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TAG | Pussy Riot

Sep/12

12

More Equal Than Others

Cross-posted on the Corner:

This story from the Moscow Times is a partial reminder of why the recent protests in Russia targeted a Russian Orthodox cathedral. There was more (much more) to the choice of venue than simple shock value:

The right to worship is enshrined in the 1993 Constitution. But after a few heady post-Soviet years in which thousands of faiths sprang up and flourished across Russia, the Kremlin stepped in at the urging of the Russian Orthodox Church to “protect” the Russian people from “foreign sects.” A major blow was dealt to religious freedom with the passage of a 1997 law that described four faiths as “traditional” in Russia — Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism — and afforded them special privileges. Many of the other faiths were forced to meet tough requirements to register with the authorities.

Pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church has been blamed for the inability of some Protestant churches to fully legalize their buildings in Moscow and other parts of the country by registering them with the authorities. Why the Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church had been unable to register its building for more than a decade should be a question for the courts. But it was a city court that handed down the decision to destroy the church, and a lack of proper documents is no excuse for a midnight raid.

One wonders whether the Pentecostal believers will be allowed to sue City Hall, the police or the attackers for insulting their feelings. Isn’t it blasphemy or hooliganism motivated by religious hatred to raze and loot a church?

Tellingly, the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t have any problems securing 200 plots for new churches around Moscow recently…

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Aug/12

21

Layers of difference

In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order Samuel P. Huntington placed Russia in the “Orthodox” civilization, as opposed to the “Western” class. Over 20 years since the collapse of the Communist bloc I think one must say that Huntington’s typology captured some essential aspect of reality. The Czech Republic has much reverted back to the small liberal democratic nation it was before World War II. In contrast, Russia’s philo-American 1990s under democratic neoliberalism was a transitory affair. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has shifted back toward a stereotypical authoritarianism.

And yet Andrew’s reference to Fremen’s act of sacrilege did make to realize that the Russians are different, but not that different. Imagine if you will that some women engaged in similar acts in India or the Islamic world. Obviously they would not dare unless they had a death wish. And that is a difference which unites Russia and the West: religious offense is not a matter of violent retribution. The women of the Pussy Riot collective were lucky that they did what they did in Russia, and not Iran. In a Muslim country they might have been torn limb from limb by enraged believers on the spot.

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Aug/12

18

Idiots

Cross-posted on the Corner:

As a piece of political theater, the protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior has turned out to be an outstanding success, but that’s only thanks to the overreaction by the authorities. It’s safe to say that most Russians did not approve of the form that the demonstration took, and the three women themselves now say that it was an “ethical mistake” to have done what they did in the cathedral. Under the circumstances, all the government had to do was impose a light punishment. That would both have signaled its own restraint and its distance from actions that genuinely offended many Russians. Call it a ‘silent majority’ strategy. As things turned out, that sort of subtlety was beyond a regime still steeped in its Soviet heritage. Its heavy-handedness has backfired against it within Russia as well as without.

That’s not to say that Putin’s opposition won’t still be giving him assists.

Radio Free Europe reports:

Ukrainian activists from the Femen movement have cut down a cross in central Kyiv in a gesture of solidarity with the [Russian trio]…The cross — erected during Ukraine’s 2004-05 Orange Revolution in memory of the victims of communism — was located near the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv. A topless Femen activist used a chainsaw to cut down the cross.

Femen said in a statement, “On the day of the sentencing, the Femen women’s movement expresses its support and respect . … By this act, Femen calls on all healthy forces of society to mercilessly saw out of their heads all the rotten religious prejudice that serves as a foundation for dictatorship and prevents the development of democracy and women’s freedom.”

Femen is a controversial group, but quite often a force for good. Not on this occasion.

Such an act of vandalism will anger many, religious or not. It is also an insult to the memory of the millions of Ukrainians who suffered and who perished under Communism, not least in 1932-33’s Holodomor, the monstrous man-made famine that Stalin added to the tools he was using to break the back of the Ukrainian nation.

The Kremlin has denied that the Holodomor was genocidal (it is argued instead that it was part of a wider Stalinist tragedy).

Putin will, I suspect, not have been too sorry to see that cross fall.

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Aug/12

18

Two Years

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Two years: That was the jail term imposed on those three Russian ladies who performed under a name infinitely less obscene than their sentence:

The Guardian reports:

The judge said in the verdict that the three band members “committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred” and offended religious believers. The trio were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow’s main cathedral calling for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a new term as Russia’s president two weeks later. Russian police have rounded up… protesters, including the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leftist opposition group leader Sergei Udaltsov after one of the most closely watched court cases in recent Russian history.

High Tory blogger Cranmer weighs in, throwing in a characteristically canonical note (I’ll have to take his word for its accuracy) as he does so:

In summing up the prosecution case, Judge Marina Syrova confirmed the tangential theological argument that prayers in a Russian cathedral may only be offered by a priest and not by ‘ordinary members of the public’, so [the] professed protest-as-prayer was contrary to church rules. But this is simply not true: Orthodoxy permits laity to lead public prayer. Perhaps it would not bestow the honour upon rabid feminists, but there is no canonical prohibition. The Judge observed: “It was a small act but maybe not a very elegant act but they consider that it is the country which is sick. For them, individuals are not important, they consider that education in Russia is still in the Soviet mould. And that there is still cruelty in the country and that prison is a miniature of Russia itself.”

If education is no longer in the Soviet mould, justice certainly appears to be. Putin’s Russia has regressed to the Soviet era: he is forging another oppressive kleptocracy which routinely persecutes the unorthodox and crushes dissent. It might even feel like theocracy. Some of the prosecution witnesses were not actually in the Cathedral at the time of the protest, but told the Court they were offended by the YouTube recording. The Judge described them all as ‘good Christians’, based on nothing but their ‘right’ testimony. Thus the actions of [these women] ‘degraded the moral feeling’ of the victims, who are the Orthodox everywhere for all time.

And here’s the Daily Telegraph’s Michael Weiss:

Despite the fact that this trial sought to portray [the defendants] as a trio of Satanic lesbians – the judge reading her verdict said they were peddling “homosexual propaganda” – their real crime was hitting Vladimir Putin in the one place he’s seldom hit: his cynical manipulation of Russian Orthodoxy. According to Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, authors of The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB, the clerical establishment is barely distinguishable from an apparatus of state security. “Russia’s brand of orthodoxy is based on the concept that Moscow is ‘the Third Rome’ (after Rome and Constantinople) and on a belief in Russian uniqueness. Being ‘unique’, Russia sees itself as surrounded by numerous enemies that the FSB must combat…The FSB helps to protect the Orthodox sphere of influence against Western proselytizing, and in return the Church blesses the security service in its struggles with enemies of the state.”

…In its role as helpmeet of the prosecution, the Church cited John 10:33 …a verse that was even included in [the defendants’] criminal file: “For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” It should be a fair sign of how demented, stupid and self-destructive Putin’s regime has become that it now readily identifies its victims with Jesus Christ.

And for a somewhat contrarian view, try Brendan O’Neill, also at the Daily Telegraph, who argues that the Western campaign doomed the women by making it impossible for Putin to climb down. I’m not convinced, to put it mildly. If I had to guess—and what else can I do—the intense foreign scrutiny has meant that the sentence was less than it would otherwise have been. It may also keep them alive.

When it comes to this, however, O’Neill has a point:

The fashionable Western support…had all the hallmarks of a cause célèbre. First there was the campaigners’ selection and elevation of just one foreign instance of shocking censorship to the exclusion of all others – such as Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s branding of anyone who criticises him as a “genocide ideologist” who can be locked up, for example, or nearby Scotland’s recent passing of an anti-football fan bill that can also send people to prison for singing songs (though sectarian rather than punk ones).

Quite.

Europeans and (as Mark Steyn can, literally, testify) Canadians should ponder the extent to which their own hate speech legislation resembles the law under which Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been jailed. Americans, as always, should give thanks for the First Amendment.

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Aug/12

17

Turning the Other Cheek

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Tomorrow is verdict day for the naughtily-named Russian trio that staged a brief demonstration in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior (and have been jailed since March).

The Guardian reports:

Guards at the cathedral broke up the peaceful protest, ripping off activists’ masks, twisting their arms behind their backs and kicking at least one photographer in the face as he tried to take a picture.

The original protest was in poor taste, and the trio’s often bizarre politics, a sort of feminist twist on an absurdist-anarcho-leftism with some connection to (doomed) moverments in the early Soviet Union, are not always endearing. Nevertheless it’s worth reading what one of the defendants, Yekaterina Samutsevich, had to say (during the course of her closing statement) about the way that the Putin regime has coopted not only the modern Russian Orthodox Church but also its historical reputation as a victim of the Soviet state. It’s a subtle point, carefully made.

