What Pussy Riot teaches us
August 18th, 2012
03:24 PM ET

What Pussy Riot teaches us

By Olga Oliker, Special to CNN

Olga Oliker is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

Pussy Riot has been everywhere. The blogosphere has been awash for weeks in demands that the three jailed members of this Russian performance art collective be freed. Yesterday, a Russian court rejected those demands.

Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, imprisoned since March on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, were found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment each. But while Amnesty International has declared the three “prisoners of conscience,” Madonna got far more attention for their cause by displaying the group’s name on her back at a recent Moscow concert.

Indeed, few Western musicians have taken the stage recently without making some gesture in support of Pussy Riot, which takes aesthetic inspiration from the American riot grrrl feminist musical movement of the 1990s.  In just a few weeks, Pussy Riot has become the balaclava-clad face of Russian political oppression for many in the West, drawing tremendous attention to their cause and doubtless having an impact on the sentence, if not the verdict.

In contrast, the broader opposition movement in Russia, reinvigorated during this past winter’s presidential election process and now under fire from the 100-day-old regime, has received dwindling press attention. Pussy Riot’s members faced up to seven years in prison if convicted. But their (bluntly phrased) political message urging accountability and equality remains in more danger than they ever were.  This is in part because the Russian opposition as a whole has failed to capitalize on the attention these artists have received.

Membership in Pussy Riot is fluid, with different members taking part in different actions, all wearing brightly colored ski masks to protect their identities.  The group’s modus operandi is to stage brief performances in public places, singing along and miming guitar playing to pre-recorded songs.  They then post video of these events to the internet.  Their song lyrics, as transcribed on the freepussyriot.org website (in English but, curiously, not Russian) insult Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government, call for his ouster, and exhort protest, feminism, and gay rights.

In February, a Pussy Riot action took place at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.  The song performed, “Punk Prayer,” critiques the close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state in colorful language.  The performance lasted for about a minute, until the group was escorted out by security.  The slightly longer video crafted from footage of this event went viral, however, and Church leadership protested, leading to the March 4 arrests-and perhaps making the song’s point.

It seems unlikely that Russian authorities realized that the Pussy Riot trial would gain this sort of international attention. Arrests of opposition figures more typically elicit sharp language from human rights groups rather than rock stars. The entire thing proved sufficiently embarrassing that Putin himself suggested that the women should not be “judged too severely.”

The international outcry to free Pussy Riot was no doubt driven in part by the fact that artists with a political message are part of a long tradition globally and in Russia itself.  Artists and musicians were also appalled by what seems an unduly harsh response to Pussy Riot's behavior (offensive though it may have been).  Thus, the anger over Pussy Riot’s jailing hinged on two factors: free speech and excessive punishment.

This all but ignored the broader protest movement, in which tens of thousands of urban middle class Russians took to the streets to voice their frustration with a lack of representative, accountable government. With Putin back as president, the state has pushed back on these activities, arresting protesters and threatening or pressing criminal charges against prominent activists and their supporters. In the meantime, the movement itself has had difficulty gelling, lacking either clear leadership or a solid platform with appeal to large numbers of Russians.

The Pussy Riot phenomenon would seem to present an opportunity to draw more global attention to Russia’s opposition, help it develop a cohesive agenda, and perhaps channel foreign support toward efforts to make Russia as a whole freer.  But this hasn’t happened.

The Russian opposition – along with much of Russian society – finds Pussy Riot’s language, tactics and overt championing of feminism and gay rights too extreme. The group’s foreign supporters, for their part, know little about Russia’s political and social context. The result was a focus in Russia and abroad on the women themselves and leniency towards them, not their message or that of the opposition as a whole.

Sadly, this means today’s sentence, while almost certain to be appealed, will soon enough be followed by a dissipation of foreign interest and a return to business as usual. But the global attention drawn by Pussy Riot shows what is possible in an interconnected world.  Opposition movements in Russia and elsewhere may take note and think about how to better harness such possibilities in the future.

Post by:
Topics: Russia

« Previous entry
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. deniz boro

    I recall reading that a somewhat new party is joining this current mealstorm. This new party which is unitedly "the women" all over the world do not care for any sucker team any political opinion, any religious view or any other testeron loaded speech. It reminded me of the way British women got their rights pre-and post World War II. They call it a woman's touch. And a woman's touch never depends on or feeds from any aggressive act. I just want you a simple idea that I adopte from a book I read (sorry I do not Knoe the fineties of referring to an intellectual property I respect. I guess the writer was J. Auriel) It simply said. MEN DO; WOMEN MAKE.

    August 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
    • hehehehe?

      Olga, see yours in a Six-Star mirror and let US know.

