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Why Pussy Riot were wrong

17 August 2012

6:27 PM

17 August 2012

6:27 PM

The three members of Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years each in prison today for hooliganism after performing a ‘punk prayer’ protesting against Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. The sentencing has been denounced as disproportionate and the charges as trumped up, but in last week’s issue of the Spectator, Dennis Sewell asked whether the western media had forgotten that what the band did was still wrong. Sewell first explained that the trio’s treatment by the Russian legal system was indeed unfair:

In case you’re still in doubt about my position, let me remove every scintilla of ambiguity. What has been done to the trio was wrong, wrong and viciously wrong. Nadia, Masha and Katya (first names will do now that they’ve been co-opted into celebrity culture) have been cynically used to intimidate the Russian opposition generally, and I’ll happily throw in that President Putin is a nasty, unscrupulous weasel, too, if it helps get us back to the point. Which is this: hasn’t there also been something immoderate about Pussy Riot’s reception by our media, something fulsome and rather distasteful too?

He added that the band’s behaviour was still unacceptable, though, and that Russians did not agree that they should have been let off scot-free:

 

There is, though, something that has been missing from the extensive Pussy Riot narrative: any proper moral reasoning about their protest and the way in which they chose to make it. These punks disrupted a church service, caused offence to worshippers and terrified at least one nun. They jumped up and down close to the altar screeching a mock prayer to the Virgin Mary to ‘get rid of Putin’. Words such as stupid, crass, insensitive and disrespectful come to mind. Why aren’t we using them?

Ordinary Russians appear to have taken rather a different view. Even with the help of some energetic ballot-stuffing at the margins, Vladimir Putin only managed to secure 63 per cent of the vote at the presidential election in March. A very much higher proportion of respondents told Levada Centre pollsters last week that they thought the Pussy Riot protestors should be punished for their antics in the cathedral. In fact, only 2 per cent of those polled said the punks should get off scot free. That means that not just his allies but a huge number of Vladimir Putin’s sworn political enemies felt censorious toward the Pussy Riot defendants and wanted them jailed, fined or forced to do community service.

Although many Russian Orthodox churchgoers would agree with Pussy Riot’s complaint that some of the church’s senior clergy are just as financially corrupt and politically compromised under Putin as they were under communism, they wouldn’t agree that clerical venality was a good enough excuse for disrupting prayers or mocking the Theotokos. In the West, by contrast, there has been scant acknowledgment that the punks really did anything wrong or even questionable.

 You can read Sewell’s full piece here, and click here to subscribe to the magazine from £1 a week.


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