Russian Band, “Pussy Riot” Trial Divides Russia

Photograph: Aleshkovsky Mitya/Itar-Tass Photo/Corbis[/caption]

Strange but eerily familiar events are taking place in Russia as the trial of Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, continues this week:

“Three members of Pussy Riot – Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich – face up to seven years in prison if found guilty on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. They have argued that they were carrying out a political protest against the church’s support of Putin ahead of contentious elections that saw Putin return to the presidency for the third time amid unprecedented protests.”

In what some are likening to a public show trial of the Soviet-era, Pussy Riot has been confined for 5 months and deprived of food and sleep during the subsequent ongoing trial. Additionally the band members are being kept in a court-room glass cage that seems more appropriate for a war crimes trial.

The feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, finally faces trial this week for performing their “punk prayer” protest song in a church. These women could face up to 7 years in prison for three reasons:

First, they directly spoke out against Vladimir Putin who is known for punishing political opponents.

Secondly, they swatted the orthodox hornet’s nest by performing their “Punk Prayer” inside the main Russian Orthodox Church. The more conservative elements of Russian society don’t take well to Pussy Riot and were not impressed with their church performance.

‘A top official in the Russian Orthodox church said on Tuesday that the trial of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot had been willed by God, and called on Russia to do away with its secular state. …

“It was a sin against God and it is God that is judging it,” Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-ranking priest who often acts as the church’s spokesman, said. “And all Christians should know this.”‘

Finally, these protesters represent not just three women in a band, but an idea, an idea that that is dangerous to Putin’s autocratic Russian state. Anyone can easily become Pussy Riot by donning their characteristic head mask and belting out public punk performances. The state feels the need to punish them, but on the other hand a severe punishment may spark more “Pussy Riots.”

Pussy Riot has, in a single act, thrown themselves against the forces that unify post-USSR Russia: religion, strong armed authority, and tradition, so it is unsurprising that the state has reacted so severely. President Putin has called for leniency, but some are skeptical of his motives:

‘”On the one hand, Putin’s statement is without doubt a maneuver for the international community, because he is clearly worried and traumatized by the international reaction, as it is out of his control,” said Mark Feygin, a lawyer for Pussy Riot. “On the other hand, he is frantically trying to find an exit, so as not to take responsibility.”

Defence lawyers have likened the case against Pussy Riot, which continued to be heard on Friday, to a show trial. “Every day, the level of absurdity grows and grows,” said Nikolai Polozov, another lawyer for Pussy Riot.’

The members of Pussy Riot are now awaiting a verdict which is expected to be reached this week. If they are lucky then international attention coupled with Putin’s calls for leniency will get them a light sentence or even an acquittal. What ever happens, all of Russia and much of the world is watching. This may be a key event that indicates what direction post-Soviet Russia takes as a culture and society.