Photos taken at a performance by the Young Zilovets Children’s Folk Dance Ensemble in honor of Defender of the Fatherland Day, February 23, 2009
Thanks to Comrade Fyodor for the heads-up.
Photos taken at a performance by the Young Zilovets Children’s Folk Dance Ensemble in honor of Defender of the Fatherland Day, February 23, 2009
Thanks to Comrade Fyodor for the heads-up.
Rumata feels alarmed, as the kingdom is rapidly morphing into a fascist police state.
On March 5, Varya Strizhak’s video “The Imperial Spirit, or, God Save the Tsar!” had its premiere.
Anthem of the Russian Empire (1833–1917)
Words: Vasily Zhukovsky
Music: Alexei Lvov
Words: Vladimir Shemchushenko
Music: Mikhail Chertyshev
The empire cannot die!
I know that the soul does not die.
From one end to another, the empire
Lives, truncated by a third.
God, protect the Tsar!
Strong and majestic,
Reign for glory,
For our glory!
A rebellious people’s will and peace
And happiness are mourned.
But my sorrow is of a different kind.
It is consonant with Pushkin’s line.
God, protect the Tsar!
Strong and majestic,
Reign for glory,
For our glory!
Reign to foes’ fear,
God, protect the Tsar!
Let the chain clank! Let once again the whip whistle
Over those who are against nature!
The imperial spirit is ineradicable in the people.
The empire cannot die!
The Secular State Is Canceled
April 10, 2013
The State Duma has passed in the first reading a bill introducing criminal liability for “insulting religious feelings and beliefs.”
It passed the bill despite the harsh criticism it faced from experts, lawyers, and human rights activists when it was introduced six months ago, despite the president’s instructions to improve the bill after an expanded meeting of the Human Rights Council, and despite an alternative bill, drafted by the Council’s legal staff.
The bill voted on by the Duma was exactly the same version that Novaya Gazeta analyzed in its November 6, 2012, issue. It can rightly be seen as contradicting four articles of the Russian Federation Constitution, namely, Article 14 (on the secular state), Article 19 (equality of rights regardless of one’s beliefs and attitudes to religion), Article 28 (freedom of conscience, freedom of choice, and the promotion of religious and other beliefs) and Article 29 (freedom of thought and speech).
There is no doubt that even if the law is upheld in the Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights will reduce it to smithereens, because the relevant PACE resolutions clearly state that freedom of expression cannot and should not be restricted “to meet increasing sensitivities of certain religious groups” or “out of deference to certain dogmas or the beliefs of a particular religious community.”
In fact, restriction of such freedom is the bill’s main goal. One of its authors, United Russia MP Alexander Remezkov, declared this outright in the Duma, saying we “need effective legal instruments against blasphemers, scorners, and sacrilegers.” What kind of “secular state” can there be after such laws are passed?
In a secular state, laws may not contain such terms such as “blasphemy” and “sacrilege.” Blasphemy, if we accurately unpack the term, means insulting a god. Dear legislators, do you acknowledge that gods actually exist? And that the clergy are their legal representatives, authorized to decide what exactly offends their clients and to what degree? What century is this?
If the bill is passed into law, for “publicly insulting the religious feelings and beliefs of citizens, [and] debasing worship services and other religious rituals” you can be imprisoned for up to three years. How many times has the world been told one cannot “insult” someone’s feelings or beliefs! Feelings are an emotional response to one’s environment, while beliefs are conscious positions. They cannot be “insulted”: such “insults” are not objectively verifiable, and therefore they cannot be prohibited, and no one can be punished for violating such a prohibition.
Who will establish in court that someone’s feelings have been “insulted,” and how will they do this? It is impossible to rely solely on the opinion of the “insulted” party, whom nothing will prevent from being “insulted” by anything whatsoever, including the existence in the world of religions other than the one he professes. Finally, it is completely impossible to “insult” or “debase” worship services or religious practices, since they are altogether inanimate things.
What the bill, if passed, will mean in practice is clear: sanctioned persecution of any criticism of any religion and the relevant clerical authorities, who love teaching others “spirituality” and “morality.” I wonder whether people will be punished for reading Russian folk tales, which feature greedy priests and stupid sextons? Or for repeating sayings like “like priest, like parish” or “force a fool to pray to God” [i.e., “give someone enough rope”]?
