Artists Controversies Russian Federation

Pussy Riot lawyer appeals to Western celebrities for support

Three women facing long jail terms over anti-Putin art-punk performance

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, at a court hearing in Moscow

The lawyer for three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, who are currently awaiting trial for an allegedly blasphemous protest in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral shortly before the election that saw Vladimir Putin returned for a third term as Russian president, says only appeals from Western celebrities and high-profile cultural figures can save them from further criminal charges and long jail sentences.

The performance infuriated the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, and other top church officials, who were criticised in the “punk prayer” performance which also asked the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin.

“The authorities must now, in essence, falsify the charges,” says Nikolai Polozov. “It’s very hard for them to back down. I think the only option now is pressure from the outside. I don’t understand why Western pop and rock stars don’t want to support their Russian colleagues. There are many stars who speak out for various liberal values. Even Madonna, when she heard that St Petersburg plans to pass a homophobic law, said she plans to raise that question during her concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were arrested by heavily armed policemen on 3 March, the day before the election, and have been held on remand since then. A third suspect, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was arrested later. Tolokonnikova and her husband, Pyotr Verzilov, have been associated with the controversial art group Voina. Verzilov was detained briefly by police at an anti-Putin gathering in May.

A YouTube video of February’s “punk prayer service” shows Pussy Riot members in front of the cathedral’s altar in trademark ski-masks, dancing wildly, prostrating themselves and making the sign of the cross. The song they performed, titled Holy Shit, was a condemnation of the Russian Orthodox church's close ties to Putin. The lyrics included the lines: "Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, chase Putin out!"

The women face up to seven years in prison on the initial charges. Further charges of inciting religious hatred might be pressed based on the video, says Polozov. The Russian Orthodox Church has denounced the performance as blasphemy reminiscent of Soviet attacks on the church and demanded the suspects’ prosecution and repentance.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral was blown up on Stalin’s orders in 1931 and rebuilt in the 1990s. Polozov's great-grandfather was canonised for being martyred by the Bolsheviks.

Reactions to the protest and the charges

“As a practicing Christian I found it rather unpleasant that these young women broke into the main cathedral of the country and organised a debauch. However, as a lawyer I am prepared to look at it soberly and rationally. I do not think they should be severely punished. Yes, perhaps give them a criminal record, but don’t imprison them for a long term.” — Alexander Konovalov, minister of justice fore Russian Federation

“I am not Orthodox, but I like Orthodox churches as I feel inspiration there. Churches encourage our spiritual growth. One should not allow unbridled hussies in, who were stage managed and paid by some other party to do what they did. I don’t think there will be a significant reaction if they are given an exemplary seven-year sentence.” — Joseph Kobzon, singer and member of parliament

“Our pious forefathers, who foresaw that Russia would be a great state, laid the foundation stone of this cathedral, a place of encounter with the sacred. And now in the 21st century their descendants have desecrated it. The days when people resolved such issues by force are in the past, praise be to God. But what should happen now in our land that owes the very fact of its existence to the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox faith that inspired our people to perform the greatest acts of heroism, including the defence of the Fatherland in 1812? People are trying to vindicate this sacrilege, to present it as a sort of a joke. I am greatly saddened and made sick at heart by the fact that among them are some who consider themselves Orthodox.” — Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia (from an official statement released on 24 March 2012)

“There will inevitably be a growth in anticlerical sentiment if they turn these girls into martyrs (God forbid!). The mere fact that the investigating officer [has threatened] to take the child away from one member of the band and send it to a children’s home is quite enough. Let’s ignore the protests that this [action] has offended people. Thousands of believers were offended by the theories of Copernicus and Galileo; Darwin offended millions, some of whom still can’t shut up.” — Dmitry Gutov, artist


Pussy Riot performing in front of St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow
More from The Art Newspaper

Comments

6 Jun 12
15:35 CET

ALEX BITTMANN, 83301 TRAUNREUT/GERMANY

Set them free !

4 Jun 12
15:52 CET

ANNA, LONDON

Dissapointed to see distorted facts and biased opinion in such a respectfull newspaper.

4 Jun 12
15:50 CET

VICTORIA GUTMAN, WHITTIER

"The performance took place during Mardi Gras, when the Church turns a blind eye to all sorts of funny jokes. The last day of Mardi Gras falls on Shrove Sunday, a holy day when believers forgive each other for any offence caused." I guess everyone is supposed to follow the church's rules, except the church.

1 Jun 12
14:54 CET

GREGORY, TAMWORTH

The Russian Orthodox Church should practice forgiveness.

1 Jun 12
14:52 CET

LEE HARROP, KALGOORLIE

Blasphemy a crime? you can’t be serious! Rational human thinking and scientific evidence replaced this barbaric indoctrination centuries ago. Why have the powers in Russia chosen to ignore the evidence? What are they afraid of? Peace, justice and equality? Give these young women a fair trial on some fact based charges and not for apparently offensive remarks about a make believe celestial being for which there is no evidence of existence. Hey maybe thats it, defence can ask for proof of Gods existence to enable any charge of the alleged offence having occurred. Brilliant, no case to answer.

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.

Email*
 
Name*
 
City*
 
Comment*
 

Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email letters@theartnewspaper.com

 

Share this