      August 18, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply
      • Eyyeeee Olga

        ...it is tight and warm like small winter gloves.
        Good tight leaps with low Mileage. It is good for life fit-in.
        The Countryside Golf hole is to shot and score. ...is like puke your sausage cream.

        August 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  2. What about this detail

    The band was funded by Oksana Chelysheva of the US state department.

    August 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
    • field234

      Somehow that wouldn't surprise me.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:46 am | Reply
  3. What about this detail

    Through the "Russian-Chechen friendship society." Nice try US government.

    August 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      Is this what the community calls TROLL?

      August 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  4. JAL

    The big question here is "how do they sound?" If they suk, then it is disturbing the peace, if they are awesome, then it gives reason to protest.

    August 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
    • JAL

      If they make an awesome record in the near future, i predict big protests.

      August 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Reply
    • Ashley

      The Juice(Jewish) one keep complaining every Saturday Night, when the Supreme Court(hole) closed until Money(Monday) comes.

      Wherever you are, it like Fin(!)and near by.

      My Oil got leaked in a Three-Ways accident or impact.

      August 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  5. deniz boro

    We in Turkey had a similar problem back in 1980's. A film of low literal value but nice photography named "The Midnight Express" hit the lines on those days but it was banned in Turkey. We, the Turkish people were angry bu could not protest since we had no chance to see that film. It was only told to us that it was "BAD....BAD....BAD". And banned from viewing. Years after I actually watched the film and saw that apart from nice photography and inpressive scenes it was realy trash. That was 30 years back. Human sociaty and democracy moves fast forward if it already has an infrastructure, just as Russia.

    August 18, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
    • Ashley

      Don't worry Turkey, we will show you how to put staff-in. Exactly in a centro.

      However, you must remove all your Day unnecessary blanket(goofy clothes).
      This is posted on Tuky news.
      Tuky Tuky Tuky.....show me. It is eid fart. What? Eid Ass Feter. Ok...

      August 18, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
      • deniz boro

        Turnkey is such an improvement from acting as subcontractor. Mind that it is said in a joking sense.

        August 18, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  6. Ashley

    Virginians, had exactly good common odours, the same as if you blend together French Vanilla & Banana.

    Any other clue?

    August 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      Extremely enlightning contribution on your part. Nice to get your point of view

      August 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  7. Joe Collins

    As politically correct as it is to support these girls, the name they chose for their rock band is disgusting to say the least and the fact that they had to demonstate their views in a Russian Orthodox church is quite sacrilegeous. They need to have better taste than that. Besides, this country needs to learn to stay out of Russian politics as we wouldn't like if the Russians interfered in ours!!!

    August 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  8. JosephXRds61

    Dixie Chicks got sidelined economically when they argued publically with Bush and Chaney. Concerts cancelled, Radio stations were barred by their corporate owners from playing....prison is definitely worse...but the other is very bad as well!

    August 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Reply
    • AndyShep

      Sidelined by people who also have freedom of speech and of choice, not by the government. There is nothing similar between these two things at all. People have freedom of speech, they do not have freedom from people reacting to their speech. Never did, never will, never should. The government imprisoning you solely because of speech is the suppression of speech. The Dixie chicks suck anyway.

      August 18, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Reply
    • Orenthal

      You're being deceptive. The Dixie Chicks were embroiled in a storm of bad publicity for hypocritically bashing their home state while they were overseas in front of a foreign audience. Bush and Cheney - whom you took care to mention - had nothing to do with the bad publicity. The bad publicity was caused by the actions of the Dixie Chicks' singer Nathalie. She went looking for trouble, and she found it.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:22 am | Reply
  9. Orenthal

    They're lucky to have been given such a lenient sentence. They could have been sentenced to 10 years. Because they pled "not guilty" - when there is incontrovertible evidence that they were, in fact, guilty, they showed a contempt for the courts and justice system that, in many places in the world, would have resulted in the maximum allowable sentence. They're lucky to get off so lightly because of the international pressure.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:18 am | Reply
  10. tony

    transgressing the limits between good and evil, this is the problem. converting perverse acts of hooliganism and yes crime into some other type of action with a nobler message in the name of an aspiring to a more democratic society gasp even not voiced one, an ugly shriek of revolt, this is the danger of the event, the precedent it could deliver – a even more monstruous one. TWO years is too mild a punishment for filthiness

    August 19, 2012 at 2:31 am | Reply
  11. SEO Mauritius

    Hi there, just become aware of your blog thru Google, and located that it's really informative. I'm going to be careful for brussels. I will be grateful for those who continue this in future. Numerous folks will probably be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

    August 19, 2012 at 4:09 am | Reply
  12. j. von hettlingen

    No doubt many members of the opposition in Russia is perplexed by the attention the three punk rockers received with the flash-mobbing act. On the one hand they appreciate that the whole world is focusing on Putin et al. On the other hand they are also envious. Many of them are educated and might have a hard time with obscene words that the three women used in the song.
    Nevertheless the Russian Orthodox Church is pleading for leniency for the convicted. If religious hatred and blasphemy were to be seen as a crime, then the verdict would be as notorious as a Fatma in Iran and Pakistan.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:17 am | Reply
  13. Rui

    I believe that some years ago there was a man, who has made something like that, he has entered into a church and and said some bad words to the people in there. I don't remeber very well, but I think he was crucified....