This, of course, might seem ridiculous, but will soon be no laughing matter: essentially, a ban is being introduced banning the promotion of atheist views and the expression of such opinions as unacceptable to the newest group of permanently “insulted believers.” On the other hand, for burning books they do not like, something a group of Orthodox zealots did a month ago outside the offices of the Yabloko party, believers are not threatened by this law. Just like the scoundrel with the title of professor who publicly called atheists “sick animals that should be cured”: the feelings of non-believers are not subject to protection. After all, despite the fact that Article 19 of the Constitution stipulates the equality of rights and freedoms of man and citizen, regardless of one’s belief and attitudes toward religion, the bill puts believers in a privileged position vis-à-vis non-believers, introducing special protection for their feelings and beliefs.
All these things cannot exist in a secular state on principle, and the shameful law on its way to passage by the State Duma should be understood as overturning this constitutional principle.
However, we are moving down this road step by step. Its milestones include bans on exhibitions or performances that don’t catch the fancy of religious fanatics. And the ceremonial consecration of tap water. And requirements to teach creationism in schools alongside evolutionary theory. And the creation of a Department of Orthodox Culture at the Strategic Missile Forces Academy. And the adoption of laws for the punishment of “promotion of homosexuality,” based on quotations from the Old Testament and curses against “sodomites” and “perverts.” And, contrary to law, the obligatory introduction in schools of the subject known as “Orthodox culture” (as was said at the school my youngest son attends, “as recommended by the Patriarch”). And “Orthodox banner bearers,” “people’s councils,” “Cossacks,” and other characters, more reminiscent of the gray storm troopers from the novel Hard to Be a God.
Do you remember how the book ends? “Wherever Graydom triumphs, the blackbirds will always seize power.”
Feminism is a “very dangerous” phenomenon that could lead to the destruction of Russia, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has said.
“I consider this phenomenon called feminism very dangerous, because feminist organisations proclaim the pseudo-freedom of women, which, in the first place, must appear outside of marriage and outside of the family,” said Patriarch Kirill, according to the Interfax news agency.
“Man has his gaze turned outward – he must work, make money – and woman must be focused inwards, where her children are, where her home is,” Kirill said. “If this incredibly important function of women is destroyed then everything will be destroyed – the family and, if you wish, the motherland.”
“It’s not for nothing that we call Russia the motherland,” he said. . . .
ULAN-UDE, April 11 (RIA Novosti) – The Kremlin favors the idea of adopting a law protecting the religious feelings of Russian citizens, the Russian presidential spokesman said Thursday.
Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed the bill in the first reading on Tuesday.
“The Kremlin supports the idea of the law, and the wording of the law is up to the lawyers,” Dmitry Peskov said. “The law is very difficult to enforce but it is absolutely essential in this multi-national and multi-confessional country,” he said.
Peskov failed to answer a journalist’s question on how a person could be punished in Russia for desecrating a holy site, saying “this is a judicial practice issue.”
The first deputy of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Mikhail Markelov, said some 80 percent of Russians support the law, according to an opinion poll.
Under the draft document, those who offend religious feelings at church services and ceremonies face up to three years in jail, fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,700) or 200 hours of compulsory community service.
Those Russians who insult religious feelings at holy sites face up to five years in jail, fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,500) or 400 hours of compulsory community service, the document says.
The bill was submitted for consideration in the State Duma in September 2012. The idea of introducing punishment for offending religious feelings came after members of the female band Pussy Riot performed an anti-Kremlin “punk prayer” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral last February.
Editor’s Note. This posting was updated on April 13, 2013.
March 8 marked the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the fourth in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.
On February 21, 2013, the first anniversary, of Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” protest, TV Rain’s Maria Makeyeva interviewed Irina Karatsuba, an ecclesiastical historian and Ph.D. in cultural studies, and Elena Volkova, an expert on religion and artistic culture. Earlier in the day, Karatsuba and Volkova had been detained at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in balaclavas while attempting to lay flowers on the altar as way of showing their solidarity with the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot. They were later released from Khamovniki police precinct after questioning.
Мaria Makeyeva: What made you, two female academics, go to Christ the Savior Cathedral? I understand that police were expecting someone to show up there on the anniversary of Pussy Riot’s protest action, but it was you, two scholars, whom they found. Was this a scholarly action or a form of research? What was it?
