Pussy Riot - Secret
By Israel Shamir
Universally admired, Pussy Riot (or
PR for short) have been promoted as superstars. But what
are they? A rock or punk group they are not. A British
journalist marvelled: they produce no music, no song, no
painting, nada, rien, nothing. How can they be described
as “artists”? This was a severe test for their
supporters, but they passed it with flying honours: that
famous lover-of-art, the US State Department,
paid for their first ever single being produced by
The Guardian out of some images and sounds.
We are able to stomach obscenity and
blasphemy; I am a great admirer of Notre Dame de
Fleurs by Jean Genet, who combined both. However,
the PR never wrote, composed or painted anything of
value at all.
Chris Randolph defended them in Counterpunch
by comparing them with “the controversial Yegor Letov”.
What a misleading comparison! Letov wrote poetry, full
of obscenity but it still was poetry, while the PR have
nothing but Public Relations.
Hell-bent on publicity, but
artistically challenged, three young women from Russia
decided – well, it sounds like a limerick. They stole a
frozen chicken from a supermarket and used it as dildo;
they filmed the act, called it “art” and placed it on
the web. (It is still
there) Their other artistic achievements were
an orgy in a museum and a crude presentation of an
Even in these dubious pieces of art
their role was that of technical staff: the glory went
to a Russian-Israeli artist Plucer-Sarno of Mevasseret
Zion, who claimed the idea, design and copyright for
himself and collected a major Russian prize. The future
PR members got nothing and were described by Plucer as
“ambitious provincials on the make”, or worse.
Lately they have tried to ride on a
bandwagon of political struggle. That was another flop.
They poured a flood of obscene words on Putin - in Red
Square, in subway (underground) stations - with zero
effect. They weren’t arrested, they weren’t fined, just
chased away as a nuisance. And they did not attract the
attention of people. It is important to remember that
Putin is an avowed enemy of Russian oligarchs, owners of
the major bulk of Russian media and providers of the
Moscow literati, so they print on a daily basis so much
anti-Putin invective, that it’s lost its shock value.
You can’t invent a new diatribe against Putin – it has
been already said and published. And Putin practically
never interferes with the freedom of the press.
My foreign journalist friends are
usually amazed by the unanimity and ferocity of the
anti-Putin campaign in Russian media. It can be compared
with the attacks on G W Bush in the liberal papers in
the US, but in the US, there are many conservative
papers that supported Bush. Putin has practically no
support in the mainstream media, all of it owned by
media barons. A valuable exception is TV, but it is
expressly apolitical and provides mainly low-brow
entertainment, also presented by anti-Putin activists
like Mlle Xenia Sobtchak. So PR failed profoundly to
wake up the beast.
Eventually the young viragos were
mobilised for an attack on the Church. By that time they
were willing to do anything for their bit of publicity.
And the anti-Church campaign started a few months ago,
quite suddenly as if by command. The Russian Church had
20 years of peace, recovering after the Communist
period, and it was surprised by ferocity of the attack.
Though this subject calls for longer
exposition, let us be brief. After the collapse of the
USSR, the Church remained the only important spiritual
pro-solidarity force in Russian life. The Yeltsin and
Putin administrations were as materialist as the
communists; they preached and practiced social Darwinism
of neo-Liberal kind. The Church offered something beside
the elusive riches on earth. Russians who lost the glue
of solidarity previously provided by Communists eagerly
flocked to the alternative provided by the Church.
The government and the oligarchs
treated the Church well, as the Church had a strong
anti-Communist tendency, and the haves were still afraid
of the Reds leading the have-nots. The Church
flourished, many beautiful cathedrals were rebuilt, many
monasteries came back after decades of decay. The newly
empowered church became a cohesive force in Russia.
As it became strong, the Church began
to speak for the poor and dispossessed; the reformed
Communists led by the Church-going Gennadi Zuganov,
discovered a way to speak to the believers. A well-known
economist and thinker, Michael Khazin,
predicted that the future belongs to a new paradigm
of Red Christianity, something along the lines of Roger
Garaudy’s early thought. The Red Christian project is a
threat to the elites and a hope for the world, he wrote.
