Print options

August 20, 2012

Punk Rock Band Jail Sentences Highlight Russian Split

by James Brooke

MOSCOW — The bright balaclavas of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot have circled the globe.  But how are their protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral and their convictions in court playing at home?  Russians are divided on the band.
 
Conservative nationalists support the two-year sentences handed down on Friday.  Outside the Moscow courthouse, a group of men dressed in Czarist uniforms gathered.  They were from from Miloserdie, or Mercy, a Russian Orthodox charity.
 
“I’m sorry, but Christianity doesn’t always mean the freedom to do whatever you want,” said one man, who declined to give his name.  “Our charity, Miloserdie, will bring them their food parcels.  Don’t worry, we’ll feed them well, but behind bars in prison.”
 
Standing nearby was Liya Smirnova, who runs a Russian Orthodox youth organization.  “The main thing for us, believers of the Russian Orthodox Church, is that this kind of madness doesn’t happen in the church again,” she said.
 
But Russia’s westernized liberals disagree.  A woman named Yana came to the courthouse on Friday wearing the kind of brightly colored ski mask that made the band recognizable around the world. 
 
“I came to support the girls, and not only because they have been locked away all this time, but because the court system is completely awful,” she said.  “I’ve followed how the trial has been going, and it’s completely terrible.  I also support them as activists and artists, if I can say it like that.  I saw their first video, and I really liked it.  And I think they did the right thing.”
 
Alla, another band supporter, whose friend was arrested by riot police on Friday said, “no law exists” in Russia.  “There is no law to have these girls sit in jail.  It’s unlawful.  It’s not possible.  And we are all waiting for, and believe and will continue to believe in, their release.”
 
On Monday, police broke up another Pussy Riot mob in central Moscow. 
 
Authorities are searching for two more women who took part in the band's performance six months ago at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.
 
Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev says the band members' trials, and the trial of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, were ordered by the Kremlin.  “I suddenly understood from the Navalny case, which is fully fabricated, same as with these girls, that it’s only politics.  It’s nothing else,” he said in an interview outside the courthouse. 
 
Lebedev, who worked for many years in London, says the solution for Russia is democracy.  “I mean it's already been invented - the parliament, the elections, the free media, the independent court, and the opposition as a permanent and legal and constitutional authority in the country,” he added.
 
But Lebedev will not stay in the country for long.  He says he is selling his Russian investments and moving to London.