Elena Volkova: It was, first of all, a human action. We wanted to express our solidarity with Maria [Alyokhina] and Nadezhda [Tolokonnikova] on this day, to show them that people remember and appreciated what they did a year ago, that there are people who sympathize with them, share their views, and support the [protest] action they performed in Christ the Savior Cathedral. We went there in solidarity, support, and sympathy. As scholars, we’ve spent the past year on educating people. I ran a “Pussy Riot school” on the Web, where I tried to explain [what they did], because it seemed to me that people perceived the punk prayer so aggressively simply because they didn’t know church history, the history of resistance within the church, the history of the holy fools, Biblical prophecy, and ecclesiastical counterculture. I wanted to educate people, and so as scholars we have been actively involved in outreach the whole [past] year, and we carried balaclavas in our bags.
Makeyeva: As a historian of the church, what do you think of what Pussy Riot did a year ago?
Irina Karatsuba: I think there are several important dates in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the twentieth century. For example, the Church Council of 1917–1918, at which the Patriarchate was restored and a reform program was drafted, but none of these reforms was carried out. This continues to haunt us today. Or Metropolitan Sergei’s 1927 declaration, in which the church bowed down before an atheist state and thanked it: this is a very important milestone in the history of our church’s apostasy from Christ. Or 1943, when Comrade Stalin allowed the Church Council to convene and elect a new patriarch. He thus bound the church firmly to the atheist state, and the church firmly attached itself to it.
Makeyeva: But what about the “punk prayer”?
Karatsuba: The “punk prayer” completes this sequence. It tries to put everything in its place: render unto God what is God’s, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And it calls on members of the church not to support Caesar, thus closing the books on a very important feature of church-state relations in the twentieth century. Moreover, the girls told the truth, and told it in such a way that everyone heard it. We experts had been writing about this for the past five years, six years, but very few people hear what experts have to say. But [Pussy Riot] were able to say it in a way that everyone heard it, and that is to their great credit.
Makeyeva: You both were expert witnesses in the Pussy Riot case.
Karatsuba: We were expert witnesses for the defense whose testimony no one wanted to hear. We sat in the stairways at the Khamovniki district court for two days along with [famous Russian novelist] Ludmila Ulitskaya, who is seventy today, God bless her, and Irina Levinskaya, who had written an expert opinion on the expert opinion [commissioned by the prosecution]. She showed how meaningless what the court-appointed experts had dashed off was.
Makeyeva: Could you say more about the balaclavas you carried in your bags for a whole year?
Volkova: We made them for an opposition rally, before the ban on covering one’s face [was introduced]. We made them from Ikea pillowcases five minutes before going to the rally.
Karatsuba: Elena came over to my house and quickly made two balaclavas from an Ikea pillowcase I had.
Volkova: Later, we put them on outside the courthouse when we went there to support the girls. And then I carried it in my bag as a talisman, as a way of maintaining my connection with the persecuted women.
Makeyeva: And where are they now?
Volkova: The guards at Christ the Savior Cathedral tore them off and didn’t give them back to us, unfortunately. The tulips they threw at our feet: we had bought brightly colored tulips by way of stylizing Pussy Riot’s bright outfits.
Makeyeva: And then what happened?
Volkova: And then for some reason one of the cleaning ladies began frantically removing flowers from the icons, apparently fearing we were going to take them from their vases and throw them on the altar. Then the police took us to the paddy wagon, where two strange men appeared. One of them asked why we did it. We talked about the historical role of the “punk prayer,” that Russia had changed after this, that it has had a huge impact on Russian history. To which he replied. . . It was Ira who engaged him in a dialogue from that point on.
Karatsuba: He said that it wasn’t history that had changed, but something in our brains. “That’s okay,” he said, “we treat such alterations at the Serbsky Institute [for Forensic Psychiatry].”
Makeyeva: You mean they introduced themselves as specialists from the Serbsky Institute?
Karatsuba: They didn’t introduce themselves at all. It was just a remark he made.
Makeyeva: Were they in plain clothes?
Karatsuba: Yes, we decided we were going to be taken to the Serbsky Institute for treatment, but for now we haven’t been taken there.
Makeyeva: And then what happened?
Volkova: Then we were taken to the Khamovniki police precinct, where we spoke with a young name from Center “E,” the Center for Combating Extremism, who introduced himself as Ilya. He asked me different questions. As a teacher, it takes me approximately an hour to answer a question. I gave him a lecture on the history of the church, on the history of the holy fool tradition.
