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Pussy Riot as Poster Girls

The Russian government seeks to make all protest illegal

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Pussy Riot as Poster Girls

Pussy Riot

Courtesy of the group
Trial proceedings against the three alleged members of Pussy Riot have entered the next stage.

Now that preliminary investigations have concluded, lawyers for the three jailed women can begin examining the evidence supplied against them.

What we will see now will hopefully be a well-thought out discussion of the events as they transpired, what happened with the group's February 21 protest performance in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, and whether the group staged that performance to incite religious hatred. What we will hopefully not see is a media circus intended to force these three to serve as examples for anyone who might seek to express political beliefs about Vladimir Putin's presidency.

Unfortunately, if I were a betting man, I'd have to lay wager on the latter.

Because this case is not really about Pussy Riot actions in the church, It's not even really about Pussy Riot's criticism of Vladimir Putin's rule or policies. Instead, the group is being used to serve as an example to any who might criticize his rule, or question his relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.

And it's a relationship that bears questioning.

Many political critics are harshly critical of Putin's relationship with the church, charging that he's allowing its leaders to gain political power and monetary wealth in exchange for their support. And there is much to suggest this is true.

Patriarch Kirill, who has a track record for lashing out at the women in Pussy Riot, has a longer track record of fawning connection to Putin. Before the events involving Pussy Riot, Kirill had proclaimed Putin's two terms as Russia's president as "God's miracle," while Putin has said in turn that "the state still owes much to the church." The church has even entered into the realm of endorsing Russian arms, consecrating nuclear missiles as "Russia's Guardian Angels."

The world is aware of what's going on, that these women sit behind bars, awaiting a sentence that will show how Russia deals with those who do little more than boldly expressing public dissatisfaction with their government. Amnesty International has declared them as prisoners of conscience, while an online group has arisen to make everyone aware of the situation, and to provide ways we can help. But this is all from afar, comprised of pressure being placed upon a government that has done little to pay attention to any sort of criticism from afar, and suppressed it at home. The women will most likely be paraded out and dealt with harshly in order to suppress any further dissonant voices. I hope this isn't the case, but this falls in line with the current track record.

While the government has sought to use these unlikely poster women as an example with how dissidents are dealt with, the Russian Parliament met to create a strict set of laws regulating their people's right to protest. In essence, they have no right to do so, and will face fines for taking part in public assemblies. The original proposal called for much harsher penalties than were eventually decided upon - this is the Russian government's idea of a "humane attitude" toward its people. The message is being handed to Russian citizens is one telling them that should they decide to do or say anything critical of their government, they will be charged and penalized. But don't worry, it's just a fine, because we're not bad guys or anything, we just want all of you to comply with all we do and say.

If current news stories are to be be believed (and we should refrain from doing so until all of the evidence is presented, as defense lawyers are just as capable of grandstanding as government prosecution), the events of February 21 weren't even that severe. Lawyers for the defense have said that an unedited video of the group's actions in Christ the Savior Cathedral show that the band didn't actually perform the song "Blessed Virgin – Throw Out Putin" in the Cathedral. Instead, they danced wildly for a brief moment before being escorted out.

The video that has been circulating featuring the band's medley of music is said to be actually a part of an edited piece that combines their appearance in Christ the Savior Cathedral with that of an earlier concert in another church. The unedited video has yet to be released as it's evidence in the case, but it sheds new light on the nature of the protest at the core of this case, questioning whether the band even did anything that can be perceived as illegal. If anything, it was a bit out of place, and while perhaps it was a bit inappropriate for the venue - and when has punk ever been known to be appropriate! - it's surely not a case that bears a sentence of up to seven years for each woman.

Oppressive governments maintain their oppressive grips on the mass public by making examples of a few. If those few are misfits, part of a small group separated by the general populace by appearance or extremity of their beliefs, it's that much easier. This is why there is oppression of punks in Burma, Indonesia and in this case, Russia. When those few are used as examples, the people who may not have critical beliefs as extreme fall into line, and those in agreement are silenced out of fear.

The three women who remain in custody are pawns of greater struggle, albeit somewhat willing pawns. Their story is one that will most likely be meant to serve as an example of how the Russian government intends to silent those critical of it. Whether it's through jail time or new laws enacted to make public assembly all but illegal, it's oppression of punks and of people, and it remains to see how long it will stand and who will stand for it.

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