21 August 2012

Pussy Riot, Liberalism, Hypocrisy

"How many fans of Pussy Riot’s zany “punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s erudite and moving closing statement were equally thrilled by her participation, naked and heavily pregnant, in a public orgy at a Moscow museum in 2008? That performance, by the radical art group Voina (Russian for “war”), was meant to illustrate how Russians were abused by their government. Voina had previously set fire to a police car and drew obscene images on a St. Petersburg drawbridge.

Stunts like that would get you arrested just about anywhere, not just in authoritarian Russia. But Pussy Riot and its comrades at Voina come as a full package: You can’t have the fun, pro-democracy, anti-Putin feminism without the incendiary anarchism, extreme sexual provocations, deliberate obscenity and hard-left politics." - Vadim Nikitim

Voina staged a live public orgy at the State Museum of Biology in the hall “Metabolism, energy, nutrition, digestion”. While five couples were copulating, the Voina chief media artist Alexei Plutser-Sarno, wearing a tuxedo and a top-hat, was holding a black pre-electoral banner reading “Fuck for the Bear” (29 February 2008).

I have to say that I found this scolding Op-Ed by Vadim Nikitin truly, ridiculously offensive. Why? Not because there are not many sanctimonious liberals who simply want to chastise far-away regimes for transgressions of the sort they wrongly believe never, ever occur here in the US. There are, of course, many liberals of just that sort. What is offensive about Nakim's argument (and Glenn Greeenwald's endorsement of it at The Guardian) is that there are many Americans who (1) speak regularly and loudly about transgressions by public - and private - powers in the US, (2) are quite aware that the women of Pussy Riot have been involved in provocative - some might say 'tasteless' or 'offensive' - performances in the past, and (3) nevertheless not only find it outrageous that the Russians are still running show-trials to rival those of the Stalin years but feel obliged to say so.

 A couple of things are important. First, Nikitim is right that protests of the sort Pussy Riot has staged might well get one arrested in many places other than Russia. But would they also get one a show trial and multi-year sentence - serious prison time? Second, the orthodox church is busy supporting the oligarchic Russian regime, and it is naive to assume otherwise. Just as when ACT-UP New York staged protests during the church services of Cardinal O'Connor, the Russian activists are identifying church complicity with oppressive policies. Imagine gay kiss-ins during holy mass! Third, Greenwald is off the mark when he invokes Chomsky's moralism. Sure the US is especially egregious in perpetrating violence world-wide. That in no way implies that we should sit on our hands when other regimes follow suit. And, of course, when liberals support 'freedom of expression' in cases like this, it becomes easy to turn the outrage around next time they demur in the face of domestic outrages.
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P.S.: A follow up. It would also be a mistake to assume that all Russians support the show trial prosecution. Consider this observation from The Nation: "Support has come from inside Russia and abroad. More than 40,000 Russians have signed an online petition protesting the band members’ arrest and detention. A hundred Russian civic and cultural figures have petitioned the country’s Supreme Court. Russia’s human rights ombudsperson has urged their release."

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2 Comments:

Blogger Mikel-Miguel said...

About the case of Pussy Riot in Spain there is jail sentence or big fines: 6 months- 1 year. (article 524)
And in other cases, a pie on the face of an authoritarian representative until 10 years:
http://www.rtve.es/noticias/20120409/cuatro-acusados-lanzar-tartas-barcina-se-enfrentan-penas-hasta-10-anos-prision/514609.shtml

In Spain the support and alliance between Catholic Church and Governtment is bigger than in Russia.

In USA, always Under God, and always the power with priests, is not very different. What said Bush about not believers, not citizens?

22 August, 2012 03:22  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

"Three members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison for staging an anti-Putin protest inside a Russian church." ~ Democracy Now!

My criticism of the Russian courts is not a defense of analogous outrages elsewhere. And it is fact that when ACT UP New York staged protests at ST. Patrick's Cathedral they were arrested but served no serious jail time (I believe charges were dropped or there were penalties of probation).

The fact that in Spain and the US the church and the government are intertwined is indisputable. It also is unjustifiable and does not justify the same situation in Russia.

22 August, 2012 07:11  

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