Karatsuba: I stood behind the door and listened with delight. Lena expressed herself one hundred percent: it was an amazing lecture.
Volkova: He asked questions and took notes. He asked me what the symphony between church and state was, and wrote down various dates and concepts. I think he liked it. He said he was in charge of religion at Center “E.” I told him he needed to get a religious studies education and advised him to enroll at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He said, “Can you give me the names of people to talk to [there]?” And with that he gave himself away, because this was clearly the question an investigator would ask: Whom did you meet with? What is your connection? What is this faction you mentioned?
Makeyeva: Irina, did you talk with this same young man?
Karatsuba: Yes. I didn’t really want to talk to him, and so our conversation didn’t really gel. He kept pestering me with questions. If I was so devout, he asked, why didn’t I go with those girls to prison? To which I replied that it reminded me of Ivan the Terrible’s logic from the correspondence with Prince Kurbsky: if you’re so righteous, why didn’t accept a martyr’s death at the hands of me, the wicked king, and ascend to heaven?” To which he replied, “And whose side are you? Ivan the Terrible’s or Kurbsky’s?” “I’m on Gagarin’s side,” I said. He sighed and said, “Our conversation hasn’t panned out.”
Makeyeva: And with that they just let you go?
Karatsuba: [Former Pussy Riot lawyer] Violetta Volkova, God bless her, arrived and quickly set the entire Khamovniki precinct straight. The police really wanted our fingerprints, but she said we didn’t have to let them fingerprint us.
Volkova: And that we shouldn’t have talked to the man from Center “E”—we didn’t know that. But it’s okay: we educated and enlightened him a little.
Makeyeva: So Violetta Volkova helped you?
Volkova: Yes, and Mark Feygin. They heard about it on the news and came and found us themselves. Violetta Volkova was the first to arrive. She had two warrants allowing her to act as our attorney, and we followed her advice.
Karatsuba: We wrote statements saying we refused to be fingerprinted, and we were released. Things could develop in different ways: they might summon us again; they might not. We’ll see.
Makeyeva: Irina, you mentioned that both you and Elena are Orthodox. Is this an active part of your lives? Do you go to church and confess?
Volkova: Yes, it’s an active part of our lives. We’ve been in the church for many years, and besides that we are teachers. Irina taught history for many years, including church history. My specialty is the Bible, Christianity, and literature. We taught for thirty years at Moscow State University, which we recently left.
Makeyeva: Why did you leave?
Volkova: There were many reasons, including the fact that they had begun telling us whom to invite and whom not to invite, what to say and what not to say.
Makeyeva: Whom to invite where?
Volkova: To speak at the university.
Makeyeva: This had nothing to do with Pussy Riot?
Volkova: No, it was before that, in 2011. We are not just Orthodox believers, people who practice Orthodoxy. For many years, I organized the Sunday school at one church, and I taught seminarians, who came to Moscow and attended my lectures on Christianity and English poetry. I have had many priests as students, and we were very active in the church for many years. It’s another matter that in the past year we realized that the church has completely turned away from Christian principles and values. Our hopes were very slight, so we stepped up our criticism of the church. When the “punk prayer” happened, we realized that the girls had sung about what we as experts had been saying for many years. People didn’t listen to us, but they heard what [Pussy Riot] said. We were really glad that someone had finally been able to make themselves heard. So we support them by all means, and as a believer, I am certain that it was Christ who sent them to Christ the Savior Cathedral, that they are God’s children, who came from God and said what needed to be said.
Yesterday we posted an article on an attack on a Moscow gay nightclub by a group of armed men, along with a call by our comrades in the Russian Socialist Movement for the opposition to combat homophobia and other forms of xenophobia in Russia. Now, as it turns out, the victims of last week’s pogrom were actually themselves to blame:
Vitaly Milonov, a deputy in the St. Petersburg legislative assembly from United Russia, is co-author of the notorious law forbidding “promotion of homosexuality.” He blamed the incident in the club on gay people themselves. He said in an interview with Snob.ru that the incident was the “result of the obnoxious, crude and permissive behavior of the gay community. …What other reaction could there be when, in response to democratic actions, they run around like jackals at consulates, beg for another grant and write letters demanding that the authorities be punished? This is a warning to the gay community so that they don’t forget that they live in the Russian Federation, a country with a healthy historical and cultural legacy.”
