Two members of the Pussy Riot feminist art collective have fled from Russia to avoid prosecution for the same protest against Vladimir Putin that landed three of their fellow band mates two-year prison sentences. This according to the AP report and the Pussy Riot Twitter feed:
Five members of the feminist group took part in a provocative performance inside Moscow’s main cathedral in February to protest the Russian leader’s rule and his cozy relationship with the Orthodox Church. The women wore their trademark garishly colored balaclavas, which made it difficult for police to identify them, and only three were arrested.
After a controversial trial that highlighted Putin’s crackdown on dissent since he began a third presidential term in May, the three band members were convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison on Aug. 17. Days later, Moscow police said they were searching for the other band members, an apparent warning to the group to stop its anti-Putin protests.
Even as the judge was reading the verdict in a Moscow courtroom, one of the band members who had escaped arrest played Pussy Riot’s latest song, “Putin sets the fires of revolutions,” from the balcony of an apartment building across the street.
Pussy Riot tweeted on Sunday that the two activists had fled Russia and are “recruiting foreign feminists to prepare new protest actions.” No mention was made of where they went.
Can’t say I blame them for wanting to keep mum on that count!
An essay appeared in The Moscow Times today arguing that the political art/punk pranksters have roots to earlier counterculture movements and strains of Russian political dissent going back to the 19th Century. Peter Rutland writes:
Much more interesting than the band’s antics in the cathedral, however, were the closing statements that the three defendants delivered to the court, which New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick described as “a kind of instant classic in the anthology of dissidence.” Each woman took a different theme. Yekaterina Samutsevich dissected the unhealthy fusion of church and state. Maria Alyokhina talked about the deficiencies of the country’s education system and the suppression of the individual. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova offered a critique of the “autocratic political system” in general and the conduct of their prosecution in particular.
The statements portray a society that is passive and disoriented in the face of an all-powerful ruling bureaucracy. Their critique is spiritual rather than material, and they are not particularly interested in leveling accusations of corruption, which have been the central theme of the mainstream opposition.
Many Russian observers have been dismissive of Pussy Riot, characterizing their provocative actions, including previous performances of a sexual nature, as infantile and offensive — and unpopular with the public at large. But it is not at all clear whether Pussy Riot expects or even desires a groundswell of public support. They do not aspire to be leaders of a revolutionary movement, either Orange or Leninist.
Rather, their appeal for truth and freedom puts them squarely in the tradition of the 19th-century Russian intelligentsia. Tolokonnikova directly referred to the group’s punk antics as equivalent to the truth-telling “holy fools” of centuries past and embraced the idea that their prison sentence proves the virtue of their cause.
Pussy Riot adopted the tactics of protest from the Situationists of 1960s France, the punk rockers of 1970s Britain and the feminist Riot Grrrls in the United States in the 1990s. The idea of donning masks comes from the movie “V for Vendetta,” which was popularized by the Occupy movement.
But the strategy of Pussy Riot has a deeper foundation. Their moral critique of authority and appeal to a higher truth is rooted in pre-revolutionary Russia, a tradition that fitfully resurfaced during the Soviet years. They cite 19th-century literary critic Vissarion Belinsky and Fyodor Dostoevsky, but not Voltaire, John Stuart Mill or other representatives of the Western liberal tradition.
The assertion of an individual’s right to exist — what Alyohkhina refers to as “inner freedom” — is not a problem for young people living in the West and has not been for a century or more. Whatever the shibboleths that are evoked by today’s Western radicals — such as capitalism, neoliberalism, Empire and racism — they are phenomena quite different from the challenge posed by the authoritarian Russian state.
There are at least twelve other members of the Pussy Riot collective who still remain in Russia.