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
FREE PUSSY RIOT Public Reading
Co-sponsored by Amnesty International & Breslin Bar and Dining Room
Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel
Produced by JD Samson and FreePussyRiot.org
Tomorrow night, August 16th @ 7:30pm EDT, on the eve of the trial’s verdict, Pussy Riot’s inspirational court room statements will be read by supporters of the Free Pussy Riot movement, including Chloe Sevigny, Eileen Myles, Karen Finley, Johanna Fateman, Mx Justin Vivian Bond (+ others to be announced) info here.
The event is co-sponsored by Amnesty International & Breslin Bar and Dining Room at Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel. Produced by JD Samson and FreePussyRiot.org
On the eve of the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial, an energetic evening of readings of the inspirational court room statements by the detained women of Pussy Riot. The narrated program will also include selected prison letters and other translated material along with court room attendees written observations. The event will be streamed live HERE.
Mx Justin Vivian Bond
Breslin Bar and Dining Room presents Liberty Hall at the Ace Hotel
20 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001
Thursday, August 16th
Doors open at 7:30pm EDT
Free and open to the public
Additional information about Pussy Riot:
An Open Letter in Support of Pussy Riot
by Faculty of the Rodchenko School for Photography and Media Art, Moscow, and Other Members of the Russian Art Community
We, faculty of the Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia and other members of the Russian art community, are extremely alarmed by the trial of the three young women accused of hooliganism as a result of their performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Many of us know one of them, our alumna artist Ekaterina Samutsevich, quite well, but we also know the others, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, from their performances. We write this letter to express our complete solidarity with them and also to elaborate on a few points belonging to our field of professional competence.
The accusations against Pussy Riot are false and hypocritical. They are based on “sacrilege,” a term that does not exist in current criminal law. They are a disguised form of political repression: nobody would have persecuted these women had they asked the Virgin Mary to defend Putin, even in a non-traditional manner. The trial against Pussy Riot is a trial against dissidents, and the way the defendants have been treated and detained has been unreasonably severe. As citizens, we are outraged by this repressive trial and, like many other people in our country and around the world, we demand an end to this shameful mockery of justice, and the full vindication and release of Pussy Riot.
People involved in contemporary art in Russia have particular reason to be outraged and alarmed. During the trial, the phrase “contemporary art” was always, when uttered by the prosecution, accompanied by the mocking addendum “so-called.” Its very right to exist was thus questioned. It was implied that contemporary art is a species of hooliganism, which, to make matters worse, is supported “from abroad.” We therefore deem it necessary to speak out on this issue.
Contemporary art, by its very nature, is a public statement about the present day. Its themes and forms may vary, but if the present day is such as it appears in Russia today—a present day characterized by lawlessness, lack of political choice, criminal oppression of citizens by the authorities, the absence of impartial courts, obscurantism and fundamentalism—then the artist has no choice but to stop worrying about formal nuances and become a political artist. It would be impossible and immoral to draw boundaries here, and we refuse to accept the other notions of art, safer for the authorities, that are being imposed on us.
Art is always an act, a deed. To be heard in contemporary Russia, the artist is forced to engage in extreme acts. This has been proven by the huge impact that Pussy Riot’s action has had.
However, we support Pussy Riot not because we think they are entitled to special rights with respect to other citizens—for instance, the right of “provocation.” Mindless provocation has never been the goal of real artists. As artists, Pussy Riot have no special rights, but they do have a special duty—the duty to represent a society whose political will is shackled, a society deprived of freedom and justice, a society with a poor understanding of human rights, a society whose mouth is politically gagged and whose eyes are blinded by mendacious TV channels. Pussy Riot upheld this duty in full. Thanks to their deed and the authorities’ reaction to it, there are now people in all parts of the country who have begun to understand what is happening to them.
As experts, many of us are constantly asked how we assess the quality of Pussy Riot’s performance. Some of us thought from the very outset that it was outstanding, while others of us have changed their opinion over time. The quality of an artwork is not contained in the work itself, but is reflected, rather, in its power, its impact, in commentaries by the artist who made it, and, to a great extent, in the public’s reaction to it. Pussy Riot’s action is an incredibly powerful work of protest art and activist art: it has revealed such profound ills in our society that its impact will continue to be felt for a long time to come. It is only thanks to Pussy Riot that we have begun to discuss things that have not been open to debate for many years. During the months of their detention, as the authorities and the Russian Orthodox Church became more and more relentless, Pussy Riot’s action acquired more and more value, and they themselves grew in our eyes tremendously. Throughout the trial, their public statements and comments were clear, philosophically profound and morally impeccable. We are proud of them. Those speeches will undoubtedly, like the action in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, find their place in the history of Russian social life.
