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Free Pussy Riot: should they have been punished with a prison sentence?

By Anna | August 31 2012 | 15 Comments

It’s been a few weeks now since Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the Russian feminist collective Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison by a Moscow court for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, and as if their situation wasn’t bad enough, this week a Russian university professor tried to use their case to get away with murder.

It was announced today 38-year-old university professor  Igor Danilevsky has confessed to killing two women in the city of Kazan, one of whom had been persuaded by him to take out a loan to pay off his debts. He scrawled the words Free Pussy Riot on the wall of the scene in an effort to distract attention – and, of course, throw suspicion on Pussy Riot’s supporters.

 

 

Before Danilevsky’s confession, Kremlin supporters siezed on the news of the graffiti as proof that the women were part of a dangerous and violent movement.“”If you still think that breaking the norms of behaviour in a church doesn’t change anything, then I recommend you read the latest news” tweeted Ashot Gabrelyanov, owner of a pro-government paper.

The Pussy Riot case has attracted the attention of the world – and has shown that for all Russia’s claims of being a democratic and secular state, they’re still putting young women in prison for singing what might seem to a lot of western ears a not particularly extreme song inside Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral. Yes, it’s a bit sweary, but not much, and it’s more about Putin than God.

Punk-Prayer “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away”

(choir)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
?ut Putin away, put Putin away

(end chorus) …
Black robe, golden epaulettes
All parishioners crawl to bow
The phantom of liberty is in heaven
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend His Holiness
Women must give birth and love

Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!
Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist

(end chorus)

The Church’s praise of rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
Go to class – bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, better believe in God instead
The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings
Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
?ut Putin away, put Putin away

(end chorus)

Orthodox church members may find their behaviour distasteful  – and there was nothing polite about it – but it’s hard to see why it should be punished with a prison sentence, let alone such a long one.  Chillingly, the judge declared that “The court does find a religious hatred motive in the actions of the defendants by way of them being feminists who consider men and women to be equal” – a belief which, the judge added, goes against the Orthodox Church

Kathleen Hanna, the groundbreaking artist behind feminist bands such as Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, had little sympathy for  “A lot of the people [in Moscow] who were in the church [when Pussy Riot performed their "Punk Prayer"] said they were physically damaged by this; that it has ruined their lives,” she told the website Pitchfork. “Well, I am still damaged by seeing Bush/Cheney bumper stickers, but I can’t just go rip them off someone’s car. I can’t just decide that they shouldn’t exist. It’s scary to think that feminist performance artists have to be completely afraid; that they can’t make whatever the fuck they want. But I hope this doesn’t make more women afraid. I hope this makes more women ready to fight.”

The three young women have faced their conviction with courage. “We are mentally prepared [for jail],” Samutsevich wrote to the Guardian. “I don’t see anything super-scary in having to serve 1.5 years and work. I don’t think that it’ll become some sort of especially difficult test for us – we’ve already lived through the past five months relatively easily and the evil plan of our authorities, to jail us so as to break us and sour us, has already failed miserably. The problem for Putin personally now is that a lot of people no longer see his strong hand and authority, but his fear and uncertainty in the face of the progressive citizens of Russia, who grow more and more numerous with every step like our verdict.”

Pussy Riot may be behind bars, but the fight for more freedom and democracy in Russia continues – and as many human rights activists have pointed out, these young women are just three out of thousands of people all over the world who have been imprisoned effectively for their political beliefs.

So what do you think? Is musical protest a good way of challenging the system? Or would the three young women have spent their time campaigning in a less direct way?

Images via amnestyinternational.com, irishtimes.ie

Feminism, Politics , ,
 

15 Replies to "Free Pussy Riot: should they have been punished with a prison sentence?"

  • Bands have been challenging the system for years with their songs (Bad Religion, Aus Rotten, Propagandhi, Black Flag, Crass, Minor Threat, the list could go on and on)and even if people don’t like what they’re saying, they still have every right to express their views and I was absolutely horrified when this Pussy Riot shite started. I really admire them for being so brave, though. Religion has ruined many peoples’ lives too. And I just LOVE Kathleen Hanna.

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  • Their only crime was being anti-Putin, the rest of it is just a smokescreen. Russia is a police state ruled over by a tyrannical despot – it’s gone right back to the days of the Tsars.

    We should also be ashamed of ourselves at having a blasphemy law in Ireland, it’s utterly ludicrous.

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  • Can we call things by their proper name? It’s a camp they’re heading to, not a prison. Our European prisons are holiday resorts compared to Russian camps.

    I’m really shocked at the collusion between the Orthodox church in Russia and the political system. If a proof was needed that in Russia, the Orthodox Church will support whoever is in power just to keep its rank, we have it. That said, I’m sure there are some clerics who oppose Putin’s regime and are disgusted by this sentence, but they have no chance to be heard.

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  • I think this is an absolute disgrace and I think it can only ne a sign of worse things to come in Russia. Democracy my eye!

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  • *be*

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  • I think its shocking that they were jailed for this! I think these women are inspirational and incredibly brave. Im not surprised that the church are making them morally responsible for the actions of that psycho. Of course, the catholic church dont see child abuse, rape or murder as actions bad enough to acknowledge…let alone a crime. But public order offences by women…in a church! Pure Blesphemy! They will prob try do them for murder now!

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  • Aisling

    Brilliant post Anna, I can’t articulate how full of despair this whole incident makes me feel.

    In answer to your question yes music is a huge agent for change and the reaction of the world speaks volumes about the oppressive regime these women were protesting about

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  • Aisling

    thefrog – yes you are absolutely right about the prison/camp distinction – my fault, I wrote the headline

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  • Hope I did not come about as aggressive but the prison system there… I love the country, it has a wonderful culture, the language is beautiful and I’ve met quite a few nice Russian people over the years. But the fact that on top of their disgraceful prisons they have camps as well really makes me mad.

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  • Aisling

    NOt at all! I knew exactly what you meant

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  • Can I ask what the prison/camp thing is?

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  • Sorry, should prob elaborate. Do they have prisons & camps, & when you say camps I’m thinking like Auschwitz???

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  • I have a conflicting view point on this. We all like to think of ourselves as free thinking people who say oh let everyone have their opinions and life styles as long as they dont physically hurt anyone. w are all the same and love is great etc… but in reality thats not how it works on any level, be it in ptical circles or even in our own minds.

    We get all indignified over the fact that these women are now in prison but thats only because we agree with their political views. we feel free to state loudly that we agree with their views because it has been made that we can ow express it because it is now a popular political view to hold in the western democratic world.(and rightly so) but there are many that are just pure hypocrites. Take holocaust denial for example. Now of course the holocaust happened!! but say one of us was sitting in a cafe some where on mainland europe and say i said “oh sure they had no gas chambers in auswitz, theres no proof” if someone over heard that statement, I would go to jail for 5 years and loose my career, as has happened so many times! now ok, id be an idiot who was talking non sense, sure, but how on earth in his day and age can i go to fckin prison for half a decade for making an historically inaccurate point in a converstaion?? ok, poeple might be offended but does that justify jail? and where does it end? the precident as been set now that if the legislators decide someone thing else can never be said where will we be? we dont go mental about this in our own political union! but the thing is is that because we all believe it happened we call the bigots etc ad dont care! so its not that we get indignified about peoples political views being curbed and them being political prisioners, its only if we agree with them that we have an issue with it. we are all massive hypocrites.

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  • Shugal, camps are not the nazi kind, thanks God.They’re more like the hard labour prisons we had in Europe in the 19th century. 100 prisoners in one large room, roll call (if that’s the correct word) every morning, a max of 4 to 6 visits allowed per year and forced labour outside unless temperature is below -20 C.

    So now you understand why I’m getting all touchy about using the proper word.

    Jessabel, you raise a very valid point. I know that we have had quite a few debates in France recently about ‘memorial’ laws and laws against negationnism. I don’t want to go into this here, because it’s a very large question, but I’m not fond of these laws because by obliging people to follow a particular view of things (even if that view is the truth, as it is in the case of the holocaust), you lose the power to contradict negationists through argument and reasoning. And in the end, you give weapons to all conspiracy-lovers, who can claim to be persecuted.
    However in that case, the question is not so much wether we agree with them, but about the fact that they were condemned under a false pretext. If it was purely religious, then sentence them to community service in a church, not to 2 years of hard labour. They were condemned for not agreeing with the president. Now, if I were to interrupt a mass in the local church, chanting to get the prime minister removed, I would be in trouble. I would perhaps be sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of 2 or 3 weeks, for public disorder. But not to 2 years hard labour.

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  • thefrog- agree with you on both points. cencoring free speech like that only serves to potentially render free debate and reason somewhat impotent, allows people with certainviews to be viewed as “marters” and increase their popularity. completely dangerous from the stance that once a precident like that is set in a democratic society it can leak into other areas.

    regarding the second point i still view at as being one in the same. People being imprisoned for not only offending certain people but having an undesirable political view point. Although the holocaust is an historical event it also an extremely political topic and deeply rooted in the EU’s formation.

    from an artical i read in time magazine a couple of years ago, Putin is deeply religious and from other sources this is primarily why he is insistent on keeping a firm grip on power in russia. he fears that russians will be demoralised without it and consequently him. along with other egotistical nonsense lol!. These girls should not at all be imprisoned and it should be very telling when the next election arises what his fate will be and if he wins again we can be certain this time around that it is definitely rigged lol

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