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Pussy Riot: Making the struggle against oppression global

For the love of freedom, gender equality, democracy and music, we must support Pussy Riot.

There couldn’t have been more than 20 of them, but they were hard to miss. Colorfully dressed, masked and carrying a banner adorned with an obscenity – Tel Aviv’s small protest in solidarity with Russian punk band Pussy Riot greeted me on Saturday night, at the end of Rothschild Boulevard, right where the J14 protests began last summer.

It seems odd for Israelis, plagued with the threat of war with Iran, with the guilt of the occupation and with the disaster of our neo-liberal economy, to take on the issue of Pussy Riot. So three girls in another part of the world dressed up funny, caused a provocation and are about to pay for it. They played a political song in a Cathedral in Moscow and now face prison time. Should we really go out on the streets wearing red ski masks and rally for them? Why should their fate be anywhere on our agenda?

We have been so strongly indoctrinated to look only at our local issues, that global struggle baffles us, but the nature of global struggles is that they unite many issues that are relevant to many places. The song that got Pussy Riot in trouble was a prayer for the removal of Vladimir Putin, and the struggle against Putin’s rule is similar to the one we lead every day against our own corrupt politicians. It is no accident that one of the Tel-Aviv protesters wore a mask in the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Indeed, Putinist Russia has become a model for post-modern authoritarianism, the sort that cunningly disguises itself as democracy. Dissident Russians and Israelis are facing similar structures of power, both of which employ lies, disinformation and infringements of our freedom of speech. Putinism is hardly limited to Russia, but being successful there, it now threatens to reach many corners of the earth. More difficult to pinpoint and remove than traditional dictatorship, it is “Arab-Spring-proof,” and thus truly dangerous.

This coming Friday the verdict will be pronounced in the case against Ekaterina Samoutsevitch, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Whether or not they will be sent to prison for years (the maximum penalty for their charges is seven years) they have won. They have taken the Putinist issue out of Russia by transcending Russian politics and appealing to two global communities: feminists and Rock fans.

The Pussy Riot affair may be the most substantial confrontation with authorities in rock history, Jim Morrison may have been arrested for exhibitionism and Keith Moon had to pay for a car he drove into a pool, but not many events of greater magnitude were registered in the west. Rock claims to be anti-authoritarian. It claims to be political. These claims are only seriously put to the test when it challenges regimes that show zero tolerance to criticism. “God Save the Queen” is hardly an example.

Whether one finds their music palatable or not, the lyrics of Pussy Riot prove that political content belongs in popular music, and brings it to new levels. At a time when LGBT rights and women’s rights are both suffering in Russia, the band’s song “Punk Prayer” ties the issues together and places combined blame on both the religious and political establishment:

“Black robe, golden epaulettes /All parishioners are crawling and bowing / The ghost of freedom is in heaven / Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains. / The head of the KGB is their chief saint / Leads protesters to prison under escort / In order not to offend the Holy/ Women have to give birth and to love.”

One could argue, of course, that the band’s activities do offend the pious public and constitute an infringement on the freedom of worship, which demands maintaining the sanctity of sacred sites. For this the three defendants may rightfully deserve to pay a modest price (and be willing to), but the atrocious seven years in prison with which they are faced, prove that their criticism holds water. Pussy Riot is bravely protesting the corrupt union of church and un-democratic state. The same that we have seen in Francoist Spain, and, to a great extent, in Israel of today, where the rabbis of religious Zionism enjoy nearly unlimited political influence.

The cause of freedom is global. For love of democracy, we must support Pussy Riot. For love of music, we must support Pussy Riot. For love of Gender equality, we must support Pussy Riot. For love of our northern neighbors, the Syrians, who are being slaughtered continuously by their regime thanks to the support of the Kremlin, we must show solidarity with those young musicians. Tel-Aviv’s anonymous protesters reconnect us to the family of humankind, and prove that we have everything to gain from joining hands with the world and combining our many struggles.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Shlomo Krol

      “Whether one finds their music palatable or not…”
      -
      There’s a misunderstanding in the Israeli and the Western media. The Pussy Riot are not musicians at all, this is not in fact punk rock band as they are often referred. This is an actionism art project. It was an art action, not a punk rock concert which they performed in the Church of Saviour in Moscow. This is also how they themselves define it. Part of the participants of this project were in the past members of an actionism art group “The War”, which was the political art group, too (and its members were arrested, too).
      -
      By the way, if we demonstrate solidarity with the Pussy Riot, who are blamed for “desecration of the church and offending the feelings of believers”, why are we so silent about the process against the Israeli ultra-Orthodox men, who sprayed provocative graffity on Yad va-Shem memorial? Nobody protested their arrest, the media is today totally silent about their trial and we don’t even know a thing about them. If we support freedom of speach we must support freedom of speach for all, even for those whose views we don’t like, as long as they don’t spread racism or hatred.