We also need to stress out that our support for Pussy Riot does not imply an anti-clerical stance; the same is true of the unfairly accused artists. The stance taken by the Russian Orthodox Church in this case contradicts the feelings, thoughts, interests and faith of many ordinary believers, whose eyes have opened by the Pussy Riot case to the real state of affairs in the country and the church. Splitting society (and the art world) into believers and non-believers benefits only the authorities and the corrupt leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. Pussy Riot spoke on behalf of everyone, and we support them in this.
Contemporary art is not art only for non-believers, or only for the educated, or only for the rich. It is for those who are concerned about what is happening in the present. Contemporary art should be the conscience of society, and that conscience can tell society unpleasant or painful things, sometimes in a way that is irritating and uncomfortable. It is not separated from the common people: it is the first to feel pain, express it and thus attempt to heal it. We are glad that Pussy Riot—as we have come to know them during the trial—have finally shown us the image of what the artist in Russia should be: not a senseless provocateur and prankster, but an orator, a citizen, a hero.
The impact of their action is such that it we believe it absolutely right that Pussy Riot be nominated for the Kandinsky Prize in the “Project of the Year” category. It is also necessary to answer the frequent accusation that artists work for awards. All those involved in contemporary art in Russia know that, given the near-total absence of grant support and professional education, awards are the only form of material and moral mutual support available to the art community. By nominating Pussy Riot, the art community underlines its solidarity in the face of a common threat. We support this and will do everything possible to increase the contemporary art world’s sense of its strength, solidarity and independence in relation to the current unjust regime.
Many of us—Russian artists, curators and critics—work in an international context and know quite well how our country is regarded in cultural circles around the world. Russia’s reputation is now very bad and is already approaching that of Belarus, which is a blank spot on the cultural map.
We declare with all seriousness that a guilty verdict in the Pussy Riot trial, no matter how “light” the subsequent punishment allegedly is, will cause irreparable damage to Russia’s international reputation (if that reputation can still be saved) and put an end to our country’s integration into the international cultural context. It will be a verdict on the entire country, on all of us. A cultural boycott is no mere empty phrase if there is no other way to influence what is happening in our country.
We demand that the court completely vindicate Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.
The original letter, in Russian, was first published on the web site of Novaya Gazeta on August 11.
8 August 2012, Khamovnichesky Courthouse, Moscow
Essentially, it is not three singers from Pussy Riot who are on trial here. If that were the case, what’s happening would be totally insignificant. It is the entire state system of the Russian Federation which is on trial and which, unfortunately for itself, thoroughly enjoys advertising its cruelty towards human beings, its indifference to their honour and dignity, the very worst that has happened in Russian history to date. To my deepest regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist troikas. Thus, we have our investigator, lawyer and judge. And then, what’s more, what all three of them do and say and decide is determined by a political demand for repression. Who is to blame for the performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and for our being put on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics that draws upon the forms art has established. In any event, it is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed by the corporate state system.
Many people, relentlessly and methodically flayed alive by the destruction of liberties since the turn of the century, have rebelled.
We were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them in our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes. The state’s leaders stand with saintly expressions in church, but their sins are far greater than ours. We’ve put on our political punk concerts because the Russian state system is dominated by rigidity, closedness and caste. Аnd the policies pursued serve only narrow corporate interests to the extent that even the air of Russia makes us ill.
We are absolutely not happy with—and have been forced into living politically by—the use of coercive, strong-arm measures to handle social processes, a situation in which the most important political institutions are the disciplinary structures of the state—the security agencies, the army, the police, the special forces and the accompanying means of ensuring political stability: prisons, preventive detention and mechanisms to closely control public behaviour. Nor are we happy with the enforced civic passivity of the bulk of the population or the complete domination of executive structures over the legislature and judiciary. Moreover, we are genuinely angered by the fear-based and scandalously low standard of political culture, which is constantly and knowingly maintained by the state system and its accomplices. Look at what Patriarch Kirill has to say: “The Orthodox don’t go to rallies.” We are angered by the appalling weakness of horizontal relationships within society. We don’t like the way in which the state system easily manipulates public opinion through its tight control of the overwhelming majority of media outlets. A perfect example is the unprecedentedly shameless campaign against Pussy Riot, based on the distortion of facts and words, which has appeared in nearly all the Russian media, apart from the few independent media there are in this political system.
