Pussy Riot – “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”

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Photo of PuSsY RiOtI think it’s time we showed a bit of solidarity here.  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samusevich are currently on trial in a Russian court for the offence of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility”.  The three were arrested when they tried to play their song  “Holy Shit, Putin’s Pissed Himself” in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on February 21 this year and now face the prospect of a seven year prison sentence.  Call me old-fashioned, but isn’t that just a bit of an over-reaction.

I’m not claiming that the UK has a spotless record here because it hasn’t.  The Rolling Stones’ Redlands drugs bust in 1967 and the subsequent trials of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard were blatant attempts by the British establishment to tarnish the reputation of rebellious rock ‘n’ rollers while providing stories for the prurient tabloids and outraged “Seething of Tunbridge Wells” broadsheets.

And never mind the Mars bars, what about the Pistols?  The slightest whiff of controversy and anti-establishment rhetoric was enough to give local authorities around the UK collective fits of the vapours leading to the cancellation of 16 of the 19 tour dates on the “Anarchy” tour in 1976.  But let’s just put this into perspective, Mick and Keith spent 1 night each behind bars and The Pistols (despite a cavalier attitude to property ownership) somehow managed to avoid incarceration until the Sid and Nancy landmine was finally activated in New York.

So, what’s the story with Pussy Riot?  Well, they’re a Russian feminist anarcho-punk collective campaigning on women’s issues and more recently protesting against the election of Vladimir Putin as Russian President in May of this year leading up to the cathedral protest in March of this year.  The three band members arrested were in custody for over 5 months before the beginning last week of what looks increasingly like a show trial designed to serve as a warning to any other potential dissidents (Guardian Friday August 3).  This might have been a predictable response any time before the break-up of the Soviet Union but not in a supposedly free country.  Russia has been transformed from a dictatorship of ideology to a dictatorship pure and simple; Putin has already said publicly that the 3 defendants should not be judged “too harshly” but this in itself implies that the judge can be influenced by the President.

You may not agree with the doctrine behind the band’s protests; you may think that it’s sacrilegious to hijack a cathedral to make a political protest but surely there has to be some perspective and proportionality here.  Remember Chumbawamba?   At the Brits in 1998, Danbert Nobacon (or Nigel Hunter to his mum) threw a jug of water over John Prescott as an act of protest and what happened?  Not much actually; a bit of righteous indignation and a few tabloid headlines before it all blew over.  Working on the current Russian justice tariff that incident would have led to a summary execution.  What’s that about a sledgehammer and a walnut?

As disgusting as this saga is, it’s not just about Pussy Riot; it’s much bigger than that.  It’s a very dangerous state of affairs when a nation, its religion and its politicians are so insecure that dissident opinions are unacceptable and their holders must be punished.  The implication is that the state and the church always know best and should never be questioned.  Let’s not forget that the United States of America came into being partly because of a rebellion against taxes imposed by Britain (on tea of all things).  Maybe that’s one of the historical parallels Putin is so afraid of.

When incidents like this happen, we need to stand up and be counted.  I’m guessing that if you’re visiting this site you’re interested in music and popular culture and you understand that the music fits in to a wider social context; it’s never just music and governments are very aware of that (remember the reaction to the illegal rave scene in the UK).  If you want to show your support for the Pussy Riot 3 you can do it here; make your voice heard.