Standort: / Meldung: "Putin vs. Pussy Riot"

Charles Maynes Moscow

Journalist in Moscow

28. 2. 2013 - 14:09

Putin vs. Pussy Riot

A punk prayer, one year later.

It's perhaps a stretch to build an anniversary around clicks on Youtube, but late February marks one year since Pussy Riot's now infamous 'punk prayer' -- "Mother of God, Drive Putin Away" first found its way to the online masses.

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot

By now so much has happened that it's almost hard to think back to this 'beginning' - which, by the way, it really wasn't. Pussy Riot had staged pop-up video performances several months prior and several band members had been involved in Russia's radical performance art scene for several years. The baklava ski masks, fist-pumps, half-coordinated kicks and riot girl shrieks were familiar to many by the time the group stormed into Moscow's Christ Cathedral church on February 21, 2012.

But the appearance of the punk prayer was something different. For one, this time the band had a genuinely great song, with a church choir chorus that was downright catchy (as it should be – the melody was plucked from Rachmaninoff).

It was also the first time the band's message – a full frontal assault on the Russian Patriarch's open support of Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency (the Patriarch had called Putin "a gift from God") – resonated beyond the faithful.

With their 'punk prayer', the band had achieved the ultimate: they'd managed to both entertain fans and provoke the ire of church and state.

In a perverse way, it's amazing and wonderful to see that music in Russia still matters this much. After all, it wasn't so much age as a lack of purpose that gradually dragged down the great bands of the Soviet Perestroika-era. (With Soviet Union no more, what was their left to say? The answer, it turned out, was little).

That changed in the last two years -- with Pussy Riot, the rapper Noize MC, and a few other young acts signaling that contemporary music has much still to say.

Soli-Demonstration für Pussy Riot

FM4 / Charles Maynes

But it was the Kremlin, oddly enough, that had the most invested in pushing Pussy Riot as shock value. Just a few months earlier, tens of thousands of Russians had taken to the street to protest parliamentary elections rigged by Putin's United Russia party. Putin's planned return to the presidency suddenly looked in doubt in early 2012.

But in the punk prayer video, Putin's inner circle saw a wedge issue to alienate the opposition from its growing support base. And so the Kremlin provided Pussy Riot the kind of PR money can't buy: it put on a show trial.

The media circus, the conviction on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred", the two-year sentences for band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina -- mothers of young children, both (the conviction of a third band member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was overtuned upon appeal) – turned Pussy Riot into bonafide celebrities and prisoners of conscience. At least to some.

But, in Russia, Pussy Riot was pushed on state TV as symptomatic of western liberal excess – too feminist, too gay-friendly, too secular. Inherently un-Russian.

In retrospect, it's clear that the Kremlin's approach to Pussy Riot became the blueprint for Putin's third term. Anti-blasphemy laws, anti-gay measures, rampant anti-Americanism, pedophilia witch-hunts, and defense of children acts – like Pussy Riot – are all designed to broaden Putin's appeal among a conservative core.

Meanwhile, in interviews from their respective prisons, Tolokonnokova and Alyokhina seem more bored than broken. They describe a dank childless world of grey walls and groupthink. And so they sew. They read. Most of all they wait.

Their punk prayer unanswered.