Even so, I can now state—despite the fact that we currently have an authoritarian political situation—that I am seeing this political system collapse to a certain extent when it comes to the three members of Pussy Riot, because what the system was counting on, unfortunately for that system, has not come to pass. Russia as a whole does not condemn us. Every day more and more people believe us and believe in us, and think we should be free rather than behind bars. I can see this from the people I meet. I meet people who represent the system, who work for the relevant agencies. I see people who are in prison. And every day there are more and more people who support us, who hope for our success and especially for our release, who say our political act was justified. People tell us, “To start with, we weren’t sure you could have done this,” but every day there are more and more people who say, “Time is proving to us that your political gesture was correct. You have exposed the cancer in this political system and dealt a blow to a nest of vipers, who then turned on you.” These people are trying to make life easier for us in whatever way they can and we are very grateful to them for that…
We are grateful to all those who, free themselves, speak out in our support. There are a vast number, I know. I know that a huge number of Orthodox people are standing up for us. They are praying for us outside the courtroom, for the members of Pussy Riot who are incarcerated. We’ve seen the little booklets Orthodox people are handing out with prayers for those in prison. This shows that there isn’t a unified social group of Orthodox believers as the prosecution is endeavouring to say. No such thing exists. More and more believers are starting to defend Pussy Riot. They don’t think what we did deserves even five months in detention, much less the three years in prison the prosecutor would like. And every day, more and more people realize that if this political system has ganged up to this extent against three girls for a 30-second performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, it means the system is afraid of the truth and afraid of our sincerity and directness. We haven’t dissembled, not for a second, not for a minute during this trial, but the other side is dissembling too much and people can sense it. People can sense the truth. Truth really does have some kind of ontological, existential superiority over lies and this is written in the Bible, in the Old Testament in particular. In the end, the ways of truth always triumph over the ways of wickedness, guile and lies. And with each day that passes, the ways of truth are more and more triumphant even though we are still behind bars and are likely to be here a lot longer yet.
Madonna performed yesterday (7 August). She appeared with Pussy Riot written on her back. More and more people can see that we are being held here unlawfully and on a completely false charge—I’m overwhelmed by this. I am overwhelmed that truth really does triumph over lies even though physically we are here in a cage. We are freer than the people sitting opposite us for the prosecution because we can say everything we like, and we do, but those people sitting there say only what political censorship allows them to say. They can’t speak words like “punk prayer” or “Virgin Mary, Banish Putin!” They can’t say the lines from our punk prayer that have to do with the political system. Perhaps they think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to send us to jail because we are rising up against Putin and his system as well but they can’t say so because that’s not allowed either. Their mouths are sewn shut. Unfortunately, they are mere puppets. I hope they realize this and also take the road to freedom, truth and sincerity because these are superior to stasis, contrived decency and hypocrisy. Stasis and the search for truth are always in opposition to one another and, in this case, at this trial, we can see people who are trying to find the truth and people who are trying to enslave those who want to find the truth.
Humans are beings who always make mistakes. They are not perfect. They strive for wisdom but never actually have it. That’s precisely why philosophy came into being, precisely because philosophers are people who love wisdom and strive for it, but never actually possess it, and it is what makes them act and think and, ultimately, to live the way they do. This is what made us go into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and I think that Christianity, as I’ve understood it from studying the Old and New Testaments, supports the search for truth and a constant overcoming of the self, overcoming what you used to be. Christ didn’t associate with prostitutes for nothing. He said, ‘I help those who have gone astray and forgive them’ but for some reason I can’t see any of that at our trial, which is taking place under the banner of Christianity. I think the prosecutor is defying Christianity. The lawyer wants nothing to do with the injured parties. Here’s how I understand this: Two days ago, Lawyer Taratukhin made a speech in which he wanted everyone to understand that he had no sympathy with the people he is representing. This means he’s not ethically comfortable representing people who want to send the three members of Pussy Riot to jail. Why they want to do this, I don’t know. Perhaps it is their right. The lawyer was embarrassed, the shouts of “Shame! Executioners!” had got to him, which goes to show that truth and goodness always triumph over lies and evil.
I think some higher powers are guiding the speeches of the lawyers for the other side when, time after time, they make mistakes in what they say and call us the “injured parties”. Almost all the lawyers are doing it, including Lawyer Pavlova who is very negatively disposed towards us. Nevertheless, some higher powers are causing her to say “the injured parties” about us rather than the people she’s defending. I wouldn’t give people labels. I don’t think there are winners or losers here, injured parties or accused. We just need to make contact, to establish a dialogue and a joint search for truth, to seek wisdom together, to be philosophers together, rather than stigmatizing and labelling people. This is one of the worst things people can do and Christ condemned it.
