Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Pussy Riot’s act of rebellion

It’s safe to say that Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill didn’t quite realise what they were getting when they decided to tackle Pussy Riot. Dealing firmly and swiftly with dissent has been the way of the walk in Moscow for …

Wed, Aug 1, 2012, 08:16

   

It’s safe to say that Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill didn’t quite realise what they were getting when they decided to tackle Pussy Riot. Dealing firmly and swiftly with dissent has been the way of the walk in Moscow for decades regardless of who is in power so there was unlikely to have been much hesitation about prosecuting three young female artists on charges of hooliganism, after a performance on the the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral in February. The authorities probably thought the young women wouldn’t be much threat to anyone after a few weeks in prison and certainly didn’t think they’d attract much public support.


Pussy Riot at a performance in Moscow’s Red Square in January

Never in their wildest nightmares did the combined forces of politicans, churchmen and police think that the simple act of detaining Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich would lead to huge attention worldwide on what’s happening this week in a Moscow courtroom, not least a flurry of editorials in various Western newspapers.

In fairness, Pussy Riot probably didn’t realise what would happen either. Carole Cadwalladr’s Observer piece on the background to this case makes the point that they’re the most unlikely of revolutionaries. Simple acts, though, sometimes have a way of having the biggest impact and the authorities’ disproportionate reaction to their protest at the cathedral has ensured that Pussy Riot’s acts have received a much bigger audience than would usually be the case with such a performance.

The fact that it’s a story which has brought an abundance of issues to the fore – the increasing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on the affairs of the Russian state, the return of Putin to the helm as president, the crackdown on dissident voices (see the latest incident in the Alexei Navalny case, for example) and changes in how Russia’s growing middle-class regard their lot – means there’s a lot of interest in just what will happen to the three women. There are undoubtedly plenty of other stories akin to the Pussy Riot case which have not received the same degree of publicity, yet this is undeniably the one which has focused Western eyes on the current state of play in Russia.

That it has taken a punk performance group called Pussy Riot to push this to the fore is the weirest thing of all. Art pranks and performances like the ones which the group embarked upon this year aren’t usually met by this sort of overbearing, cumbersome reaction. While it’s probably a touch overblown to claim the trial and shenanigans will irretrievably damage Putin, we know from observing the roots of other seismic changes in the last few years that stranger things have happened. Moreover, it demonstrates yet again the changes which are well underway regarding how information on these protests is distributed. As we have seen from events elsewhere, totalitarian regimes are not (yet) as handy at shutting down YouTube pages and other social media channels as they are at bashing skulls on the streets.

It’s interesting too that it’s an arts happening which has caused this fuss. Instead of waiting for others to do the heavy lifting via the usual protest marches and demonstrations, Pussy Riot decided to do what they do best and put on a few holy shows. That this activism of a much different stripe has caused more palaver than anything else is definitely something worthy of note. It also makes you wonder if punk performance of a similar kind could shake other societies out of their collective inertia.

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