Where Intelligence Meets News Analysis.

Putin and the Pussy Riot

I learned a valuable lesson in the fall of 2003. For a 20-year-old, it vulgarly and violently shattered whatever cemented notions I held of power. Literary texts and other conventional sources of wisdom that had helped crystallize a young man’s idealistic view of power suddenly became limp.

Only one thing, and one thing now means power, and that is POWER itself.

When the most powerful man in Russia, Russian president Vladimir Putin, arrested and kept in jail (till date) the richest man in Russia (and 16th in the world at the time), Mikhail Khodorkovsky, I soon realized the impotence of correlating money with power. Yes, money does equal access, but as Mr. Putin has shown since then, access might be analogous to power but it isn’t synonymous.

It showed me how far Mr. Putin, a former agent of the ruthless and feral Soviet-era secret service, KGB, was ready to go to crush dissent in Russia. I feared much for the country. In 2008, when Russia invaded neighboring Georgia, I wrote in this space how the man Putin is determined to pull skeletons of the Old Empire back from the depths of the abyss. In an alarming voice back then, I wrote that Russia, under Putin, was becoming “an armor-clad pit-bull immune to tranquilizer darts.”

And so it is, that three young women of the punk band Pussy Riot were this week sentenced to two years in jail for singing 40 seconds of “Mother of God, drive Putin out” before the altar of the biggest cathedral in Moscow.

While one might be quick to fault these ladies for daring to blaspheme a house of worship in such a manner, secularizing the very altar on which prayers, and other sacrosanct religious activities are performed—it is also important to note why though I would never do this, this was a necessary evil of sorts.

Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where this protest was staged, is an Orthodox Church. Among Christian churches, the Russian Orthodox Church is second only to the Roman Catholic Church in terms of numbers of followers. In a 2007 poll conducted in the country, 75 percent of the population identified as Orthodox Christians. This is why, to no surprise, Putin and his political class have sought to forge an inseparable tie with the Church—hoping to reap the abundant blessing of legitimacy it may bestow. In a nation where private and social freedoms are under coordinated and tactical assault, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, recently lauded Putin as “a miracle from God.”

It is therefore hard to see any other place where such an act of dissent, so demonstrative, could have had as much ramification as the place where the unholy alliance of church and state is being perpetuated.

Though it is true that these ladies are no saints (especially since some members of the band have before engaged in obscene acts), and as Russian analyst and journalist Vadim Nikitin points out  in The New York Times, “using dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime is as dangerous as adopting a pet tiger: no matter how domesticated they may seem, in the end they are free spirits, liable to maul the hand that feeds them.”  We must nonetheless embrace the values and ideals that this singular act represents; these yearn and struggle for freedom and expression are at the core of what defines us as freedom-loving peoples.

Vladimir Putin has a Frankenstein of a problem on his hands. The ages of these women bears the bad news of why things will get ugly for the president. Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Yekaterina Samutsevitch, 30, reflect the increasing frustration and restlessness of a growing young Russian population with authoritarian governance. Information may not necessarily translate into hard power, but it is indeed soft power. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now allow for the ready dissemination of ideas and events. A dictator’s biggest headache.

Late last year, and as recent as May of this year, an unprecedented number of Russians in the hundreds of thousands flooded the streets of Moscow and other cities to decry Putin’s return to power.

“Hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” is the crime for which members of Pussy Riot (two of them mothers) are convicted. But, as shown, this is only but a pretext to silence dissent.  The two top leaders of the Church have now asked for mercy on behalf of these girls, but is Putin sure to listen? Whatever he does, a battle for the heart of Russia looms in the horizon. How many Russians Putin is willing to jail or murder to stay in power becomes question du jour.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: