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Russia: Pussy Riot Doomed by its own Supporters?

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

This post is part of our special coverage Russia's Protest Movement.

Recent online coverage of the Pussy Riot trial makes it seem as if all of Russia is mobilized in protest against the inordinately harsh treatment the three arrested band members have received. Even Vassily Yakemenko, the erstwhile leader of the pro-Putin youth group NASHI, has spoken out against keeping them in confinement.

Support for Pussy Riot is especially relevant as the trial is drawing to a close and the prosecutor has asked for a three-year prison term.

The group’s supporters generally consist of two camps. There are those who say that Pussy Riot did nothing wrong, and should not have been arrested in the first place. Then there are those who argue that the Church should show clemency, even if their actions were offensive.

Lumping these two factions together makes it easy to forget that some of Riot’s supporters weren’t always very supportive.

Participants in the group Pussy Riot wait to be heard in Khamovnichesky Court of Moscow, August 3rd, 2012, photo by Anton Belitskiy, copyright © Demotix.

Participants in the group Pussy Riot wait to be heard in Khamovnichesky Court of Moscow, August 3rd, 2012, photo by Anton Belitskiy, copyright © Demotix.

In a way, those who support Riot’s release — but still think that they are guilty of some wrongdoing — enable the real detractors. After all, once their performance is defined as some form of misconduct, rather than an exercise of free speech, everything else is a matter of degrees: the degrees of the crime's severity, and the severity of the punishment, are suddenly up for interpretation.

Immediately after Riot's ill-fated ‘concert,’ noted modern art gallery owner Marat Guelmann, who is currently one of group’s biggest defenders, wrote in a LiveJournal comment [ru]:

Жду выступления этих сосок в главной мечети Чечни. Пусть там продемонстрируют всю “мощь” феменизма

I await these chicks’ performance in the main Chechen mosque. Let them demonstrate the “power” of feminism there.

Gelman, who later also said that the group “desecrated” [ru] the cathedral, was alluding to a soon-to-be-popular meme in Pussy Riot polemics — that, if the group staged their performance in an Islamic mosque instead of an Orthodox church, they would somehow be a lot worse off.

Aleksey Navalny, another current supporter, wrote [ru] after members of the group were arrested and held in pretrial confinement:

Акция их в ХСС - идиотская и спорить тут нечего. Какой аргумент ни возьми, от “в мечеть-то вы не пошли” до “а зачем вообще” – всё правда. Мне бы, мягко говоря, не понравилось, если в тот момент когда я в церкви, туда забежали какие-то чокнутые девицы и стали бегать вокруг алтаря. Имеем неоспоримый факт: дуры, совершившие мелкое хулиганство ради паблисити.

Their action in the Cathedral was idiotic, there is no argument there. Whatever argument you pick, from “why didn’t you go to a mosque” to “why even” — it's all true. To put it mildly, I wouldn’t appreciate it if, when I am at church, some crazy broads ran in and began to run around the altar. We are faced with an indisputable fact: [these were] stupid women, who committed a minor act of hooliganism for publicity.

Navalny then went on to say that the girls should be let go because they aren’t violent offenders and have small children. The same stand is taken by the more than two hundred famous Russian cultural figures who signed a letter [ru] in support of Riot’s release, in which they also note that two of the accused are young mothers, and argue that their case should be stopped, or “recategorized from criminal to administrative proceedings,” because they didn’t “kill or rob” anyone.

Logic like this, while based on well-meaning and understandable sentiments in the context of Russia's growing religiosity, is easy fodder for criticism. For example, after the letter was published, Sergey Lopatnikov, Senior Scientist at a University of Delaware lab by day and political blogger by night, compared Pussy Riot to neo-Nazis [ru]. In his rather inflammatory blog, he argued that according to the logic of the letter’s signatories the two neo-Nazis who painted swastikas on a synagogue [ru] in Orenburg also didn’t “kill or rob” anyone, either, and so deserve the same letter of support.

Of course, not all netizens opposed to Pussy Riot use complicated logical arguments. For example, bearded businessman and blogger German Sterligov (who is Orthodox, but tends to write negatively about the Church) calls Pussy Riot [ru] “dancing whores” and “stupid godless broads,” while lifelong Putin advocate Sergey Leteha says [ru] that “Pussy Riot shat on the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Others take a different tack. Poet and blogger Miroslav Nemirov wrote a post [ru] (that he soon hid), alleging that the Pussy Riot members were in fact provocateurs who were working with the police in exchange for fame. It’s not very clear what, according to him, the police could be getting out of the relationship.

Nevertheless, the nationalist Konstantin Krylov also insinuates [ru] that the entire incident is smart use of political technology by the Kremlin. Perhaps the idea is that the Kremlin is purposefully inciting public hatred to distract people from ‘actual problems.’

One of the most disturbing public outbursts was that of popular Russian singer Elena Vaenga, who on July 4 posted a rant (in all capital letters and full of spelling mistakes) in her guestbook [ru], part of which follows:

я не ИИСУС ХРИСТОС И ПРОЩАТЬ ВСЕХ И ВСЯ НЕ МОГУ(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((( МОЛЧАТЬ НЕ БУДУ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ДАМЫ ИЗ ПАНК ГРУППЫ “ПУСИ ХРЮСИ” ИЛИ КАК ИХ ТАМ ЕЩЕ ОХРИНЕЛИ ВКОНЕЦ((((((((((((((((((((((( ОНИ ОСКОРБИЛИ МЕНЯ КАК ВЕРУЮЩЮЮ ХРИСТИАНКУ ДО ГЛУБИНЫ ДУШИ…… 100000000000000000 РАЗ ОНИ ВИНОВНЫ.((((((((((((((((((((((((((((  [. . .] 7 ЛЕТ МНОГО?????????????? НИЧЕГО АВОСЬ МОЗГ НАМЕСТО ВСТАНЕТ(((((((((((((((((((((((( ИМ НА ЗОНЕ ПОКАЖУТ “ПУСИ”(((((((((((((((((((((((((МЕНЯ АЖ ТРЯСЕТ(((((((((((((((((( НАХОДЯТСЯ ЖЕ ЛЮДИ КОТОРЫЕ ЕЩЕ ИХ ОПРАВДЫВАЮТ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!((((((((((((((((

I am not Jesus Christ and I can’t forgive everyone and everything. I won’t be silent. Ladies from the punk group Pussy Hrussy, or whaever they are called, have gone completely insane. They have insulted me as a faithful Christian to the bottom of my soul. . . .they are 10000000000000000 times guilty. [. . . ] 7 years is too much? Good, maybe it’ll straighten them out. In prison they’ll show them “Pussy.” I’m shaking. And some people are defending them!

Journalist Dmitry Olshansky thinks [ru] that this sentiment is probably shared by most Russians. Meanwhile, well-wishing bloggers continue to aggravate Riot's predicament by advocating leniency, rather than arguing with the entire premise of punishment. One recently blogged about how to “properly” punish the band members. His answer [ru] is that they should be tried for the crime of desecration of dead bodies and places of burial, which conveniently carries with it a three-to-six-month sentence. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

This post is part of our special coverage Russia's Protest Movement.

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