I have said in this space that I think the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church are making a big mistake with the show trial of the punk provocateurs Pussy Riot. While I think protesting the close relationship between the Church and Putin’s State is certainly legitimate, the Church and the State have allowed themselves to be baited into turning these cheap hooligans into free-speech martyrs. Take a look at this bit from the closing statement of a PR member, in their Moscow trial (via Gawker):

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 on 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 analogy, 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 I note, with childish expressions 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.

This is rich. This woman, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, once protested the government by entering a museum with members of her radical art collective and staging an orgy. She was very pregnant at the time (video of the stunt exists online, though I’m not linking to it; you’re welcome). Here’s a piece examining what the Western media aren’t telling readers and viewers about Pussy Riot and their protest in the cathedral. Excerpt:

In addition to their mockery of Orthodox worship, the girls derided the “Black robe, golden epaulettes,” of Orthodox clergy, and mocked the “crawling and bowing” of the parishioners. They then added a barb against the Orthodox Church’s defense of public morality, stating, “The ghost of freedom is in heaven, Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains.”

“The head of the KGB is their chief saint,” continue the girls, in reference to Putin’s former position under the Soviet regime.

They then sing a stanza associating the sacred with feces, followed by another stanza objecting to perceived support of the Putin administration by leaders of Orthodoxy, then another stating “Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin,” adding “B**ch, you better believe in God.”

Another aspect of the story that has been left virtually unreported by Western media outlets is the association of “Pussy Riot” and its members with other obscene displays calculated to provoke moral offense and outrage.

In 2008, band members entered Moscow’s Museum of Biology in order to engage in a “fertility rite” protest against the election of Dmitry Medvedev as the country’s president.  “Pussy Riot” member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her husband removed their clothes and engaged in public sex in the museum, while others took photos of the incident and posted them on the Internet. [Note from RD: The incident was not just a coupling, but an orgy.]

Maria Alekhina, another member, has released a video of the group in which she enters a supermarket and masturbates using a chicken leg, according to an uncharacteristically frank article by the Associated Press. In another recent stunt, the group hung a drawing of a huge phallus on a St. Petersburg drawbridge, the agency reports in the same article.

The group’s repeated acts of calculated provocation against Russian religious and moral sensibilities have created an impression of the band in their home country that differs dramatically from the sympathetic portrayal produced for Western consumers.

While America’s pop culture royalty and media establishment fawn over the jailed trio, Russian performers have been loathe to associate themselves with their cause, including the nation’s two biggest rock stars, Zemfira and Mumiy Troll. Some, like the star singer Elena Vaenga, have even denounced them publicly, stating, “I’ll personally drink to the health of the judge who’ll slap them with some jail time.”

Even sympathetic Russian journalist Michael Idov admits in a recent article for the New York Times that “the hometown opinion on Pussy Riot is mixed at best. Even the liberal response has involved language like ‘They should let these chicks go with a slap on the ass.’”

Socrates, St. Stephen the Protomartyr, Dostoyevsky, the victims of Stalinism … and Pussy Riot? Uh, no. However defensible their cause, and however foolish their opponents, vulgarians who desecrate a church do not deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as those people. I’m only sorry that the bumbling of the state in handling this matter has elevated these scoundrels.