Pussy Riot – Russia now realises the eyes on the world are upon it

8th August, 2012 4:22 pm

It has just been announced that the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial will be given on 17th August at 3pm. I was in Moscow on Monday and Tuesday for the closing stages of the court case against them, although I missed the women giving their final, final statements in court earlier today (as opposed to the final statements they gave on Tuesday – the Russian legal system is quite bewildering for an outside observer!).

The court case lasted only 8 days, but international attention has grown massively over that time. The case was originally seen as something trivial, just three young women pulling a silly stunt in a Moscow cathedral, which got them into hot water. It took a while for people to realise not just that the women were facing a possible 7 year jail sentence, but many now argue that the case also throws into the spotlight many things about Putin’s Russia. It’s about the right to protest and the authorities’ tolerance of freedom of speech, assembly and expression. It’s about the role of the Orthodox Church in modern-day Russia. It’s about feminism – described by one of the victims’ lawyers in court as “a mortal sin”. And it’s about the extent to which a society accepts those who don’t conform to its norms. (The victims’ lawyers, by the way, are there to represent the nine people who say they were insulted or traumatised by witnessing the performance – they seemed to be taking a lead in presenting the case against the women, rather than the official prosecutor.

Russia has a grand tradition of surrealism in its art and literature. I read Gogol’s The Nose as a young student, which is about how a civil servant’s nose detaches itself from his body, dresses up in his greatcoat and ends up assuming his role in society. It’s a satire, but deliberately absurd – and the same could be said of Pussy Riot. They were very serious about what they were saying, but chose to do it by dressing up in bright clothes and balaclavas, giving themselves a silly name, and having a bit of fun at the same time. It’s only now, as the court case concludes, that many are seeing past the silliness and realising that these young women are bright, articulate and are saying things that deserve a response.

Much has been written elsewhere about the flaws in the trial process and the fact that THE charges brought against the women – “hooliganism” and “religious hatred” under ancient ecclesiastical laws – weren’t the charges that should have been brought, if any. Inevitably international attention has grown as the celebrities have stepped in. The activists I met with yesterday were busy exchanging texts about whether Pussy Riot would go on stage with Madonna at her concert in Moscow last night. (Not the imprisoned three; Pussy Riot is a loose collective of women, and if you don a balaclava and take part in a Pussy Riot protest, that’s it, you’re a member). As it happens, Madonna donned a balaclava for Like a Virgin.

Some might decry the involvement of celebrities, but it’s actually hugely important. There was a massive crowd at the Olympic stadium in Moscow for Madonna, and when she turned round and had Pussy Riot scrawled on her back, the crowd went wild – making it hard for any politician to ignore.

We will wait to see what the verdict will be on August 17th, but I think Russia now realises the eyes on the world are upon it.

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  • Kerry’s work on this has been fantastic, and commendable. Labour need to take a strong line on Russia’s human rights violations which are gathering speed as documented by Index on Censorship who have covered the Pussy Riot trial from the beginning: 
    http://uncut.indexoncensorship.org/2012/08/pussy-riot-versus-the-religarchy/

    Unlike the German SPD who have been completed captured by the Kremlin, it’s good to see Labour MPs such as Kerry, Denis MacShane and Chris Bryant keep on Russia’s case. 

  • Brumanuensis

    Potentially iconic photo of Nadya, from Pussy Riot (tweeted by opposition activist Alexei Navalny):

    http://instagram.com/p/ODvihtIC_D/

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    The eyes of the world are also – or should be – on Syria, where in some cases the punishment for being an 18 month old child whose parents live in the “wrong” district of Aleppo are to have your bedroom blown apart by artillery, and the Russians veto any discussion in the UN Security Council.

    That is “blown apart” in the sense of unsurvivable through blast over-pressure, crush injuries from falling masonry (or simply falling to street level), shrapnel, or the inability to access proper medical treatment, due to the hospitals being deliberately targeted, and medical supplies unable to reach physicians. Even anaesthesia is in short supply, so those young lives are snuffed out in agony.

    Against that having a British howl of protest from behind the keyboard on a little visited political website against the Russian treatment of some singers who deliberately provoke the Russian state with a bit of a protest sing song in a a church seems to be a bit self-indulgent.

    • Emmaburnell

      This is whataboutery of the worst kind. The attrocities in Syria have nothing to do with any other awful things happening at the same time and pretending that to focus on one is to ignore the other is ignorant and insulting to good people.

    • If you think this site is “little visited” (which it isn’t) then you certainly spend a great deal of time commenting here Jaime…

  • You do not get it.

    If someone danced around in our local Catholic church like that, I, as a Catholic, would be really cross. When that old man shouted at Jack Straw in the Labour Conference, he was removed very forcibly, I seem to remember.

    Some things are sacred.

    • “cross” – you don’t get it – they are facing 7 years in jail. There’s a huge difference from what happened to Walter Wolfgang, and spending nearly a decade in a Russian prison (where significant numbers of people have died in detention). 

    • KonradBaxter

      Would you have been relally cross when Jesus threw the money lenders out of the temple?

    • Sid

       As the resident Victor Meldrew of Labourlist you’re always cross about something, Mike. As a Catholic you might remember this: 
      Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

      Matthew 18:21-22

      I suppose that the same thing goes for sisters too.

    • treborc

       What Rubbish, what happened to Jack Straw showed how pathetic Labours regulations were and the promises made that the Terrorism laws would only be used for Terrorism, Labour had become control freaks.

      As for dancing around in a Catholic church maybe it’s time these people  grew up it’s little wonder nobody takes religious seriously any more.

  • Hcamalcolm

    I agree that Kerry did a great job in reporting this trial, but I’m confused by her attribution of surrealism to Gogol, while the Pussy Riot “girls” are merely “silly”?

    And why shouldn’t celebrities speak out? They may get it right or wrong, but at least they bring contentious issues to wider attention.

  • UKAzeri

    Are human rights tangible political commodity? Is their application ( by UK and West in general) universal in principle and practice?

    To what extent can we lecture Russians on such issues when prisoners can be held without trial here? When rioters get years in prison but MPs months or suspended sentences? When bankers commit major crimes and are not even held criminally responsible? I can go on..

    My point is that Western liberal democracies in general have eroded the idea of human rights as a principle and undermined the rule of law. Certainly there is no comparison to what the Russians are doing but that’s because they simply can’t be bothered with PR BS that is well mastered here…

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