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How Pussy Riot Helps Putin

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Posted on Aug 20, 2012
AP/Alex Katz

A protester is arrested during a demonstration in front of the Russian Consulate in New York in support of punk band Pussy Riot. Russia’s persecution of Pussy Riot has prompted public demonstrations around the globe.

By Ivo Mijnssen

(Page 2)

To many Russians, therefore, Pussy Riot appears as an irreverent and possibly extremist organization. Rodrigo von Horn, a German specialist on Russia who observed the trial closely, told Truthdig that the prosecution repeatedly insisted on the “psychological damage” Pussy Riot’s actions inflicted with its punk prayer: “Implicitly, this also emphasized the church’s role as the ideological foundation of the Russian state’s stability,” he said. In this context, a seemingly minor infraction suddenly becomes a threat to the entire political system. Two lawyers who represented a cathedral security guard, one of the prosecution’s many “injured parties,” made it clear that they considered the three defendants to be part of a larger conspiracy against Orthodoxy and the Russian state. One of them even drew an explicit connection between the attacks against the Twin Towers in New York and Pussy Riot: “In the first instance it was a satanic group, and in the second it was the global government. But at the highest level both are connected—by Satan,” the lawyer said.

These kinds of bizarre conspiracy theories do little to lend legitimacy to the verdict. They do, however, help to explain the severity of the punishment and the treatment of the defendants during the trial. The defense did not receive all necessary materials in time, and the judge rejected most of its witnesses during the trial. The defendants complained of sleep deprivation and humiliation. They were forced to sit in a cage throughout the trial, guarded by a fierce Rottweiler and elite soldiers. All of this underlined the impression that these young women were highly dangerous enemies of the state. Not surprisingly, Russian officials—and some non-mainstream commentators like Mike Whitney in CounterPunch—responded to criticism of the trial by quoting the American treatment of enemy combatants and alleged state-secrets leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning. It remains unclear, however, how an American violation of constitutional rights justifies judicial arbitrariness in Russia (see Chris Randolph’s rebuttal in CounterPunch).

The Pussy Riot case has become an international PR disaster for the Russian government. Domestically, however, it may contribute to rallying support for Putin’s government. To the conservative majority of Russians, estimated at about 60 percent, the trial has shown that the country’s authorities strengthen Russia’s ideological and religious foundations. A recent poll of Russians by the Levada-Center showed that 44 percent consider the trial to have been fair and objective, and an additional 36 percent believe that the punishment corresponds to Pussy Riot’s guilt. Moreover, 41 percent considered the punk prayer to be an offense against the Orthodox community, and only one-quarter saw political reasons behind the trial. In this sense, the case will probably assist the Kremlin in consolidating its conservative base. However, frustration only deepens among the growing urban and cosmopolitan sectors of Russian society, whose calls for reform fall on deaf ears. Most likely, this will motivate even more young and talented Russians to leave their country rather than hope for change at home.


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