Social Science Essay
Pussy Riots: A Glimpse into Russia’s Past
Communism has long been associated with Russia. Even as Russia rose to a democracy, traces of Russia’s socialist past still linger over the Russian land. The recent punk-rock group, Pussy Riot, has made international headlines with their taped illegal performances in controversial locations. In one of the most notorious music videos called “Punk Prayer- Mother of God, Chase Putin Away,” they attempted to perform at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior and were stopped by church security officials. They were then convicted for “hooliganism” and received a two-year sentence. Their arrests led to many questions about Russia’s censuring of public opinion. The West has been and still is a great critic of Russia’s policies. In the past, factions political groups, and most importantly, dissidents have “engaged in an unheard of response: public protest.” This is all “despite the threat of harsh reprisals” by the KGB and other governmental agencies most likely because of fear of revolution (Kort 325). So, although democracy advocates free speech, Russia seems to constantly waver between its communist past and democratic present.
Dissidents of Russia in the past have been those who have opposed the policies of their government and in return have protested against them through violent or non-violent ways. Because of their protests “state repression debilitated” any sort of dissident movements and “dissidents were sent to prison, ‘exported’ abroad or left the Soviet Union by choice” (Kort 328-329). Recently, “Russia has seen an upwelling of dissent since disputed parliamentary elections” which has led famously to the Pussy Riot (Herszenhorn 2). The Pussy Riot group is “far more political than musical” (Herszenhorn 3). The Pussy Riot’s actions were forms of protest against Putin’s policies and some were imprisoned while others left Russia by choice for fear of prosecution. However, one should ask, is being convicted for “hooliganism” fair of a court to imprison these women for? The same type of conviction occurred to Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in 1965 when they were arrested and under attack “simply for their writing” as “having published abroad literature critical of the Soviet Union” (Kort 325). At first glance, it seems that Russia is receding back to its old dictatorships where the leader would to repress groups from criticizing the supposed god-like structure of Russia.
However, although Russia’s current democratic system seems to be corrupt and have traces of a dictatorship, the dictatorship is not necessarily Putin but the slewed judicial system. By many viewers, the verdict on the Pussy Riot case by the court was seen as “unjust and the sentence as unduly severe” (Herszenhorn 1). As a result of the group’s prancing, dancing, chanting, and creation of a song criticizing Putin they were facing a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. However, the prosecutor defended its suit by claiming that they were “posing a danger to society” and committing “grave crimes” insulting and humiliating the “Christian faith and inciting religious hatred” (Herszenhorn 1). If Putin were behind the imprisonment of these women then he would be acting in accordance with past dictatorships that have suppressed dissidents. However, he seems to have no control over the trial process. He “hoped the women would not be judged ‘too severely,’ but that the decision was the court’s to make” (Herszenhorn 4). If there is any blame to be placed on the results of the trial it should have been on the “tilted nature” judicial system. The prosecutors are usually favored and were “allowed to call witnesses who had seen the pussy Riot performance only on video.” However, the defense lawyers were “barred from calling most of the witnesses they wanted, including experts and some eyewitnesses” (Herszenhorn). Therefore, although it may seem like Russia is receding to its past history, it is definitely progressing in terms of democracy because there is a clear distinction between what the responsibilities of the Russian president are and that of the judicial system. However, Russia is far off from a pure democracy with its skewed legal system.
The West’s perceptions of Russia have always been critical and negative through present times. Since the outcome of the Pussy Riot’s trial, there has been “worldwide condemnation of constraints on political speech in Russia” (Herszenhorn 1). The United States especially has said a few critical words and called on Russia’s higher courts to “overturn the conviction and ‘ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld’” (Herszenhorn 3). In Russia’s past, there have been instances of United States support for dissidents and groups who dislike the policies or rule of the current government. This is especially true during Leonid Brezhnev’s rule when Jewish dissidents in Russia were aided in by the in the 1960s and early 1970s. Over 200,000 Jews succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union but many more were denied freedom (Kort 328). However, the role of the West may be rightly dismissed because people should not be judging other countries from a Western democratic ideology. They need to understand Russia’s past in order to understand its future and its slow progress towards a more pure democracy. The Russian government, due to its shaky past with the West, tends to negatively view liberal ideas and said that these “liberal urbanites” are “backed by the West in a conspiracy against the Russian state and the Russian church” (Herszenhorn 2). Although the US has less of an influential role in current international politics, the strong support of the US and the rest of the West may encourage more dissidents to appear in Russia that may eventually lead to future Russian revolutions.
The recent popularization of the Pussy Riot portrays a new era of dissidents in Russia. With new types of media arising, the world can know what’s happening in places in Russia and quickly denounce the government. Unlike the Stalin Era, It is getting decreasingly harder for the Russian government to suppress free speech and protect its secret policies from the rest of the world. Social media such as twitter, YouTube, and Facebook has made information spread more quickly. This greater visibility and quicker condemnation by other countries may pressure Russia to develop faster into a pure democracy. A technological based revolution may be amidst Russia if it does not try to change its policies to please the rest of the world and most importantly, please the Russian people who have been suffering under corrupt leadership for too long.
Herszenhorn, David. "Russian Punk Band Is Sentenced to 2 Years for Anti-Putin Protest - NYTimes.com." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/18/world/europe/suspense-ahead-of-verdict-for-jailed-russian-punk-band.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed October 9, 2012).
Kort, Michael. The Soviet colossus: history and aftermath. 7th ed. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2001. Print.