Newsflash: Pussy Riot, Freedom of Speech and Respect to Religion

One must wonder why these kind looking young women chose to protest with an aggressive performance in a sacred place. See the picture below

Same women as Pussy Riot in the Cathedral Christ the Saviour

Today the Daily Mail reported the trial in Russia against the Russian performers of Pussy Riot. The defendants were sentenced to two years’ jail. While it is reported that most Russians agree with this verdict, it sparks an unanimous protest in the Western media. As expected, Daily Mail readers find Russia a country “outside of the free world”, “Putin a dictator”, neither do they forget their usual contempt for religion. But things are not so simple like the world of the average Daily Mail reader. One must ask, what the target of Pussy riot is: Putin? The authoritarian and government friendly Russian Orthodox Church, or Christianity? Is the protest only directed at an insufficient separation of Church and State or does it also target Christianity as such and try to desecrate what is sacred? One must remember that this Punk group performed on the Red Square and was only fined for a symbolic sum. Obviously, it was their choosing a symbolic and sacred place like the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour that brought them before court. Their western supporters chose likewise places like Churches (especially Orthodox church buildings) for their protest, for example, in Finland and Austria. For Russia, it is more about Putin and politics, it seems, but for the West, one question must be raised in this context: should there be a law against Blasphemy and whether Christians should seek to protect their religion and demand duly respect with the help of the State? Here are two reports for your information and own judgement:

Pussy Riot: now in Europe

From Voice of Russia, by Maria Vesnovskaya [update: thanks to a reader it is known that this report on the prosecution of a Finnish professor is a result of web-based rumour, the University of Helsinki has made an announcement to dismiss it, you can find the announcement beneath this report:]

Finnish public and cultural activists have initiated a criminal case against the Helsinki University Professor Teivo Teivainen accusing him of violation of religious tolerance. The professor and his students tried to perform a punk prayer at the Orthodox Assumption Cathedral in Helsinki. The Pussy Riot supporter can face up to 2 years in jail.
Another pro-Pussy Riot campaign was held in Vienna Tuesday.

Teivainen and several masked girls performed in the Assumption Cathedral while the “prayer’s” masterminds attempted to carry a jerry can with urine to pour across the Cathedral but were stopped by police.

Afterwards, the group rallied near the Cathedral calling it a “lecture stroll”. This was no stroll at all, but an attempt to offend the believers, says a member of the city of Pori Education Council, Evgenia Hilden-Järvenperä who also joined the suit.

“We are strongly against this incident as it targeted Orthodox believers in the country. It’s very alarming, even anti-Russian as the Assumption Cathedral is the chief Orthodox cathedral in the country. It was being constructed when Finland was part of the Russian Empire. The so-called “prayer” also attempted to incite religious hatred. People should see that such stunts must be prevented as they are criminal and illegal in Finland.”

Finnish human rights activist and Anti-Fascist Committee representative Johan Baeckman says that the actions can be classified as a crime and then the professor could face up to two years in prison.

“Now the Finnish Prosecutor General’s Office is to make a decision. The Finnish Criminal Code even prohibits attempts to hamper a service. Offending the believers is a crime. When a blogger writes offensive things about any religion it’s already a crime. All countries have laws protecting the believers.”

Baeckman says that the Vienna performers are also criminals. The two artists wearing women’s clothes demanded the immediate release of the girls holding a poster in their support in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicholas.

The activist called for a probe into the incidents saying that Europe considers them more than just hooliganism and added that Orthodox churches in Finland have been taken under security.

“The Vienna performance is part of the international anti-Orthodox Church campaign and they all were triggered by these women who are also responsible for potential further attempts. Any other city can see the same as Helsinki.”

Meanwhile, Pussy Riot supporters already campaigned near the Russia’s Embassy in Helsinki – several masked women tried to break into the building, holding banners. Archbishop Mark of Egorievsk, the head of the Department for Foreign Institutions of the Moscow Patriarchate, called the European performances a dangerous trend and propaganda that can damage Russia.

