Sunday, 22 July 2012

Satan in Moscow


Ding, dong, bell, Pussy’s in the well, so goes the opening of a traditional English nursery rhyme.  In the modern Russian version Pussy is not in a well but in prison.  She was told by a Moscow judge on Friday that she must remain there, poor beast, until at least January of next year, pending proceedings on a charge of ‘hooliganism.’ 

The Pussy in question is actually three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk rock band.  Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samutsevich, all in their twenties, have been in custody since March, arrested for their part in protests against Vladimir Putin’s re-election to the presidency earlier this year.  It’s a sign that the more things change in Russia the more they remain the same; that free speech is a right more often defined by its absence.

The whole case is tinged with some ludicrous colours, nothing more ludicrous than the offence itself.  They were arrested for performing an impromptu punk prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, beseeching the Virgin to ‘Drive Putin Out.’ 

That’s it; for that they will be held for a total of ten months in detention.  When the case eventually, if ever, goes to trial they could face another seven years if convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”  Bail has been repeatedly denied despite the fact that two of the women have young children.  There have even been calls to deprive them of their parental rights along with their liberty. 

How Stalin, sleeping fitfully under the Kremlin Wall, would marvel at modern Russia.  The Orthodox Church, which he and his comrades subjected to systematic persecution, is once again a power in the land.  The hierarchy, which has close ties to Putin, supports the continuing incarceration of the three women, though the majority of ordinary believers want them to be released.

Boris Akunin, a popular writer of crime fiction, has described the “state’s malice” towards the women as “disgusting.”  It certainly is, but there is more than simple malice here.  The whole process is acquiring Gothic overtones, reminiscent of past prosecutions for witchcraft.  Salem, it might be said, has flown east.

On Thursday, Mikhail Kuznetsov, a lawyer acting for one of the Cathedral guards, accused Pussy Riot of being motivated by the same “Satanic forces” that carried out the 9/11 attacks on America.  The punk band is apparently the "tip of an iceberg of extremists, trying to break down the thousand year edifice of the Russian Orthodox Church by creating a schism, guiding the flock through trickery and cunning not to God, but to Satan. Behind this stands real enemies of our state, and Church."

A heavy indictment indeed, if one believes that opposition to Putin has demonic overtones.  Democracy and free speech would also seem to have a devilish character in modern Russia.  Well, by and large, they always have. Satan is back in Moscow.  Readers of Mikhail Bulgakov will surely love the irony.  


8 comments:

  1. Religion and politics make people crazy, RELEASE THE PUSSIES!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ana, I think you're wrong on this one - "Hooliganism" might sound like a remnant of the Soviet era, but it does fairly accurately describe this group of women.

    Their attack on the cathedral was one of many occurrences of this sort of activity. For example, one member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, (despite her being VERY pregnant at the time) launched an orgy in a very public place in the Moscow Biological Museum.

    If you read the local news outlets, you can see where this isn't a group of pretty girls that like to sing in unusual places. Per a Moscow Times reporter who attended an event that lead to the splitting off of "Pussy Riot" from a larger group of artists called "Voina": "When asked about their activities and to what extent they considered themselves artists, Tolokonnikova responded plainly that members of Voina were artists only insofar as they had "something to say politically."

    No, here in Virginia if a group of women wearing masks trespassed into, and desecrated a cathedral because the Archbishop made a favourable comment about a recent election, they would be facing a pretty considerable list of offences. They also almost certainly would lose custody of their children to the Child Protection Service.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CB, that’s fine and I can understand that this kind of childish stunt could wound the feelings of the faithful. But, as I say, as time as passed, many of the ordinary Orthodox believers are calling for their release. The action of the authorities here seems to me to be wholly disproportionate, ten months in jail followed by the possibility of a hefty prison sentence. The malice of the state makes them look like martyrs rather than infantile poseurs. That’s really my point.

      Delete
  3. In Russia, the State is still God, and Putin is its prophet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alas, it's the tragedy of Russian history. If you've not already read it, Calvin, I thoroughly recommend Everything Flows, Vasily Grossman's unfinished novel.

      Delete
  4. Unbelievable! Behavior like this here in the US certainly wouldn't warrant any jail time, maybe just a misdemeanor offense. Hearing about the Pussies ordeal really makes me think about how I take my constitutional right to free speech for granted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed so, Kris. Alas, Russia follows the same old tired path.

      Delete