    August 19, 2012 at 6:31 am | Reply
  14. field234

    Russia doesn't claim to have free speech. In America it is much much worse. In America you are taught that we have free speech but if you say the wrong thing to powerful abusive people you will find there is no free speech in this country.

    August 20, 2012 at 12:44 am | Reply
  15. field234

    Oh, so we're suppose to dislike Russia, well at least Russia doesn't pretend to have free speech and nail innocent American's like happens here in America.

    August 20, 2012 at 12:47 am | Reply
  16. Fred

    Their name teaches us (especially us males to disrespect women. I hate the name they chose since women are far superior to us males. I do not think any term for women should be used that degrades women, If they wanted to use a body part in their names, they could call themselves ball busters or nut crushers. I would not care if the even had males volunteer to come on on stage and let them bust their balls. I am sure a lot of males would freely offer their nuts to them even for the purpose of getting kicked in the balls and I bet the women watching would love it too,

    August 20, 2012 at 7:35 am | Reply
  17. ragozzi

    "The group’s foreign supporters, for their part, know little about Russia’s political and social context" –
    It's ridiculous how world class musicians show their support for this "band"! They are not a real band and they are not real musicians. And the name they chose for the group shows complete lack of taste and creativity.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • Lyndsie Graham

      Thank you, ragozzi. I agree.

      August 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  18. slinky

    Even the name of this band is stoop-id. It just mashes together Pus sy Galore and Quiet Riot. They probably got it off of band name generator.

    August 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Reply
    • Lyndsie Graham

      That's the kind of name that some ignorant Tea Partier would choose, seeing how their minds run! That name wasn't even in Russian, but in English too! What dirty minds these people must have!

      August 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  19. desert voice/troubledgoodangel

    I am appalled at these women cutting the cross of Christ with a chain saw. This is so stupid and so gratuitous that defies the imagination. But one should not punish people for low IQ. They deserve perhaps to be publicly flogged and released. Prison is never a place for young people! Given all the considerations listed above, if I were the judge, they would not be doing any prison time. The anti-Christian crimes are religious bigotry, not hard crimes. As such, they deserve more compassion, but should be reformed and reeducated somehow.

    August 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  20. Marine5484

    As politically popular as it is in this country to support those broads over there, I don't. First of all, I find that name that they chose to be quite disgusting and in bad taste. Secondly as Americans, it's absolutely none of our business what the Russian judicial systen does to those broads since they asked for their legal troubles. We need to simply butt our way out of this!!

    August 21, 2012 at 8:00 am | Reply
  21. joe anon 1

    another comment deleted.

    i put it this way.

    the riot, an american sponsored agitator group taught us that there is common sense and justice in russia.

    2 items missing in america.

    they deserve the sentence received. an added 2 yrs wouldnt hurt since they are foreign agents.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Well put, joe. Thank you. The name this group chose is quite offensive in itself! They should feel ashamed of themselves for chosing it.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  22. Grandma Dawn

    Trying to have a voice in the US

    August 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  23. christian louboutin new york

    I happen to be commenting to let you know of the outstanding discovery our daughter had reading through your webblog. She mastered a good number of issues, most notably what it's like to possess an excellent coaching style to have other people smoothly thoroughly grasp certain complex subject areas. You really exceeded visitors' expected results. I appreciate you for offering the priceless, safe, revealing and as well as cool thoughts on your topic to Lizeth. christian louboutin new york

    August 21, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  24. sam kohen

    I find the sentence to be too lenient. Had it been Uncle Stalin they would have received at least 30 years. Had it been Mr Brezhnev at least 10. Either one would have been more appropriate then what they just received.

    August 22, 2012 at 9:16 am | Reply
  25. JosephMcCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/JoeCollins/J.Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

    I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  26. obat rematik

    Excellent points altogether, you just won a emblem new reader. What may you recommend in regards to your submit that you just made a few days in the past? Any certain?

    August 25, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  27. Free Riot Points

    Hi, Neat post. There's an issue together with your website in web explorer, may check this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace leader and a big element of people will leave out your excellent writing because of this problem.

    September 2, 2012 at 12:15 am | Reply
  28. gordons bay property

    of course like your web-site however you have to test the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I'll surely come again again.

    September 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry