The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Pussy Riot Goes to Jail

Via Meadia hasn’t been commenting on the trial of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot, which was detained after staging an unauthorized concert at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

On the one hand, we didn’t think the young women were doing the anti-Putin liberals any favors by antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church, and by extension the vast majority of churchgoing Russians who aren’t necessarily on the liberals’ side yet. On the other hand, Putin’s heavy-handedness in this matter was striking, even for him. Clearly he wanted to make a severe example of these women so as to send a chill through the burgeoning movement opposing his rule. Overall, though, there wasn’t much more to say about this depressing by-the-numbers exercise in authoritarian rule.

And as expected, the young women were sentenced today to two years time in prison for “hooliganism.” The cherry on top comes courtesy of the New York Times:

Prosecutors had demanded three-year prison terms, but President Vladimir V. Putin had weighed in on the side of leniency.

How magnanimous.

The opposition has been galvanized by this show trial, and will likely continue to loudly challenge Putin’s rule. But Putin, for his part, has played his cards very well, casting himself as a defender of the Russian Orthodox Church and the pious Russian everyman against a godless movement which is trying to subvert the existing order.

How this will now play out is far from clear to Via Meadia. But there’s little reason to be optimistic about some kind of fundamental change coming to Russia any time soon.

Published on August 17, 2012 12:46 pm
  • John Barker

    Is it realistic to expect fundamental changes in authoritarian cultures that have operating for hundreds or thousands of years? Are there any examples of this happening anywhere in the world?

  • Luke Lea

    But you’ve got to admit these young women, unlike the men, know how to get attention, and they put their bodies on the line. They are battling for liberty — non-violently I would add, with imagination and nature’s help. I therefore applaud them

    [Warning: not work-safe link. -Ed.]
    http://tinyurl.com/9qh5ttm

  • Jim.

    “Not safe for work”, and not a peep of protest from LL, eh? Hmmmmm…

    So, Luke Lea, is the American workplace more sacred than Moscow’s Church of Christ the Savior?

    Or is it right and just for feminists to have more rights than Christians?

    If liberals want broad support from people of faith, they need to elaborate on how their governance will protect holy places (in less heavyhanded ways than Putin’s.)

    Celebrating the profaning of those holy places as a victory of some kind is unlikely to lead to anything constructive.

  • thibaud

    Jim: ” is the American workplace more sacred than Moscow’s Church of Christ the Savior?”

    You’re misinformed, Jim. The Church is a well-known symbol to Muscovites of grand larceny – it was built with mafiya money in Yeltsin and Luzhkov’s day – and bad taste.

    This is likely the main reason that the PR devushki chose it for their stunt.

    This reconstruction, of what was a brutally oversized late 19c church to begin with, is hideous. The mafiya dons who subsidized this with ca. $300 million in stolen money during the late 1990s couldn’t even get the color of the the absurdly-oversized dome right; it’s a grotesque orangey copper.

    It also destroys the view of the Kremlin’s gorgeous church towers and belfries and blights one of the loveliest neighborhoods in Moscow.

    I suppose a believer would consider any altar where the eucharist is celebrated to be “sacred,” but for most Russians, this eyesore is a source of shame and embarrassment.

  • Luke Lea

    Thanks, thibaud. I was at a loss.

  • Jim.

    Because nothing says “respect for Christianity, religious freedom and deeply held beliefs” like a Not Safe For Work performance?

    Nice try.

    Still waiting for constructive suggestions from the Left on how to enshrine in law the same level of respect for Christian sensibilities as for feminist sensibilities.

  • Jim.

    Not to mention respect for good taste and scorn for tacky, amoral money-grubbing…

  • http://www.the-american-interest.com Damir Marusic

    thibaud, the main problem is that this isn’t about the well-to-do middle class Muscovites who bristle at the blatant corruption of the Putin regime and inauthentic and garish architecture. They’re already convinced that things have to change.

    The problem is that they’re a minority in the country, and they need to be convincing the average Russian. I’m not sure they’ve done themselves much of a favor here.

    I’d refer you to an excellent article we ran elsewhere on the site earlier this year, “Divided Russia“:

    But class resentment in Russia today doesn’t just flow upward. Another potential source of social conflict is the divide between the urban middle class and the majority of Russians, who tend to be poorer and more reliant on the federal budget for their livelihood. While the middle class seeks to roll back to power of the state, the poorer majority looks to the state to subsidize the industries it works in and to provide it basic services. The emergence of an urban middle class as a distinct political force is an unprecedented event in Russia, so it is difficult to predict its effects. One thing is clear, however: The interests of this class will not always line up with those of other parts of society.

  • thibaud

    “While the middle class seeks to roll back to power of the state…”

    This is a typically American misconstruction of the challenges facing Russia and Russians. The main problem with the Russian state is not that it’s overbearing; it’s that it’s largely absent. It is a shambles.

    The Russian state cannot administer justice, cannot regulate industry to ensure basic levels of public health and product safety, cannot enforce laws and arrest criminals, cannot secure its borders.

    In Samuel Huntington’s terms, Russia is now one of those states where the government doesn’t govern.

    Putin and most Russians – the vast majority, really – are correct to see the collapse of state effectiveness as the #1 problem facing Russia in the post-Soviet era. His remedy, of course, is more of the same – misgovernment by a different band of thieves and siloviki thugs. But that doesn’t change the fact that Russia needs not loony US-style libertarianism but its opposite: a strong and effective democratic regulatory apparatus.

  • bob sykes

    Excuse me. These punks desecrated a Russian Orthodox church. The two year sentence may be a little harsh, but it was justly deserved. These punks would have been arrested tried and either fined or sent to jail in every Western democracy. Don’t confuse vandalism, pornography and anti-Christian bigotry will freedom demonstrations.

  • hepzeeba

    thibaud @9
    This is a typically American misconstruction of the challenges facing Russia and Russians. The main problem with the Russian state is not that it’s overbearing; it’s that it’s largely absent. It is a shambles.

    This is a typically American way of looking at things.

    The problem is not with the Russian state. The problem, as in all societies with a history of authoritarian rule, is that the people do not believe in the power of the state—or anyone in authority—to do good for them.

    And they are not wrong.

  • thibaud

    hepzeeba – yep, more of that Somali Magic. Just what we all need.

  • hepzeeba

    thibaud–

    I didn’t say that the Russians don’t need government. I said that they don’t trust any sort of government to serve their needs.

    This is a profound challenge, not just for Russia but for many (most?) countries in the world, which do not share our democratic tradition and ethos and most of which lack civic organizations and “civil society.”

    You underestimate the degree to which this compact between the people and their government matters.

  • Luke Lea

    Damir quote: “While the middle class seeks to roll back to power of the state, the poorer majority looks to the state to subsidize the industries it works in”

    It doesn’t have to be a choice between the state and the market. Instead of backing comanies the state should subsidize market wages with progressive taxation (a graduated expenditure tax ideally). The same answer applies around the world as academic economists (used to) know.

  • thibaud

    OK, fair enough, hep. A good point, well taken.
    Best,
    T