In case anyone missed that, let us spell it out in plain English: an elected official from Russia’s second largest city, its so-called “window on Europe,” has condoned mob violence against a particular group of his fellow citizens, blaming them—the victims—for the attack. This is fascism.
Oh, and remember Pussy Riot’s desperate attempt to warn their own fellow citizens and the rest of the world about the dangers of a fusion of church and state in Russia? Well, here’s what you get when the merger is a done deal and the gloves come off:
Sergei Rybko, a Russian Orthodox priest, spoke out more forcefully. “The Holy Scriptures instruct us to cast stones at all those guys with nontraditional orientation. As long as that scum is not banished from Russian land, I completely agree with people who are trying to cleanse our homeland of them. If the government won’t do it, then the people will,” he said an interview with Pravoslaviye i Mir (Orthodoxy and the World). He added that he regretted that because he is a priest, “he couldn’t take part in actions of this sort.”
Go here for Victor Davidoff’s insightful essay on what he calls a “witch hunt” against gays, from which we’ve taken the quotations, above.
And in case you were wondering, Russia does have laws against public hate speech. Mssrs. Milonov and Rybko could both be easily and successfully prosecuted for their comments—were it not the fact that, apparently, violent homophobia is now semi-official state policy in Russia.
Here’s another reminder of the grim details:
Russia must investigate gay friendly bar attack
Human Rights Watch
14 October 2012
MOSCOW: Russian authorities should promptly and effectively investigate a violent attack on a gay-friendly club in Moscow on October 11, Human Rights Watch said. The attack took place several days after People’s Council, a nationalist organization, said publicly that homosexuality is “a grave sin” and that it would try to close down gay clubs.
Soon after 9 p.m. on October 11, between 15 and 20 black-clad men wearing surgical masks ran into the 7FreeDays Club, which was hosting a party organized by gay activists in celebration of National Coming Out Day. The attackers rampaged through the bar, throwing chairs and bottles at guests and staff, kicking people, and destroying property. The attacks took place in the context of a sinister legislative trend in which many Russian regions are passing laws to ban “homosexual propaganda.”
“Russia’s leadership has stood by as regions have adopted blatantly homophobic laws,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These laws cannot but encourage attacks like the one last night.”
An ambulance worker at the scene told a correspondent for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that four people had head injuries and that two of them had to be hospitalized. Several others had bruises and other minor injuries.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that about 70 people were at the party when the attackers arrived. The witnesses said that the attackers had at least two guns, which may have been stun guns, and mace. They rushed into the premises screaming, “You wanted a pogrom? You wanted a fight? You got it!” and proceeded to destroy the club. They held the bartender at gunpoint, forced her face down on the floor, and started smashing the bar, breaking bottles and glasses over her head. They also smashed plates and glasses, overturned tables, and threw chairs and other objects directly at the guests.
The three witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that most injuries were caused by flying furniture and other objects. The attackers, who wore heavy boots, also kicked people, some in the head. One young woman’s eyeglasses were broken by a flying object, and shreds of glass got into her eye. The ambulance workers, who arrived at the club shortly after the attack, provided medical assistance to several people and took two people with head injuries to the hospital.
An activist who was at the club during the attack told Human Rights Watch that although there is a police station close to the club, it took the police half an hour to arrive after they were called.
“The authorities need to send an unambiguous signal that homophobia will not be tolerated, and the first step should be to investigate and prosecute the attackers,” Williamson said. “The second step should be to annul the homophobic laws. They are discriminatory, they violate Russia’s international obligations, and they have no place in a society that upholds the rule of law.”
People’s Council and several other conservative groups have called on the Moscow city council to adopt a law banning “homosexual propaganda.” Such a law has already been submitted to Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma. Legislatures in nine Russian regions have adopted these laws, and similar measures are pending in another seven. The laws use the pretext of protecting children from pedophilia and “immoral behavior.” The propaganda bans are so vague and broad that they could be applied to anyone displaying a rainbow flag, wearing a T-shirt with a gay-friendly logo, or holding a gay-friendly-themed rally.
Russia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which impose obligations on countries to protect the right of individuals not to be discriminated against, and the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression. Russia also supported March 2010 recommendations from the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe to end discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The recommendations include provisions to safeguard freedom of assembly and expression without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The European Court of Human Rights has firmly rejected an argument by the Russian government that there is no general consensus on issues relating to the treatment of “sexual minorities.” In a case against Russia for failing to uphold the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to peaceful assembly and expression, the court affirmed that there is “no ambiguity” about “the right of individuals to openly identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or any other sexual minority, and to promote their rights and freedoms, in particular by exercising their freedom of peaceful assembly.”
