Pussy Riot’s Pyrrhic Victory

The Russian protest group's sentence might have been more lenient if there had not been international pressure.

After the prolonged performance called “The Trial of Pussy Riot” finally ended with the verdict that the band’s members are sentenced to two years in prison, we can finally draw some conclusions about what happened. Who won? Who lost?

First, we must say that the band members can consider themselves winners in some sense. The entire series of depraved acts in which they engaged—group sex in a Biological Museum, attempts to desecrate Elokhovskaya Church and the actual desecration of the church Christ the Savior—in the end achieved the desired effect: bringing the band popularity in Russia and abroad. Moreover, an array of celebrities, liberal politicians and public figures in the West expressed support and sympathy for Pussy Riot. So the band became famous and got what it wanted.

Second, the biggest losers in the process were, unfortunately, the law enforcement agencies, which failed to investigate the case quickly and effectively, thus preventing it from acquiring national and international prominence. The sluggishness of the courts and the office of the Public Prosecutor contributed to making these wretched, disgusting beings appear to be innocent victims in the eyes of parts of Russian and Western liberals, “trampled by a Medieval obscurantist alliance of the Russian government and the Orthodox Church,” as the story was portrayed in the media.

Beyond that, the trial exposed the weak mobilization abilities of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church and the civil society organizations aligned with it managed to stage a mass protest in defense of the Church against desecration and blasphemy, and attempted to mobilize society in support of the Church. But their actions had a one-shot character, instead of a systematic one. It became clear that even though liberals in Russia make up only a small part of society, they were better organized within civil society and in the media, and they enjoy powerful connections both in Russia and abroad. In the end, the Pussy Riot trial became a large-scale event skewed to the advantage of the defendants who had overstepped all moral and good-character boundaries. Neither the Church nor the religious-oriented civil organizations had comparable international connections despite the existence of powerful European and especially American conservative and religious activists who wield vast influence over public opinion (consider the role and influence of U.S. evangelicals in political life in the U.S.) that could have been activated to counter-balance the unbridled campaign in the liberal media in the West in support of Pussy Riot.

Fourth, the Church and religious groups did not manage to mobilize the leaders of other religions and their affiliated civil-society organizations for the purpose of publicly denouncing the vandalism and sacrilege committed by Pussy Riot.

However, one of the consequences of this trial and the noisy campaign led by the liberals in the mass media could be the mobilization and consolidation of such forces as were, until now, left undividedly under the influence of the liberal human-rights ilk. The consequences will be progressively disheartening for liberals. The trial can become a catalyst for the formation of a powerful conservative movement with its own institutions and mass media, which can further marginalize the self-proclaimed Russian liberals and sideline them in Russian cultural life.

Fifth, there was a lot of discord among different groups in Russia and the West on the question of what type of punishment should be dispensed. The liberal supporters of the group thought that the punishment should be mild, and the girls should have been allowed to reunite with their children. But in their lust for fame these women hardly gave consideration to their children. One of the band’s members recently engaged in group sex while nine months pregnant in the Biological Museum in what might be called a stunt of attention-whoring. People appealing for leniency toward this group both in Russia and in the West are overlooking the fact that the whole trial already had become politicized in Russia and elsewhere.

It’s important to bear in mind that, contrary to widespread perceptions, Pussy Riot and their close associates from their original group, Voina, were not a group of artists in any reasonable sense of the term. These women had never produced an album. They had never been hired to perform in concert or at weddings (God forfend) or any other venue that would convey to them any claim to the designation as artists. Artistry does not consist of going naked in crowded supermarkets, with children around, and parading around with frozen chickens at their vaginas. It does not consist of throwing small kittens around in diners. No, these two groups were simply shock jocks, bent on spreading their insults and venomous hatred of conventional society as their principal means of expression.

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