Archive for August, 2012

Bikini Kirill: Pussy Riot and Civil Disobedience

Why are you arresting me, I’m practising civil disobedience?!

During this age of latte liberals we’ve forgotten the actual purpose of civil disobedience.  It’s not because you have anything particularly interesting to say.  Anyone can say “fuck the system.”  True courage lies in being willing to give up your own freedom for something you believe in.  In fact I’d go so far as to say civil disobedience is pointless if you don’t get arrested or otherwise persecuted.  No one would read How I Didn’t Get Sent to the Gulag by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov’s I’m Still a Well Respected Physicist Working for a System I Abhor.  And so now that three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison what are we to make of it all?

I’ll admit, it took me a little while to warm up to Pussy Riot.  First, their name is absolutely ridiculous (though I must say it’s amusing to hear so many straight-laced newsreaders being forced to pronounce it, like a modern day “Deep Throat”).  Second, I’ve never really “gotten” the whole riot grrrl movement.  There seems to be more emphasis on anger than song structure (although I do quite enjoy latter day Sleater-Kinney).  In general I just don’t like angry people.  It’s possible to combat injustice while keeping a cool head.

But Pussy Riot is a bit different.  They aren’t really a proper band per se.  They haven’t released any albums and their public performances are not so much concerts as they are political theatre.  And that’s what their performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was: theatre.  It was horribly offensive and incredibly attention-grabbing.  It got the job done… sort of.  The thing is now everybody seems to be focused solely on Pussy Riot rather then the message they were trying to convey.  And their current message is protesting the close relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the latter of which is currently being led by a less-than-saintly man named Kirill.

Oh, Patriarch Kirill.  He is a man that values mammon over God, he has KGB skeletons in his closet, he’s BFF with Putin and a supporter of Lukashenko.  He sees himself as the leader of all Eastern Orthodox Christians and has schemed with Turkey to limit the power of the communion’s real primus inter pares, Patriarch Bartholomew.  He’s also a magician, known for his famous disappearing watch trick.  Swell guy, really.  And the Russian Orthodox Church has always had a far too close relationship with the government.  The only time it wasn’t close was during the Soviet era when it was more or less illegal.  Even then during World War II the church had close ties with Stalin who used it as a tool to drum up nationalism.  So asking for a little separation isn’t unreasonable.

It would appear the band members are not Christians, which is unfortunate.  I mean, I don’t care what they personally believe it but it would lend more legitimacy.  It’s like when veterans criticize war, you always take it more seriously.  But it seems they have plenty of Orthodox followers, including one of their lawyers, and they are certainly no strangers to the Bible.  Their closing statements at the trial are riddled with biblical quotations and other religious allusions.  My favourite was Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s reference of yurodstvo, which is the concept of performing foolish and outrageous actions for the love of Christ.  Seriously, the statements, although long, are well worth the read.

So does that mean I think they should be released?  Not necessarily.  What they did was still offensive (although they have apologized for that part) and even here in the free world they would have at least received a fine.  But more importantly is the issue of media coverage.  I think they should stay in prison because that way at least the issue has a chance to stay in the headlines for a bit longer.  If they are released it will all be forgotten.  Make no mistake, it will be forgotten eventually, regardless.  After all, when was the last time you heard anything about Mikhail Khordokovsky?  He’s still in jail and the government that put him there is still in power.  So I’m not really concerned that Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are in prison.  I’m more concerned that Vladimir Putin isn’t.

Sources:
The Economist: The Pussy Riot verdict: An amazing piece of political theatre
The Economist: Turkey and Russia: Old rivals, new partners
BBC News: Russian Orthodox Church defiant over Pussy Riot trial
The New York Times: In Russia, a Watch Vanishes Up Kirill’s Sleeve
n+1: Pussy Riot Closing Statements
YouTube: Pussy Riot-Punk Prayer.mp4