Columns / Discourse / November 13, 2013

Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer” shocked conservative Russia

Bearing neon-colored balaclavas and distinctly girlish dresses, the Russian punk group Pussy Riot made quite a ruckus in 2012 when they played a song named “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ Our Savior.

 

The women were shortly apprehended after dancing their politically-forthright hearts out in the priest-only section of the church. The loud and disruptive stunt, which lasted a mere minute, was recorded and posted on YouTube.

 

In the age of digital communication, the viral video garnered worldwide support from human rights groups, feminists, musicians, politicians and everyday citizens.

 

Their website states two main purposes for the performance: to draw attention to Putin’s close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church and to pray to Madonna for Putin’s political exit. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Pussy Riot paid dearly for their anti-Putin sentiments by being sentenced to a two-year prison term.

 

Judge Marina Syrova characterized their behavior as “hooliganism” that stemmed from religious hatred. She argued that such hooliganism should not be tolerated in Russia since the behavior might threaten Russia’s strict and conservative social order.

 

As it followed, Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were found guilty and sentenced to two years of prison in a labor camp. What better way to upset the Kremlin than to dance and sing punk rock in a serene and uber-conservative church?

 

Punk rock, after all, is the musical personification of anti-establishment sentiment. The group members are all young, hip and dashingly rebellious; these characteristics provided the western media ample material to create an exciting narrative behind their trial.

 

Many musicians and entertainers proudly wore the “Free Pussy Riot” shirts to no avail. Much of Pussy Riot’s support base hailed from the more liberal West. But how did Russia, as a whole, receive the band’s antics? How much influence does Pussy Riot actually have on the Russian public?

 

The short answer is a resounding “not much.” Western musicians from the Black Keys, U2, Bjork, Madonna and many more have proudly endorsed Pussy Riot and their cause while everyday Russian citizens have expressed tentative support, if not indifference.

 

Opinion polls show a divided Russia with many citizens feeling genuinely offended by their act. After all, Russian society is still very conservative and many citizens consider the Christian Orthodox Church as an extension of the Russian identity despite its ties to an overly controlling Kremlin. Most Russians, however, do agree that the two-year prison term was too harsh.

 

The draconian punishment served two purposes: it shows the high costs would-be protestors would have to pay for expressing anti-Kremlin rhetoric and it also shows the rest of the world that international pressure has little effect on the Russian court system.

 

Personally, I admire Pussy Riot’s bravery and moxie. Pussy Riot ought to re-formulate their strategy to appeal to the older and more conservative Russian citizenry. At the same time, though, I question the means in which they grabbed the public’s attention.

 

Their punk rock style may resonate with Russian youth but it also greatly limits their ability to be taken seriously. Shock-jock antics are viscerally appealing but its overall effect is fleeting.

 

Much of the Western support comes from the harsh jail sentence they received, not necessarily because of their one act show.

Mydel Santos

Tags:  anti-Putin Cathedral of Christ Punk Prayer Pussy riot Putin Russia Western support

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