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Written by Andrew Puhanic
Published on Sunday, August 12th, 2012
A punk group will determine the fate of Putin’s regime in Russia and the future direction. This is how the trial against the band Pussy Riot members, which started on Monday [30 July] in Moscow, is assessed in Russia and elsewhere in the world.
The crime, which has captured the whole world’s attention already for five months, was committed on 21 February and lasted for about a minute.
Five young women dressed in bright dresses and stockings went into the Christ Savior’s Cathedral in Moscow, went up to the altar, crossed themselves and tried to sing “a punk prayer to Our Lady” to “drive Putin away.”
The guards immediately arrested them and expelled them from the church. When the police arrived, they did not even find it necessary to start a case.
However, as one of the interrogatees later told an investigator, the campaign video on YouTube was watched by Russian Patriarch Kirill, who called President Vladimir Putin. On 3 March, two of the “prayer” participants, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alyokhina were seized by the Federal Security Service officers.
On 16 March, Yekaterina Samutsevich, who had previously been interrogated as a witness, was arrested. All three have been charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and since then have been kept in custody. They are facing up to seven years of imprisonment.
There is no doubt that the PUSSY RIOT CAMPAIGN in church could insult people’s religious feelings. The defendants admit that their action may have been “an ethical mistake” and have apologized to those who found it insulting.
However, there is also no doubt that they were not insulted religious feelings that made Putin’s regime take so disproportionately severe action against the three women, whose action in any democratic country would qualify as freedom of thought and expression, and in the worst case they could be fined for public disorder.
The incumbent Russian authorities have turned this event into a test of their authority.
For five months the state-controlled media have been systematically demonizing the defendants as an evil which is dangerous for the state and the new world order.
The tone of this propaganda campaign may be well illustrated by an announcement voiced by a representative of the state prosecution saying that the defendants were the Satan-led secret agents of “world government.”
The lawsuit launched on Monday [30 July] will most likely be reflected in a similar way. JOURNALISTS are not allowed into the courtroom, the promised broadcast of the trial on the Internet has been canceled at the prosecutor’s request, media have been forbidden to quote what participants in the proceedings say.
For the leaders of an empire armed with nuclear weapons, without regard either to the international community’s opinion or even the seeming formal rule of law, it is so important to take revenge against women who have demonstrated contempt, as if their power and state foundations had really been threatened. And suddenly it really has to do with both the foundations of the state and everything the current regime considers to be most important.
This is Russia’s most important political trial since Mikhail Khodorkovskiy’s conviction. Only the current one concerns all Russian citizens. Revenge taken on Khodorkovskiy was a message to all oligarchs, they will either have to share property and cooperate with Putin and his Cheka [Soviet secret police] team, or languish in jail. The prosecution of Pussy Riot is a message to everyone that anyone could be imprisoned.
As in the “cleansing” and show trials of detainees organized by Stalin in the 1930s, where detainees had to agonize over why exactly they had fallen from grace, and those who were still at liberty unaffected by the bloody roulette were in anguish wondering why they were still free, now the ones involved in the church incident are perplexed as to why only three out of ten members of the band have been put on trial and why exactly them; and how far authorities are ready to go against the others and whether or not against their supporters who were in church that day?
What about others that Russian rulers believe have demonstrated disrespect and disloyalty to them? The answer of the authorities is, “against anyone”, and they shall not know in advance who will be next.
On Tuesday [31 July], the Investigation Commission pressed charges against one of Russia’s opposition leaders – Aleksey Navalnyy. As if Navalnyy, being the Kirov region governor’s public adviser, had organized the robbing of forests owned by the public company Kirovles.
He faces imprisonment of up to ten years for this offense.
The campaign in the church in February was just one in a series of widespread protests in Moscow and other Russian cities after the presidential throne was returned to Putin, which is seen by many Russian citizens as improper and a sign that Russia is becoming a dictatorship.
AUTHORITIES turned on dozens of protesters, who were believed to be the organizers. Now, however, a series of laws have been adopted – on Internet censorship, registration of non-governmental organizations as “foreign agents,” the criminalization of defamation, multiple increase in fines to organizers of illegal meetings and rallies – they all indicate the Kremlin’s determination to continue tightening the screws.
The authorities have gone too far to be able to yield now in the absurd lawsuit against the feminist punk band. Nonetheless, Putin is well aware of what he is doing. The sharply declining popularity of the regime and the growing Russian public feeling that its rule is illegitimate leaves no other choice for the ruler but to act like all dictators who have lost public support – to increase repression.
Paradoxically, perhaps Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has given the reasons for the ongoing trial and an insight into Putin’s regime and Russia’s future in its worst scenario, when recently he repeatedly defended the brutal crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s regime on the opposition and anyone who gets in the way of their bullets.
Having pointed out that armed opposition groups were occupying the city trying to form a “buffer zone” for the transitional government, Lavrov, to his mind, rhetorically asked, “How can you expect the Syrian Government to say – yes, go ahead, topple us? It is not realistic – not because we are holding on to this regime but because it simply does not work that way.”
Dictators do not give up power. Lavrov’s empathy for Al-Asad at the same time implies recognition of the undemocratic nature of Russia’s rule. As well as admitting that citizens have a reason to regard it as illegitimate. Unfortunately it is also a promise that in case of necessity Putin will act like Al-Asad.
Half-naked super-macho Putin – a master of martial arts, steed tamer and tiger shooter - is an inevitably finished stage in the relations of Russia’s incumbent ruler and its nationals. It is replaced by Putin – boor who beats up women. The regime no longer expects public respect and admiration, only fear and obedience.
In this sense the Pussy Riot trial will serve as a milestone – where the people once again in Russia’s history decide to agree to give in and obey the fist, or decide not to do so this time.