, national, or religious hatred or enmity or for the motives of hatred or enmity towards any social group under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. (Part 2, Article 213).
As a crime, hooliganism was introduced into the criminal code in Soviet Russia and has since been modified, most recently to break down hooliganism into two separate crimes: 1.) hooliganism aggravated by the use of weapons, 2.) hooliganism aggravated by a special motive.
It is in this second crime that the government has a wide discretion to arrest and prosecute. There are two factors that must be taken into consideration: gross violation of public order and a clear disprespect towards the society. These factors are left undefined, but legal scholars have suggested several options, none of which have been formally accepted into Russian law.
In this case, the three members of Pussy Riot are being prosecuted under the second prong – “special motive” because the protest occurred in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral, and that “special motive” is against the Russian Orthodox Church. It is worth noting that the Orthodox Church has publicly supported Putin as a political candidate.
It is here, in the tricky tangle of Church and State, that the members of Pussy Riot find themselves – imprisoned for months, awaiting trial for protesting, under laws that many Russians are protesting.
You see, these women are facing up to 7 years in jail under the crime of hooliganism. The Church, whose very tenets include forgiveness and compassion, has been the driving force in the arrest and prosecution of Pussy Riot. And the members of Pussy Riot, whose protest movement occurred in Moscow’s main cathedral, are arguing that the protest was against Putin, not the Church. And Putin? Well he’s declined to give a comment on the case, but Prime Minister Medvedev has indicated that if this protest had happened elsewhere, members of Pussy Riot would face harsher punishment.
Russian citizens are divided are in their feelings towards the trial. In her testimony on Tuesday, a witness, Lyobov Sokologorskaya, described the satanic nature of Pussy Riot’s protest and testified that the protest has had lasting effects: “I experienced bitterness and pain and feel it to this day, It all looked like devilish skipping. They raised their legs and everything that was below their waists was visible. And that on the ambo, in front of the heavenly gates”.
Others reject this argument and are concerned with the response of the courts, indicating that Putin’s presidency will strengthen the relationship between Church and State and weaken the ability of citizens to speak out. In his Op-Ed piece in the Moscow Times, Georgy Bovy writes: “In many respects, the state’s crackdown on Pussy Riot is meant to send a strong signal to the nationalists in Russia. This strategy is driven by a belief among Putin’s ruling elite that the Soviet Union collapsed because leaders were unable to cope with a rising nationalist mood in the country. Accordingly, ethnic and religious conflict is considered the worst threat facing Russia today. This explains why Putin reacted with such speed and decisiveness to the nationalist riots in Manezh Square two years ago. In his view, nationalist and religious radicalism are interconnected, and he will use harsh measures to nip them in the bud.”
It certainly is a tangled situation, but the message being given to Russian citizens is clear: protesting the government and/or the Church will not be tolerated, especially if you are a woman.
What are your thoughts on the Pussy Riot trial? The protest? The length of the potential sentence? Has Russian gone too far in preventing freedom of speech?
And how does this compare to the freedom to protest in the United States? Think about the SCOTUS decision granting the Westboro Baptist Church the right to protest military funerals – has the US gone too far in ensuring freedom of speech?