We have been subjected to abuse during this trial. Who would have thought that a person and the state system he controls would be repeatedly capable of entirely wanton evil? Who would have thought that history and Stalin’s fairly recent Great Terror, in particular, not so very long ago, would not be taught at all? It makes you want to weep to see how the methods of the medieval inquisition are brought out by the law-enforcement and judicial system of the Russian Federation, which is our country. Since the time of our arrest, however, we can no longer weep. We’ve forgotten how to cry. At our punk concerts we used to shout as best we could about the iniquities of the authorities and now we’ve been robbed of our voice.
This whole trial refuses to hear us and I mean hear us, which involves understanding and, moreover, thinking. I think every individual wants to attain wisdom, to be a philosopher, not just people who happen to have studied philosophy. That’s nothing. Formal education is nothing in itself and Lawyer Pavlova is constantly accusing us of not being sufficiently well-educated. I think though that the most important thing is the desire to know and to understand, and that’s something people can do for themselves outside of educational establishments, and the trappings of academic degrees don’t mean anything in this instance. Someone can have a vast fund of knowledge and for all that not be human. Pythagoras said that ‘the learning of many things does not teach understanding’. Unfortunately, that’s something we are forced to observe here. It’s just a stage setting and bits of the natural world, bodies brought into the courtroom. If, after many days of asking, talking and doing battle our petitions are examined, they are inevitably rejected.
The court, on the other hand—and unfortunately for us and for our country—listens to the prosecutor who repeatedly distorts our comments and statements with impunity in a bid to neutralize them. There is no attempt to conceal this breach in an adversarial system. They even seem to be showing it off. On 30th July, the first day of the trial, we presented our response to the accusations. Prior to that we were in prison, in confinement. We can’t do anything there. We can’t make statements. We can’t make films. We don’t have the internet in there. We can’t even give our lawyer a bit of paper because that’s banned too. Our first chance to speak came on 30th July. The document we’d written was read out by defence lawyer Volkova because the court refused outright to let the defendants speak. We called for contact and dialogue rather than conflict and opposition. We reached out a hand to those who, for some reason, assume we are their enemies. In response they laughed at us and spat in our outstretched hands. “You’re disingenuous,” they told us. But they needn’t have bothered. Don’t judge others by your own standards. We were always sincere in what we said, saying exactly what we thought, out of childish naïvety, sure, but we don’t regret anything we said, even on that day. We are reviled but we do not intend to speak evil in return. We are in desperate straits but do not despair. We are persecuted but not forsaken. It’s easy to humiliate and crush people who are open, but when I am weak, then I am strong.
Listen to us rather than to Arkady Mamontov talking about us. Don’t twist and distort everything we say. Let us enter into dialogue and contact with the country, which is ours too, not just Putin’s and the Patriarch’s. Like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that in the end, words will crush concrete. Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the word is more sincere than concrete, so words are not trifles. Once noble people mobilize, their words will crush concrete.”
Katya, Masha and I are in jail but I don’t consider that we’ve been defeated. Just as the dissidents weren’t defeated. When they disappeared into psychiatric hospitals and prisons, they passed judgement on the country. The era’s art of creating an image knew no winners or losers. The Oberiu poets remained artists to the very end, something impossible to explain or understand since they were purged in 1937. Vvedensky wrote: “We like what can’t be understood, What can’t be explained is our friend.” According to the official report, Aleksandr Vvedensky died on 20 December 1941. We don’t know the cause, whether it was dysentery in the train after his arrest or a bullet from a guard. It was somewhere on the railway line between Voronezh and Kazan. Pussy Riot are Vvedensky’s disciples and his heirs. His principle of ‘bad rhythm’ is our own. He wrote: “It happens that two rhythms will come into your head, a good one and a bad one and I choose the bad one. It will be the right one.” What can’t be explained is our friend. The elitist, sophisticated occupations of the Oberiu poets, their search for meaning at the edge of sense was ultimately realized at the cost of their lives, swept away in the senseless Great Terror that’s impossible to explain. At the cost of their own lives, the Oberiu poets unintentionally demonstrated that the feeling of meaninglessness and alogism, like a pain in the backside, was correct, but at the same time led art into the realm of history. The cost of taking part in creating history is always staggeringly high for people. But that taking part is the very spice of human life. Being poor while bestowing riches on many, having nothing but possessing everything. It is believed that the Oberiu dissidents are dead, but they live on. They are persecuted but they do not die.
