The 3 members of the feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot have been found guilt of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, after being detained for months for their February 21 protest at the Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Pussy Riot is a 7-member punk-rock band in Russia infamous for staging impromptu performances in public areas demonstrating their disdain for the return of a Stalin-esque era under Putin. Most recently, the 7 members staged one such performance in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, criticizing the support Putin has received from the church. The resulting crackdown by police forces after the video went viral represents that return of censorship and repression that has been installed under Putin. The return of Putin has been marked by continuous protests and demonstrations against the militaristic, hard-lined conservative President notorious for his repressive handling of anything liberal. So saying, the recent suppression of Pussy Riot serves as another illustration of the dictatorial nature of the President, marking a blow against freedom of expression and the return disproportionate punishment. The 3 women that were detained for over 5 months have been convicted of charges of hate-motivated hooliganism and sentenced to 2 years in prison. Moscow’s Khamonvinchsky District Court found 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23-year-old Maria Alyokhina, and 30-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevish guilty on charges of hooliganism committed by a groups of persons motivated by religious hatred, under article 213, part 2 of Russia’ criminal code. Despite the reported ruling for anti-religion, the group’s activism was aimed at criticizing the politics of the Church and the support it has for Putin. The claims of religious hatred are fraudulent and mark the corruption of the justice system instituted in Russia, thus signifying the emerging conservative state based upon vague laws and bureaucracy used to control the citizens. Not only was the verdict unjust and unfounded, but the proceedings of the trial were shameful and dishonest, shaking the belief of any Russians that were still optimistically in support of the faux democracy under Putin. The judge rejected the defense and refused to hear reports from several witnesses who were in support of the band members, firmly denying all accounts of political activism and focusing solely on the religious aspect of the band’s ‘punk prayer’. So saying, the trial of Pussy Riot has gained international attention, resulting in a sensationalist fervor in international media that has proliferated the reports of harsh treatment and possible torture while in police custody. Evidently, the personal vendetta of Putin against the protest movement has resulted in the disproportionate punishment levied against the members of the band, turning the protest into a much more accredited symbolic movement that has gained international support and thus renewed attention on the practices of Putin’s theological rubber-stamping repressive regime.
“It’s clear in this case that the women’s aim was to make a political statement, and it’s also clear that some found their actions offensive. But there is still a long way to go between an offensive political statement and a hate crime.” – Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Director of Europe and Central Asia division
The trial of Pussy Riot, at first a propaganda show by Putin to discourage further protests by crucifying the members as feminist hooligans of questionable morality, an erroneous judgement based upon their ‘unethical’ attack on religious values; the trial has spun chaotically into an international media fervor in which corruption and repression have become defining headlines for Putin’s return. The media has seized upon the offences of the regime, intensifying the diplomatic pressure on Putin for the unjust ruling and punishments. Reports being proliferated throughout the Western world allege that the band members have been forced to sit in cages for 5 days, some days for 10 hours at a time, being denied food and adequate sleep. The regime has attempted to exhaust the members in order to extinguish their revolutionary fires, fires that have spread throughout the Russian and international public encouraging uproar and condemnation for such human rights violations. Nevertheless, as the solidarity of the Western masses begin to coalesce into clusters of sensationalist supporters, the severity of the situation is being muddled in the new form of pop culture activism which, despite resonating enthusiasm, is short-lived and quickly turned into a celebration of issues not at central to the real problem being debated. This is later turned into an exploit of commercialism that ends in the decay of the movement and the loss of a cause based on good intentions. Pussy Riot embodies the questions about Russia’s degrading political freedoms and civil liberties, a series of problems that have escalated under the iron fist of Putin’s powers. In 2010, a Moscow district court found the co-organizers of a controversial art exhibit “Forbidden Art-2006”, at the Sakharov Museum in Moscow guilty of inciting religious hatred, which is considered an extremist offense, and fined them. In June and July, in the midst of protests against Putin’s election, the newly formed loyalist parliament adopted a raft of laws putting new restrictions on certain nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding, on public demonstrations, and on the Internet. During a winter peaceful opposition protest, authorities arrested demonstrators who were reportedly involved in a clash with police during the mass demonstration. They were later charged with crimes disproportionate to their alleged actions. Police have also conducted searches of the homes of opposition leaders that seemed intended to intimidate them. Evidently, the intensified oppression of liberties and freedom marks the rise of the police state in Russia, centered around a cult of personality that resembles one of the Soviet era. Putin’s use of force is not aimed at protecting public order and security, but instead, at setting boundaries for political criticism.
