April 17, 2014 in General
In 1991, I watched in enthralled disbelief and hope as attempted hardliner coup failed in Moscow and liberal democratic politics arrived in Moscow. Like most other democratic socialists, I had despised the USSR, didn’t mourn its loss, and wondered if it would metamorphose into a pluralist democratic society like much of the western world and its post-communist former Warsaw Pact satellites.
By 2001, those hopes had turned to ash. Traumatised by economic free-fall and military decline, Russia turned its back on meaningful democratic institutions and entrusted its fate to a conservative authoritarian ex-KGB officer…Vladimir Putin. Oil revenue brought rampant consumerism and new wealth, blinding Russians to the silent cumulative coups d’├ętat carried out under the aegis of Putinism, its reborn autocracy and the hollow cardboard fa├žade of meaningless pseudo-democratic institutions such as Putin’s puppet United Russia Party and the federal Duma. Kitsch, medieval displays of Russian Orthodoxy genuflected over Russia’s new overlords as they had over the tsars, with no pretense of social service or assistance to the poor, homeless, alcoholic or addicted.
Nurtured on a healthy diet of post-structuralism, feminism, performance art, civil disobedience and a raw, angry artisanal punk ethos, the wondrous Pussy Riot emerged. It’s true that some critics of Putinist repression are dismissive of the spectacle of performance art, but these four heroic women have paid for their impromptu piece of performance theatre in the massive, empty baroque artifice of the Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, where they enacted a “punk prayer” which asked the Virgin Mary to have mercy on the Russian people and get rid of Vladimir Putin. “Blasphemy”, cried Patriarch Kyrill and his hierarchy of elderly men, especially as it distracted attention from their own piece of ridiculous fetishistic medieval theatre, involving what was purported to be the aforementioned Virgin Mary’s Girdle. In a robust yet respectful manner, the four women did not deserve imprisonment on that archaic charge or imprisonment after a farcical kangaroo court trial within Russia’s corrupt criminal justice system. Happily, Pussy Riot became a cause celebre and across the world, feminist, LGBT, civil libertarian, free speech and other activists took the opportunity to condemn Putinism’s autocracy and repression.
Of course, there’s one slight exception to this rule. As Vladimir Putin styles himself as a fellow religious social conservative, autocratic practitioner of censorship and institutionalised homophobia, the international Christian Right has decided that Russia “must” be defended at all costs. Witness Colin Craig’s embarrassingly facile, ignorant remarks about Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2013 on Radio Kidnappers in the Hawkes Bay. Apparently, it was “okay” because hey, at least the Crimeans had held a hastily organised┬áreferendum to rubber-stamp the annexation. And us? Pussy Riot are fierce critics of Putinist censorship and homophobia as well as the assorted Russian attacks on LGBT and other civil liberties and human rights under his reign.
Pussy Riot are Revolting Women! Long may their insurgency continue!
Masha Gessen: Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot: London: Granta: 2014.