In September, Russia sponsored a resolution on “traditional values” at the United Nations Human Rights Council that threatens the rights of LGBT people and women in particular. It passed on September 27. The resolution contravenes the central principles of the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch said.
“It’s bad enough that the Russian government is not stopping discrimination against LGBT people in Russia,” Williamson said. “It’s particularly disturbing that the government is essentially promoting a position that will be used to silence LGBT people and groups around the world. Russia should strengthen, not undo, protection for universal rights.”
One slight correction to Mr. Williamson’s essentially correct sentiments: the Russian leadership hasn’t “stood by,” as he puts it, while some of the country’s regions have adopted homophobic laws. They are behind these laws.
It is not the fact that I am in prison that makes me angry. I hold no grudge. I feel no personal anger. But I do feel political anger.
Our imprisonment serves as a clear and obvious sign that the whole country is being robbed of freedom. And this threat of the liberating, emancipatory forces in Russia being annihilated—that is what causes me to be enraged. Seeing the great in the small, the trend in the sign, the common in the particular.
Second-wave feminists said the personal is the political. That is how it is. The Pussy Riot case has shown how the individual troubles of three people facing charges of hooliganism can give life to a political movement. A single case of repression and persecution against those who had the courage to speak out in an authoritarian country has shaken the world: activists, punks, pop stars and government ministers, comedians and environmentalists, feminists and masculinists, Islamic theologians and those Christians who are praying for Pussy Riot. The personal has indeed become the political. The Pussy Riot case has brought together forces so multi-directional, I still have trouble believing this is not a dream. The impossible is happening in contemporary Russian politics: the demanding, persistent, powerful and consistent impact of society on the authorities.
I am thankful to everyone who has said “Free Pussy Riot!” Right now, all of us are participating in a large and important political Event that the Putin regime is having an ever more difficult time controlling. Whatever the verdict for Pussy Riot, we—and you—are already winning. Because we have learned how to be enraged, and to speak politically.
Pussy Riot is happy that we have been able to spur a truly collective action, and that your political passion was so strong that it overcame the barriers of language, culture, lifeworlds, and economic and political status. Kant would have said that he saw no other reason for this Miracle besides the moral principle within humankind. Thank you for this Miracle.
The original of this letter was published on the LiveJournal blog of attorney Mark Feygin.
Translated from the Russian by Katya Kumkova. Our heartfelt thanks to her for sending this to us.
Buenos Aires: http://www.facebook.com/events/271199299647295/
Derry, Ireland: http://www.facebook.com/events/102245836592357/
Mendoza, Argentina: https://www.facebook.com/events/488788877798731/
St. Petersburg: http://vk.com/freepussyriot170812spb
Tournai, Belgium : https://www.facebook.com/events/372254449510600/
Via Free Pussy Riot!
This trial is highly typical and speaks volumes. The current government will have occasion to feel shame and embarrassment because of it for a long time to come. At each stage it has embodied a travesty of justice. As it turned out, our performance, at first a small and somewhat absurd act, snowballed into an enormous catastrophe. This would obviously not happen in a healthy society. Russia, as a state, has long resembled an organism sick to the core. And the sickness explodes out into the open when you rub up against its inflamed abscesses. At first and for a long time this sickness gets hushed up in public, but eventually it always finds resolution through dialogue. And look—this is the kind of dialogue that our government is capable of. This trial is not only a malignant and grotesque mask, it is the “face” of the government’s dialogue with the people of our country. To prompt discussion about a problem on the societal level, you often need the right conditions—an impetus.
And it is interesting that our situation was depersonalized from the start. This is because when we talk about Putin, we have in mind first and foremost not Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin but Putin the system that he himself created—the power vertical, where all control is carried out effectively by one person. And that power vertical is uninterested, completely uninterested, in the opinion of the masses. And what worries me most of all is that the opinion of the younger generations is not taken into consideration. We believe that the ineffectiveness of this administration is evident in practically everything.
