Free Pussy Riot from Russian jail!

From the new September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

World in View

Free Pussy Riot from Russian jail!

by Gerry Emmett

Three members of the punk band/art collective Pussy Riot were each sentenced to two years in prison on Aug. 17, accused of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” On Feb. 13, they had entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and cried out “Our Lady, chase Putin out!” They were removed by security guards with no further incident, then arrested on March 3, a day before Putin was re-elected President.

Pussy Riot performace
Pussy Riot members perform.

There is no question that Putin’s regime has singled out Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich to intimidate a growing, and thinking, opposition to his authoritarian state-capitalist rule. The Pussy Riot collective and others like it have attempted to create new art forms that will reclaim the revolutionary ideas so long abused in the mouths of Stalinists. As Moscow-based critic David Riff has described this project, it aims at an aesthetics of resistance that can’t be appropriated by the post-Communist elite, which is “using the entire arsenal of history to legitimize its position.”

‘THE WORD WILL BREAK CEMENT’

Putin’s rule depends, in part, on the theoretical weakness of his opposition. The new generation of revolutionary thinkers is attempting to connect with larger masses, including heavily exploited workers. Listen to Pussy Riot’s moving statements to the court.

“We expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial.” –Yekaterina

“Just like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that in the end the word will break cement…Katya, Masha and I may be in prison but I do not consider us defeated. Just as the dissidents were not defeated; although they disappeared into mental institutions and prisons, they pronounced their verdict upon the regime.” –Nadezhda

“All you can deprive me of is ‘so-called’ freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom…This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country. With everyone who found shards of the trial in themselves, like in previous times they found them in Franz Kafka and Guy Debord.” –Maria

BATTLE OF IDEAS IN STREETS

The original Christ the Savior Cathedral was torn down by Stalin, to make space for his absurd (and impossible to build) Palace of the Soviets. (That building would have seen a giant statue of Lenin on its roof, bestriding Moscow like King Kong.) The cathedral was reconstructed in the 1990s, in large part to co-opt the Orthodox Church as a pillar of the new state-capitalist order after the fall of Communism, the old state-capitalist ideology.

Since the verdict that role has been confirmed by repeated incidents in which crews from Russian state television have accompanied Church activists as they harassed supporters and family members of Pussy Riot. Their “religious outrage” is entirely an instrument of the state.

This war of symbols–and ideas–is part of the struggle to revive a genuine revolutionary movement in Russia. Free Pussy Riot!

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