The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Pussy Riot Post Mortem

As the dust settles after the Pussy Riot show trial and the world of fair-weather activists moves on to the next fashionable Twitter-fueled cause, Via Meadia awaits some kind of definitive polling to tell us how Russians perceived the verdict.

The Levada Center, a reliable non-governmental polling agency, did perform several polls in the runup to the verdict, however, and they do broadly bear out our earlier take: that your average Russian, if he was paying attention at all, thought the trial was generally fair, that the members of Pussy Riot were being offensive to the Orthodox Church, and that the young women did deserve some form of punishment.

Here are some telling findings from a poll done in late July:

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MAIN REASON FOR THE PROSECUTION OF THE MEMBERS OF PUSSY RIOT?
42% – They profaned the religious shrines and insulted the feelings of believers.
17% – They called for Putin’s departure from power.
29% – They are just engaged in hooliganism, disturbing the public order.
8% – All of the above are true.
6% – Do not know.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE REASON FOR THE VIGOROUS PROSECUTION OF PUSSY RIOT?
18% – The government wants to show their support for the Church.
11% – The protesters “got to” Putin himself, and he’s taking revenge on them.
47% – The protesters grossly violated the norms of public morality.
15% – The government wants to show a willingness to be tough on protesters.
10% – Do not know.

WHAT PUNISHMENT DO YOU THINK THE MEMBERS OF PUSSY RIOT DESERVE?
16% – Improsonment for more than 2 years.
10% – Imprisonment for a period of 6 months to 2 years.
11% – Imprisonment for a few months, with time served for being in custody.
29% – Mandatory forced labor.
20% – A heavy fine.
5% – No punishment.
9% – Do not know.

And here are some findings from a poll done in early August:

WHO OR WHAT DO YOU THINK PUSSY RIOT WAS PROTESTING AGAINST?
16% – Against the Church’s participation in politics.
14% – Against the Church and the faithful.
13% – Against Putin.
20% – All of the above.
36% – Do not know.

WHO, IN YOUR OPINION, INITIATED THE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF PUSSY RIOT?
23% – The wider church community.
19% – The Russian Orthodox Church.
9% – The Presidential Administration.
6% – Patriarch Kirill.
4% – Vladimir Putin.
1% – Someone else.
38% – Do not know.

IS THE TRIAL FAIR, OBJECTIVE AND IMPARTIAL?
11% – Definitely yes.
33% – Probably yes.
13% – Probably not.
4% – Definitely not.
39% – Do not know.

Click through the links to see the full results of the surveys, and run them through an online translator if you can’t read Russian. The results are reasonably easy to decypher.

Now while it’s probably true that these polls reflect the impression made by Russian media coverage as much as they do the authentic feelings of the Russian people, it doesn’t change the fact that the Pussy Riot affair seems to have done little damage to Putin and few favors for Russia’s liberals. Only 5 percent favored letting Pussy Riot go completely free, 44 percent thought the trial was at least probably fair, and many thought it had a lot to do with the profaning of the Orthodox Church, which was unacceptable. Western media coverage has ignored this side of the story almost completely.

For our part, Via Meadia would like to see Putin show a little bit of real humanity by granting the band clemency. For that matter, we hope Patriarch Kirill of Russia asks President Putin to forgive the band. Christians generally don’t think that jail is the right punishment for blasphemy. We like to leave such matters to God.

However we also think that the fair-weather protesters who have ignored other human rights violations in Russia but have jumped on this one are missing the point. Far graver abuses of human rights have gone on in recent years. Neither life, nor freedom, nor property is secure in Russia today for those who question the Putinocracy. While rock groups with cheeky names deserve as much protection of the law as anybody else, the lack of concern about past abuses for less trendy protesters paved the way for this particular event.

That said, the U.S. government needs to work constructively with Moscow where opportunities present. Ever since the early 20th century, when protesters wanted the United States to end a treaty of friendship and commerce with Russia over its vicious persecution of its Jews, Americans have struggled to get the balance right between concerns about Russia’s domestic policy and efforts to cooperate where the interests of the two countries converge in the international arena. There isn’t a magic answer to this question, but it’s one we still need to wrestle with today.

Published on August 22, 2012 5:00 pm
  • Jim.

    Again… how would Democrats (or other Left-leaning commenters here) suggest we prevent invasion of churches during services?

    If churches should not be protected by law from this sort of behavior, why are there laws protecting workplaces, public shopping areas, and other venues from these sorts of disturbances?

  • thibaud

    Fewer polls. More pics. (pls)

  • Luke Lea

    I get the feeling that human and civil rights have receded as a priority in US (and your preferred?) foreign policy.

  • Kris

    “rock groups with cheeky names”

    Not precisely.

    Jim@1: I have no objection to punishments, just to disproportionate ones.

  • Jim.

    @Luke Lea-

    Actually, it seems to me that the human / civil right of freedom of religion is scoring higher here than it has in a while.

  • John Burke

    While Via Media may be right that fair weather protesters in the west have paid little attention to other, more egregious human rights violations, might that be exactly why Pussy Riot took off their clothes in churchZ.

  • Masha

    I can’t help wondering if they people complaining about the clothes these women wore in the church have seen what some Orthodox women wear in church when they’re not trying to cause a ruckus. At least these ladies had the sense to cover their hair and wear stockings.

    In all seriousness though, I appreciate this evaluation. What free speech enthusiast living in a non-police state doesn’t love an excuse to run around wearing a fluorescent ski mask and a Free Pussy Riot t-shirt? But in reality, Russian society is conservative in ways that are uncomfortable for liberals and for many human rights advocates, and that shouldn’t be discounted. Furthermore, these ladies are being punished (not to a Stalinist degree) for singing an offensive song in a deliberately highly provocative location, unlike, for example, the many entrepreneurs who are in prison for the heinous act of having valuable stock that can be stolen and sold off by thieving officials. I would’ve loved to see Pussy Riot just get mandatory community service time (Moscow has some lovely parks that would look so much nicer with less trash in them). But the entrepreneurs seem like maybe, just maybe, a more worthy thing to get outraged about.

  • Dick Pickett

    They got off light.

    Leviticus 24:10 And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp;

    Leviticus 24:11 And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:)

    Leviticus 24:12 And they put him in ward, that the mind of the LORD might be showed them.

    Leviticus 24:13 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

    Leviticus 24:14 Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.

    Leviticus 24:15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin.

    Leviticus 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.

  • Charles R. Williams

    This group got off easy. There is no right to go into a church or a mosque or a synagogue or a temple of any sort and behave in ways that outrage worshipers. They knew what they were doing was illegal and offensive.

    This was a direct attack on all believers of all sorts and on civil society. Even if Patriarch Kirill appeals for mercy the state should not necessarily grant mercy in this case. Justice also is at stake.

    It is a serious offense. Two years is about right.