And right here, in this closing statement, I would like to describe my firsthand experience of running afoul of this system. Our schooling, which is where the personality begins to form in a social context, effectively ignores any particularities of the individual. There is no “individual approach,” no study of culture, of philosophy, of basic knowledge about civic society. Officially, these subjects do exist, but they are still taught according to the Soviet model. And as a result, we see the marginalization of contemporary art in the public consciousness, a lack of motivation for philosophical thought, and gender stereotyping. The concept of the human being as a citizen gets swept away into a distant corner.
Today’s educational institutions teach people, from childhood, to live as automatons. Not to pose the crucial questions consistent with their age. They inculcate cruelty and intolerance of nonconformity. Beginning in childhood, we forget our freedom.
I have personal experience with psychiatric clinics for minors. And I can say with conviction that any teenager who shows any signs of active nonconformity can end up in such a place. A certain percentage of the kids there are from orphanages.
In our country, it’s considered entirely normal to commit a child who has tried to escape from an orphanage to a psychiatric clinic. And they treat them using extremely powerful sedatives like Aminazin, which was also used to subdue Soviet dissidents in the ’70s.
This is especially traumatizing given the overall punitive tendency and the absence of any real psychological assistance. All interactions are based on the exploitation of the children’s feelings of fear and forced submission. And as a result, their own cruelty increases many times over. Many children there are illiterate, but no one makes any effort to battle this—to the contrary, every last drop of motivation for personal development is discouraged. The individual closes off entirely and loses faith in the world.
I would like to note that this method of personal development clearly impedes the awakening of both inner and religious freedoms, unfortunately, on a mass scale. The consequence of the process I have just described is ontological humility, existential humility, socialization. To me, this transition, or rupture, is noteworthy in that, if approached from the point of view of Christian culture, we see that meanings and symbols are being replaced by those that are diametrically opposed to them. Thus one of the most important Christian concepts, Humility, is now commonly understood not as a path towards the perception, fortification, and ultimate liberation of Man, but on the contrary as an instrument for his enslavement. To quote [Russian philosopher] Nikolai Berdyaev, one could say that “the ontology of humility is the ontology of the slaves of God, and not the sons of God.” When I was involved with organizing an environmentalist movement, I became fundamentally convinced of the priority of inner freedom as the foundation for taking action. As well as the importance, the direct importance, of taking action as such.
To this day I find it astonishing that, in our country, we need the support of several thousands of individuals in order to put an end to the despotism of one or a handful of bureaucrats. I would like to note that our trial stands as a very eloquent confirmation of the fact that we need the support of thousands of individuals from all over the world in order to prove the obvious: that the three of us are not guilty. We are not guilty; the whole world says so. The whole world says it at concerts, the whole world says it on the internet, the whole world says it in the press. They say it in Parliament. The Prime Minister of England greets our President not with words about the Olympics, but with the question, “Why are three innocent women sitting in prison?” It’s shameful.
But I find it even more astonishing that people don’t believe that they can have any influence on the regime. During the pickets and demonstrations [of the winter and spring], back when I was collecting signatures and organizing petitions, many people would ask me—and ask me with sincere bewilderment—why in the world they should care about, what business could they possibly have, with that little patch of forest in the Krasnodar region–even though it is perhaps unique in Russia, perhaps primeval? Why should they care if the wife of our Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wants to build an official residence there and destroy the only juniper preserve in Russia? These people . . . this is yet another confirmation that people in our country have lost the sense that this country belongs to us, its citizens. They no longer have a sense of themselves as citizens. They have a sense of themselves simply as the automated masses. They don’t feel that the forest belongs to them, even the forest located right next to their houses. I doubt they even feel a sense of ownership over their own houses. Because if someone were to drive up to their porch with a bulldozer and tell them that they need to evacuate, that, “Excuse us, we’re going raze your house to make room for a bureaucrat’s residence,” these people would obediently collect their belongings, collect their bags, and go out on the street. And then stay there precisely until the regime tells them what they should do next. They are completely shapeless, it is very sad. Having spent almost half a year in jail, I have come to understand that prison is just Russia in miniature.
One could also begin with the system of governance. This is that very same power vertical, in which every decision takes place solely through the direct intervention of the man in charge. There is absolutely no horizontal delegation of duties, which would make everyone’s lives noticeably easier. And there is a lack of individual initiative. Denunciation thrives along with mutual suspicion. In jail, as in our country as a whole, everything is designed to strip man of his individuality, to identify him only with his function, whether that function is that of a worker or a prisoner. The strict framework of the daily schedule in prison (you get used to it quickly) resembles the framework of daily life that everyone is born into.