“The millions of dollars of taxpayer money spent in the last few years on fixing the image of our country abroad have been thrown to the wind. Our image is getting closer to a medieval dictatorship, although in reality we are not that.” – Tina Kandelaki, prominent pro-Putin media personality
The controversy of Pussy Riot’s performances and messages have allowed for their trail and stance against political takeover to be heard across the world, constructing a solidarity movement of organizations and countries in support of the release of the female band members. Nevertheless, the hype behind the members is being warped by popular culture. Kony 2012 is a fit warning for the development of movements dedicated to representing and fighting for the just causes of Pussy Riot. Kony 2012 brought to light a serious problem – warlords escaping justice in Central Africa – but it was turned into an exercise in commercialism, militarism, and Western meddling. The intensity of the movement was rampant in the first few months but quickly died away as the message quickly became distorted by public mediums in charge of manipulating ideas and ideals to be readily consumed by the masses. In Russia, Pussy Riot’s new found Western fans are taking the severity of the cause – fighting against political corruption and infringement on civil liberties and freedoms – and turning it into a celebration of feminist punk music and art. The attention is being drawn from Putin and the hierarchy that is being installed. For instance, whilst the Western sensationalist culture stars perpetuate the public fervor in directions other than political rights, there lacks any coverage of the much harsher sentences facing the not so famous and not-female co-protesters. Along with Arytom Savylov, 12 other protesters have charged with calling for mass disorder and assaulting police officers. Each of them could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. This is not to say that there is special attention geared towards Pussy Riot because of their status as women, but their popularity in pop culture has allowed them to become figureheads for the media. With respect, the media has allowed for the trial and unjust ruling to become a global phenomenon but it also results in a smokescreen for the more nefarious actions being committed but not reported. The obsessive focus on these 3 women, not for their activism or political dissent, but for their status as female punk rockers, risks drawing attention away from other Russian activists or political prisoners and focusing it instead on the plight of all-women punk rock bands, which is decidedly less dire. Moreover, the message of Pussy Riot is about political action and refusing to stand by and allow for the Russia people to be, once again, enslaved by the President. So saying, the members would not look favorably on the media distortion of the trial’s unjust ending and the manipulated focus on punk rock and popular items of culture that are not correlated to the activist call that they perpetuate. The consequences of the cultural focus also envelop the ability for Putin to manipulate the coverage by appearing lenient and forgiving towards the bands’ members (as has done by asking for lenient sentencing), while he deals in backrooms for harsher treatment of the other protesters (which was done and said above).
“It shows that the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society. Each step in the case has been an affront to human rights.” – Michelle Ringuette, Amnesty International
In retrospect, the controversy surrounding Pussy Riot brings to light the re-emergence of the Soviet-era police state under former-KGB member, Vladimir Putin; yet, the overt attention of manipulated media has skewed international perspectives away from the general repression of the Russian people and more towards the popular culture item – a female punk rock band. The development of cultural hype about the detention of these members is likely to converge with Kony 2012 in a cesspool of yet another failed international propaganda movement. So saying, Putin has attempted to crucify the members in a general policy of ending future protests to his Soviet-esque power and though this has failed, Putin has succeeded in diverting attention away from the trials and tribulations of other political prisoners being tortured and sentenced to much harsher terms. The Western world has hoped onto the bandwagon of Pussy Riot-related injustices because of their cultural significance as a punk rock band, their status as female punk-rockers and because of the provocative nature of the name, a multitude of selling points for the profit-seeking media networks. It is this consequence of cultural hype that must be avoided so as to honor the purpose of Pussy Riot and the many other revolutionary persons in Russia that have braved the repression of Russian authorities to demonstrate the return of totalitarianism in Russia. It is the mission and its objective of transparency in a faux democracy that should be celebrated in the Western lands, not the unjust sentence of a few female punk rockers.