      Reply to Comment
    2. I’m not sure this comparison is fair, Shlomo, for various reasons.
      .
      The first is relevance. While Pussy Riot’s message is clear to all and touches on the life of everybody in Russia and beyond, the message of those who desecrated Yad Vashem is unclear to myself and most people I know to this day. I vaguely understand that they are anti-Zionists and blame the Zionist movement for failing to save European Jews at the time of the Holocaust, but this is only because I read the written testimony of one of them after the fact. The Graffitis in Yad Vashem were sprayed out of conviction that this theory is common knowledge, which is a false notion.
      .
      While I support freedom of speech for all, I don’t see a reason to champion for anyone at all who scrawls any message in a place that is sacred to a wide public. Even if the Yad Vashem message were to be understood by the public at large, the statement still does not count as live political protest. The vandals are not mad at Zionism for the occupation, for example, but for a disputable historical wrong. This is not the same as standing up against Putin in the heart of Moscow. It was a sectarian statement, made by Haredim for Haredim. The shock inflicted on the public at large was probably counter-beneficial in spreading the message, it hurt the status of the community and of other non-Zionists in the eyes of non-Haredim.
      .
      I won’t even go into the particular sensitivity of Yad Vashem, a memorial to victims of a collossal genocide, so I’ll skip directly to the most obvious difference between the cases: Pussy Riot did not spray the walls of the Sacred Heart Cathedral. They sang in it. Singing isn’t physical vandalism. It vanishes when one stops singing. While there was no physical damage done to the Cathedral. There was plenty of damage done to Yad Vashem.
      .
      As for whether Pussy Riot is a band or not – the concept of a rock band has in itself become flexible over the decades. If anything, I would like to see performance art, activism and rock mix more often.

      Reply to Comment
    3. ToivoS

      I am puzzled by the international outrage over the trial of the pussy riot three. If in the US a skin head group invaded a synagogue or Catholic Church and sang an antisemitic or anti-Pope songs with heavy pornographic illusions I would fully expect them to be arrested. Nor would I expect the ACLU to come to their defense. They would, at the least, be charged and prosecuted with disturbing the peace with a hate crime enhancement.

      This is most likely an international propaganda campaign to demonize Putin, probably the most popular democratically elected leader in the world today. Hence also an attack against the Russian people who voted for him.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Prometheus

      “If in the US a skin head group invaded a synagogue or Catholic Church and sang an antisemitic or anti-Pope songs with heavy pornographic illusions I would fully expect them to be arrested….

      ….This is most likely an international propaganda campaign to demonize Putin, probably the most popular democratically elected leader in the world today. Hence also an attack against the Russian people who voted for him.”
      .
      Excellent. Now it is scientifically proved that one has to completely severe any connections to the real world to became a real leftist.
      .
      1 – Pussy Riot actually PRAYED to have Putin removed, sort of Pulsa Denura
      2 – Putin is not democratically elected leader. You see, in democratic election there is no such thing as 103% support.

      Reply to Comment
    5. ToivoS

      Er Prometreus

      1) did you not see the translation of their “prayer”. Hint go to your local synagogue during their Saturday gathering and repeat the words but substitute Bibi for Putin. Then run really fast before you are lynched on the spot.

      2) Putin received 62% of the vote. Sorry boob but as much as we might not like it, the Russian people do.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Prometheus

      Toivo,
      Unlike you I don’t have to rely on translations.
      1 – Your analogy is irrelevant. You just have no slightest idea of what you are talking about.
      2 – You are wrong.
      .
      I really don’t have a luxury of time to elaborate, so you’ll have to rely on me. Or not – I couldn’t care any less.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Shlomo Krol

      Yuval, I think none of your arguments can hold water. But I googled and found that the guys were anyway released after one month under arrest, so the situation in Israel in this respect is indeed much better than in Russia. Pussy Riot are being held in jail for more than half year and the prosecution demands three years prison term for them which is very cruel and unjust, while these Neturei Karta guys, our attitude to them is irrelevant, were released after one month under arrest, which is OK.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Piotr Berman

      The general principle of criminalizing the conduct of Pussy Riot is the same as applied to “Irvine 11″. The penalty was excessive. But in USA you can get 17 years in prison for posting stuff on your web page, so USA perhaps trumps Russia as a repressive state.

      Reply to Comment

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