In this framework, people begin to place high value on meaningless trifles. In prison these trifles are things like a tablecloth or plastic dishes that can only be procured with the personal permission of the head warden. Outside prison, accordingly, you have social status, which people also value a great deal. This has always been surprising to me. Another element [of this process] is becoming aware of this government functioning as a performance, a play. That in reality turns into chaos. The surface-level organization of the regime reveals the disorganization and inefficiency of most of its activities. And it’s obvious that this doesn’t lead to any real governance. On the contrary, people start to feel an ever-stronger sense of being lost—including in time and space. In jail and all over the country, people don’t know where to turn with this or that question. That’s why they turn to the boss of the jail. And outside the prison, correspondingly, they go to Putin, the top boss.
Expressing in a text a collective image of the system that . . . well, in general, I could say that we aren’t against . . . that we are against the Putin-engendered chaos, which can only superficially be called a government. Expressing a collective image of the system, in which, in our opinion, practically all the institutions are undergoing a kind of mutation, while still appearing nominally intact. And in which the civil society so dear to us is being destroyed. We are not making direct quotations in our texts; we only take the form of a direct quotation as an artistic formula. The only thing that’s the same is our motivation. Our motivation is the same motivation that goes with the use of a direct quotation. This motivation is best expressed in the Gospels: “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:8] I—all of us—sincerely believe that for us the door will be opened. But alas, for now the only thing that has happened is that we’ve been locked up in prison. It is very strange that in their reaction to our actions, the authorities completely disregard the historical experience of dissent. “[H]ow unfortunate is the country where simple honesty is understood, in the best case, as heroism. And in the worst case as a mental disorder,” the dissident [Vladimir] Bukovsky wrote in the 1970s. And even though it hasn’t been very long, now people are acting as if there was never any Great Terror nor any attempts to resist it. I believe that we are being accused by people without memory. Many of them have said, “He is possessed by a demon and insane. Why do you listen to Him?” These words belong to the Jews who accused Jesus Christ of blasphemy. They said, “We are . . . stoning you . . . for blasphemy.” [John 10:33] Interestingly enough, it is precisely this verse that the Russian Orthodox Church uses to express its opinion about blasphemy. This view is certified on paper, it’s attached to our criminal file. Expressing this opinion, the Russian Orthodox Church refers to the Gospels as static religious truth. The Gospels are no longer understood as revelation, which they have been from the very beginning, but rather as a monolithic chunk that can be disassembled into quotations to be shoved in wherever necessary—in any of its documents, for any of their purposes. The Russian Orthodox Church did not even bother to look up the context in which “blasphemy” is mentioned here—that in this case, the word applies to Jesus Christ himself. I think that religious truth should not be static, that it is essential to understand the instances and paths of spiritual development, the trials of a human being, his duplicity, his splintering. That for one’s self to form it is essential to experience these things. That you have to experience all these things in order to develop as a person. That religious truth is a process and not a finished product that can be shoved wherever and whenever. And all of these things I’ve been talking about, all of these processes—they acquire meaning in art and in philosophy. Including contemporary art. An artistic situation can and, in my opinion, must contain its own internal conflict. And what really irritates me is how the prosecution uses the words “so-called” in reference to contemporary art.
I would like to point out that very similar methods were used during the trial of the poet [Joseph] Brodsky. His poems were defined as “so-called” poems; the witnesses for the prosecution hadn’t actually read them—just as a number of the witnesses in our case didn’t see the performance itself and only watched the clip online. Our apologies, it seems, are also being defined by the collective prosecuting body as “so-called” apologies. Even though this is offensive. And I am overwhelmed with moral injury and psychological trauma. Because our apologies were sincere. I am sorry that so many words have been uttered and you all still haven’t understood this. Or it is calculated deviousness when you talk about our apologies as insincere. I don’t know what you still need to hear from us. But for me this trial is a “so-called” trial. And I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of falsehood and fictitiousness, of sloppily disguised deception, in the verdict of the so-called court.
Because all you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness [glasnost], when this will be read and heard by thousands of people. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country. With everyone who found shards of the trial in themselves, like in previous times they found them in Franz Kafka and Guy Debord. I believe that I have honesty and openness, I thirst for the truth; and these things will make all of us just a little bit more free. We will see this yet.
Translated by Marijeta Bozovic, Maksim Hanukai, and Sasha Senderovich
Photo courtesy of daylife.com