— The Erimtan Angle —

From Moscow, FT’s Charles Clover reported last month that “[t]wo members of an all-girl punk band have been jailed and may face stiff prison sentences for a prank-like performance inside Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral last month. The harsh treatment of the musicians seemed to signal a rising intolerance for dissent in the wake of Sunday’s presidential elections which won Vladimir Putin a third term as Russian president. It is also a test of sorts for radical feminism – a fringe ideology in macho Russia, yet one which seems to be catching on amid three months of protests against the Kremlin”.[1]

The all-girl punk band mentioned above is the “feminist punk-rock collective” called Pussy Riot. They stage ‘politically provocative impromptu performances in Moscow, on subjects such as the status of women in Russia, and most recently against the election campaign of Prime Minister Putin for president of Russia. Their usual costume is skimpy dresses and tights, even in bitterly cold weather, with their faces masked by brightly colored balaclavas, both while performing and giving interviews, for which they always use pseudonyms. The collective is made up of about 10 performers, and about 15 people who handle the technical work of shooting and editing their videos, which are posted to the Internet. The group cites American punk rock band Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl movement of 1990s as an inspiration. “What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse and a non-standard female image,” Pussy Riot said’, as related by the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia.[2]

The Wiki entry goes on to explain: ‘On February 21, 2012, as a part of the growing protest movement against Vladimir Putin, Pussy Riot performed a punk rock song in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In the song, the group prayed to the “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin” to “chase Putin out.” On March 3, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, two alleged members of Pussy Riot, were arrested by Russian authorities and accused of “hooliganism”, for which they face up to 7 years in prison. Both arrested women deny being members of the group and started a hunger strike in protest against being held in jail away from their young children until their case comes to trial in April. On March 16, another woman, Irina Loktina, who had earlier acted as a witness in this case, was similarly arrested and charged. According to Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, all women are charged with “hooliganism” according to article 213/2 of the Russian Criminal Code, without any evidence for incriminating such charges, which makes both pre-trial arrest and the charges illegal. This action may cost the women up to seven years in prison, if convicted. All three are recognized as political prisoners by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (SPP). Amnesty International named them prisoners of conscience due to “the severity of the response of the Russian authorities”. However, opinions in Russia about this act and its social acceptability differ significantly. ­Speaking at a liturgy in Moscow’s Deposition of the Robe Cathedral on March 21, 2012, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill I of Moscow condemned Pussy Riot’s actions at Christ the Savior Cathedral as “blasphemous” saying that the “Devil has laughed at all of us. We have no future if we allow mocking in front of great shrines, and if some see such mocking as some sort of valour, as an expression of political protest, as an acceptable action or a harmless joke,” the Patriarch said. Meanwhile, several thousands of Orthodox and Catholic believers, the believers of other religions and even atheists signed a petition to Patriarch Kirill, begging the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to stand up for the girls. inger Alla Pugachyova appealed on the women’s behalf, stating that they should be ordered to perform community service rather than be imprisoned’.[3]

On 19 April 2012, the news agency Reuters reports that ‘Russian police detained at least 13 people who demonstrated outside a courthouse on Thursday against the arrest of three members of a women’s punk rock group that performed a protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral, witnesses said. The court was to decide whether to extend the detention of the three women over the performance, in which the group known as Pussy Riot sang a song against president-elect Vladimir Putin in short dresses and coloured masks in Christ the Saviour Cathedral. About 60 of the group’s supporters chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” outside the beige brick Moscow courthouse and some released green, pink and yellow balloons with Pussy Riot’s trademark masks drawn on them. Scuffles broke out when a Russian Orthodox bystander threw an egg at the husband of one of the three detainees. A Reuters reporter saw police drag at least 13 people off into police vans, two of them for throwing a smoke bomb. The three women could face seven years in jail on hooliganism charges but deny taking part in the protest in February. No date has been set for trial and the court was expected to extend their pre-trial detention. Anger over their arrest has fuelled criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose status has improved vastly since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and which has played an increasingly active role in politics since then’.[4]


[1] Charles Clover, “Russia jails female punk band members” FT (08 March 2012). http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/0112976c-6938-11e1-9618-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1sWY1y9yQ.

[2] “Pussy Riot” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pussy_Riot.

[3] “Pussy Riot” Wikipedia.

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