It may be that the tough, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, the bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more convincing, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the helm. It was here that the need arose to make use of the aesthetics of the Orthodox religion, historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.

How did he succeed in doing this? After all, we still have a secular state, and shouldn’t any intersection of the religious and political spheres be dealt with severely by our vigilant and critically minded society? Here, apparently, the authorities took advantage of a certain deficit of Orthodox aesthetics in Soviet times, when the Orthodox religion had the aura of a lost history, of something crushed and damaged by the Soviet totalitarian regime, and was thus an opposition culture. The authorities decided to appropriate this historical effect of loss and present their new political project to restore Russia’s lost spiritual values, a project which has little to do with a genuine concern for preservation of Russian Orthodoxy’s history and culture.

An interesting angle to this whole case is that the women have been charged under Article 213 (2) of the Russian criminal code: “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred or hostility. The language of western political correctness, not to speak of Islamic efforts to suppress free speech, have, it seems, found an echo in Moscow, the Third Rome. That the Russian law can also be read as a part of a wider effort to protect the country’s believers from a return to the vicious anti-religious persecution of the Soviet era only adds to the ironies surrounding this case, as does the often-heard allegation that both Russia’s president and its patriarch both used to work–how shall I put this—for a certain malevolent organization.

In any event, five months in jail is more (much more) than enough.

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Aug/12

14

Free The Pussy Rioters (3)

Der Spiegel’s new cover uses the plight of Pussy Riot to suggest where Russia is headed: “on the way to a perfect dictatorship”:

And the Russian Orthodox Church is playing along. Appalling.

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Aug/12

11

Old Habits

Aug/12

11

Free The Pussy Rioters (2)

From the closing statement of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova:

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 shoulder-straps, join us in a taste of freedom.

The word, I think, I know, is heroism.

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Aug/12

11

How It Is

Via what looks like the distinctly lefty Chtodelat News, the closing statement of Yekaterina Samutsevich, one of the Pussy Riot three, and, in this extract, an argument of some subtlety:

The fact that Christ the Savior Cathedral [the scene of the protest] had become a significant symbol in the political strategy of our powers that be was already clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyaev took over as head of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, Christ the Savior Cathedral began to be used openly as a flashy setting for the politics of the security services, which are the main source of power [in Russia].
Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetics? After all, he could have employed his own, far more secular tools of power—for example, national corporations, or his menacing police system, or his own obedient judiciary system.

It may be that the tough, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, the bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more convincing, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the helm. It was here that the need arose to make use of the aesthetics of the Orthodox religion, historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.

How did he succeed in doing this? After all, we still have a secular state, and shouldn’t any intersection of the religious and political spheres be dealt with severely by our vigilant and critically minded society? Here, apparently, the authorities took advantage of a certain deficit of Orthodox aesthetics in Soviet times, when the Orthodox religion had the aura of a lost history, of something crushed and damaged by the Soviet totalitarian regime, and was thus an opposition culture. The authorities decided to appropriate this historical effect of loss and present their new political project to restore Russia’s lost spiritual values, a project which has little to do with a genuine concern for preservation of Russian Orthodoxy’s history and culture.

It was also fairly logical that the Russian Orthodox Church, which has long had a mystical connection with power, emerged as this project’s principal executor in the media…

Fascinating, and convincing.

The idea that this politicized church—and its premises—should be immune from protest is ludicrous.

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Aug/12

9

Mustn’t Diss the Russian Orthodox Church

Interesting report out of Estonia:

Officials are remaining mum for now on a report from the Russian human rights organization Agora that a Karelia-based blogger, Maksim Jefimov, has asked for political asylum in Estonia.

Jefimov is facing criminal prosecution for inciting hatred in writings on the Russian Orthodox Church, earning him comparisons to the jailed punk band Pussy Riot.

“Jefimov contacted the Estonian Police and Border Guard asking for temporary political asylum. He notified us today,” an Agora representative was quoted by Interfax as saying.

The Police and Border Guard did not comment on the case. “The Police and Border Guard do not disclose information on asylum seekers as these are delicate personal data and we are not allowed to do so under legislation on granting asylum to foreign nationals,” Ellen Lebedeva of the Police and Border Guard’s status determination office told uudised.err.ee.

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