Besides, the Russian church took a very Russian and
This probably hastened the attack,
but it was just a question of time when the global
anti-Christian forces would step forward and attack the
Russian Church like they attacked the Western Church. As
Russia entered the WTO and adopted Western mores, it had
to adopt secularization. And indeed the Russian Church
was attacked by forces that do not want Russia to be
cohesive: the oligarchs, big business, the media lords,
the pro-Western intelligentsia of Moscow, and Western
interests which naturally prefer Russia divided against
This offensive against the Church
began with some minor issues: the media was all agog
about Patriarch’s expensive watch, a present from the
then President Medvedev. Anti-religious fervour was high
among liberal opposition that demonstrated against Putin
before the elections and needed a new horse to flog. A
leading anti-Putin activist Viktor Shenderovich said he
would understand if the Russian Orthodox priests were
slain like they were in 1920s. Yet another visible
figure among the liberal protesters, Igor Eidman,
exclaimed,“exterminate the vermin”- the Russian Church –
in the rudest biological terms.
The alleged organiser of the PR,
Marat Gelman, a Russian Jewish art collector, has been
connected with previous anti-Christian art actions which
involved icon-smashing, imitation churches of enemas.
His – and PR’s problem was that it was difficult to
provoke reaction of the Church. PR made two attempts to
provoke public indignation in the second cathedral of
Moscow, the older Elochovsky Cathedral; both times they
were expelled but not arrested. The third time, they
tried harder; they went to St Savior Cathedral that was
demolished by Lazar Kaganovich in 1930s and rebuilt in
1990s; they added more blasphemy of the most obscene
kind, and still they were allowed to leave in peace.
Police tried their best to avoid arresting the viragos,
but they had no choice after PR uploaded a video of
their appearance in the cathedrals with an obscene
During the trial, the defence and the
accused did their worst to antagonize the judge by
threatening her with the wrath of the United States
(sic!) and by defiantly voicing anti-Christian hate
speeches. The judge had no choice but to find the
accused guilty of hate crime (hooliganism with religious
hate as the motive). The prosecution did not charge the
accused with a more serious hate crime “with intent to
cause religious strife”, though it could probably be
made to stick. (It would call for a stiffer sentence;
swastika-drawers charged with intent to cause strife
receive five years of jail).
Two years’ sentence is quite in line
with prevailing European practice. For much milder
anti-Jewish hate talk, European countries customarily
sentence offenders to two-to-five years of prison for
the first offence. The Russians applied hate crime laws
to offenders against Christian faith, and this is
probably a Russian novelty. The Russians proved that
they care for Christ as much as the French care for
Auschwitz, and this shocked the Europeans who apparently
thought ‘hate laws’ may be applied only to protect Jews
and gays. The Western governments call for more freedom
for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for
holocaust revisionists in their midst.
The anti-Putin opposition flocked to
support PR. A radical charismatic opposition leader, the
poet Eduard Limonov wrote that the opposition made a
mistake supporting PR, as they antagonise the masses;
the chasm between the masses and the opposition grows.
But his voice was crying in the wilderness, and the rest
of the opposition happily embraced the PR cause, trying
to turn it into a weapon against Putin. The Western
media and governments also used it to attack Putin. A
Guardian editorial called on Putin to resign. Putin
called for clemency for PR, and the government was
embarrassed by the affair. But they were left with no
choice: the invisible organisers behind PR wanted to
have the viragos in jail, and so they did.
Commercially, they hit jackpot. With
support of Madonna and the State Department, they are
likely to leave jail ready for a world tour and photo
ops at the White House. They registered their name as a
trade mark and began to issue franchises. And their
competitors, the Femen group (whose art is showing off
their boobs in unusual places) tried to beat PR by
chopping down a large wooden cross installed in memory
of Stalin’s victims. Now the sky is the limit.
In August, vacation season, when
there is not much hard news and newspaper readers are at
the seashore or countryside, the PR trial provided much
needed entertainment for man and beast. Hopefully it
will drop from the agenda with the end of the silly
season, but do not bet on it.
Israel Shamir reports from Moscow,
his email is