Do you remember why the young Dostoyevsky was given the death sentence? All he had done was to spend all his time with Socialists—and at the Friday meetings of a friendly circle of free thinkers at Petrushevsky’s, he became acquainted with Charles Fourier and George Sand. At one of the last meetings, he read out Gogol’s letter to Belinsky, which was packed, according to the court, and, please note, “with childish utterances against the Orthodox Church and the supreme authorities”. After all his preparations for the death penalty and ten dreadful, impossibly frightening minutes waiting to die, as Dostoyevsky himself put it, the announcement came that his sentence had been commuted to four years hard labour followed by military service.
Socrates was accused of corrupting youth through his philosophical discourses and of not recognizing the gods of Athens. Socrates had a connection to a divine inner voice and was by no means a theomachist, something he often said himself. What did that matter, however, when he had angered the city with his critical, dialectical and unprejudiced thinking? Socrates was sentenced to death and, refusing to run away, although he was given that option, he drank down a cup of poison in cold blood, hemlock.
Have you forgotten the circumstances under which Stephen, follower of the Apostles, ended his earthly life? “Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law.’” He was found guilty and stoned to death.
And I hope everyone remembers what the Jews said to Jesus: “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy.” And finally it would be well worth remembering this description of Christ: “He is possessed of a demon and out of his mind.”
I believe that if leaders, tsars, elders, presidents and prime ministers, the people and the judges really understood what “I desire mercy not sacrifice” meant, they would not condemn the innocent. Our leaders are currently in a hurry only to condemn and not at all to show mercy. Incidentally, we thank Dmitry Anatolievich Medvedev for his latest wonderful aphorism. If Medvedev gave his presidency the slogan: “Freedom is better than non-freedom”, then, thanks to Medvedev’s felicitous saying, Putin’s third term has a good chance of being known by a new aphorism: “Prison is better than stoning.”
I would like you to think carefully about the following reflection by Montaigne from his Essays written in the 16th century. He wrote: “You are holding your opinions in too high a regard if you burn people alive for them.” Is it worth accusing people and putting them in jail on the basis of totally unfounded conjectures by the prosecution?
Since in actual fact we never were, and are not, motivated by religious hatred and hostility, there is nothing left for our accusers to do other than to draw on the aid of false witnesses. One of them, Motilda Ivashchenko, was ashamed and didn’t show up in court. That left the false witness of the expert examination by [Vsevolod] Troitsky, [Igor] Ponkin and Mrs [Vera] Abramenkova. And there is no evidence of any hatred or enmity on our part other than this expert examination. For this reason, if it is honourable and just, the court must rule the evidence inadmissible because it is not a strictly scientific or objective text but a filthy, lying bit of paper from the medieval days of the inquisition. There is no other evidence that remotely hints at a motive.
The prosecution is reluctant to produce excerpts from the texts of Pussy Riot interviews because they are primary evidence of this lack of motive. For the umpteenth time, I will quote this excerpt. I think it’s important. It was from an interview with “Russky Reporter”, given the day after the concert at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: “Our attitude toward religion, and toward Orthodoxy in particular, is one of respect, and for this very reason we are distressed that the great and luminous Christian philosophy is being used so shabbily. We are very angry that something beautiful is being spoiled.” It still makes us angry and we find it very painful to watch.
The lack on our part of any show of hatred or enmity has been attested by all the witnesses examined by the defence. And by the evidence of our characters. In addition to all the other character statements, I’d like you to consider the findings of the psychiatric and psychological tests the investigator ordered me to undergo in detention. The expert’s findings were as follows: the values to which I am committed in my life are justice, mutual respect, humanity, equality and freedom. That’s what the expert said, someone who doesn’t know me and Investigator Ranchenko would probably have very much liked him to write something different. It would appear, however, that there are more people who live and value the truth, and the Bible’s right about that.
Finally, I’d like to quote a Pussy Riot song because, strange as it may seem, all our songs have turned out to be prophetic, including the one that says: “The KGB chief, their number one saint, will escort protestors off to jail”—that’s us. What I’d like to quote now, however, is the next line: “Open the doors, off with the military insignia, join us in a taste of freedom.”
(Agnes Parker: translation/Eja Werner: coordination)
Editor’s Note. We’d like to express our gratitude to the translators for sending this to us and permission to reprint it here.