Thursday, August 9, 2012

The state that takes on female punk rockers

The fact that I have not written about Pussy Riot and their trial so far does not mean that I was not following it. Several demos and meetings, postings on various forums and translations of documents by and about them later I can say I probably know as much about these women as anyone. I can also say that this article in the New York Times by Michael Idov sums up the situation as far as they and Russian liberals (as confused as they can be) and other pop stars is concerned. It is not long and worth reading.

Apparently, President Putin, who is clearly weighing his options (should I show myself merciful or should I pretend that I have no say about the way our courts decide sentences for political crimes?) said rather crossly that in other countries the women who lip-synced to a punk song in a church for 40 seconds while wearing colourful ski masks over their faces would have fared even worse in other countries.

One wonders which countries he has in mind. In Britain, when Peter Tatchell behaved in a somewhat worse fashion in St Paul's Cathedral he was fined £18 [it's there somewhere in that self-indulgent piece]. That fine is derisory, I agree, but had it been, say, £100 it would still not be in the same category as to what these young women are going through and are possibly facing.

Let me recap on that: they have been in prison since March in large cells with serious criminals who, it would appear, have treated them well if with some disdain and lack of comprehension; they have not been allowed bail and thus have not seen their young children; they are being deprived of sleep and proper food; during the trial they are kept in ridiculous glass cages; and, should they be found guilty, they are facing sentences of seven years hard labour.

Their cause has become a celebrity cause. I am not sure what I think about that. On the one hand, it is good to keep public attention on this tragicomical performance; on the other hand, all this celebrity support (even the New Statesman!) allows the Russian authorities to proclaim that Pussy Riot are clearly foreign agents. Furthermore, focusing on just one group of victims we forget many others, such as the people who were arrested after the May 8 demonstration or the people who are in prison and labour camp already for not being obedient enough or for getting in somebody's way. We need to pay attention to all of them.

The case has come to and end and verdict and sentence are expected on August 17.


  1. Pushed away from the "Olympic Broadcasting Corporation" to Russia Today (RT) as one of the few sources of actual, if very biased, news, I am struck by the contrasting ways RT treats Assange, as a hero, and Pussy Riot as criminals. At the least, this is amusing hypocrisy.

  2. In the United States, the penalty for criminal trespass varies widely. In Texas it is 6 months max, in Indiana 3 years and $10k in fines. I suspect that somebody in Russia has assembled a list of how they could have been charged elsewhere and Putin's commenting on jurisdictions where the penalties are just as stiff.