At the same time, Ukrainian Playboy offered one of the band’s members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to take part in a photo shoot saying that its readers will be positive about seeing her as a cover girl.

[update: The University of Helsinki has today sent a correction request to several media which have spread false information about professor Teivo Teivainen. Articles containing serious errors have spread widely, especially in Russian web newspapers.

The University of Helsinki has today sent a correction request to several media which have spread false information about professor Teivo Teivainen. Articles containing serious errors have spread widely, especially in Russian web newspapers.

The articles have falsely claimed that charges have been pressed against Professor Teivainen for blasphemy or wearing a mask in public. Some even incorrectly claim that he has been arrested.

The commotion started from two world politically themed walking tours arranged by the Museum of Modern Art, Kiasma. The tour passed by e.g. the Bank of Finland, where Teivainen talked about the Euro crisis. The tour also stopped at the Uspenski Cathedral, which belongs to the Orthodox congregation of Helsinki. In front of the cathedral, Professor Teivainen discussed the human rights situation in Russia. The cathedral was closed in accordance with its normal timetable, and Teivainen did not try to enter the cathedral, in contrast to what has been claimed in the media.

The walking tours included several vivifying pieces of performance art, one of which was held in front of the cathedral. In the performance, two masked women expressed their support for the group Pussy Riot. This performance seems to have spurred the false rumours that have spread. There has been no room for source criticism in the reporting.

University of Helsinki]

The second report is about the reaction in Russian society to the three women’s punk protest in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, from the blog Voices from Russia, published yesterday on 16th. August 2012, by Dan Peleschuk:

As a Moscow court prepares to decide the fate of the punk group Pussy Riot, a dilemma faces the Kremlin… it could further embolden the ballooning liberal opposition or it could alienate the conservative faithful who form the cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s support base. Experts say the decision is a difficult one for the authorities to make… no matter the outcome. Analysts predict that if they release the women, it sends a signal to critics that the Kremlin now tolerates open protest, and it’s grown hesitant to continue its crackdown on dissent. However, if they jail them, it may only intensify the simmering public discontent with the government. Masha Lipman, a society expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center said, “Both options aren’t good. We’re dealing here with a case of miscalculation… or, actually, a failure to calculate”.

Since the end of the trial last week, in which prosecutors asked the court for a three-year prison sentence for the three women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, speculation over their fate has only grown. They’ve already spent five months in custody, and two of the women have small children with whom they have been deprived of contact since their incarceration. When the court delayed the verdict, now expected on 17 August, it was perceived as a move by the authorities to buy time and explore the options. Yet, news of the group’s prosecution… and of the unruly trial itself… has reached international proportions and has raised the stakes for the authorities even higher. As the verdict is handed down, observers will be watching closely to see just how far the authorities will go to punish dissent during President Putin’s third term.

Debate raged in recent weeks over how… or even whether… to punish the women for their brief “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February. The case has come to represent the greater clash between conservatism and liberalism in Russia, with an almost equal division of people who support Pussy Riot and criticise the authorities, and those who have called for a swift punishment and who support the Putin regime. Alexander Rahr, a Berlin-based independent Russia analyst said, “The Russian élite and society are split on the issue, and, indeed, a decision in one or another direction would alienate the other side”.

According to a July poll by the Levada Centre, about 58 percent of Russians… both believers and non-believers… believe a jail term for the group would be too excessive, whilst 33 percent say they would prefer something akin to a suspended sentence. The centre polled 1,600 respondents nationwide, and the margin of error is 3.4 percent. Rahr added that the significance of the case… second only, perhaps, to that of jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky… will likely affect the authorities’ handling of the case, and that they may hand down a three-year suspended sentence as a symbolic gesture of compromise.

The flood of support from foreign governments, dignitaries, and celebrities has piled up in recent weeks, ranging from theUS State Department to pop icon Madonna and actor Danny DeVito. Spontaneous demonstrations have cropped up across Western capitals, including even public readings of the women’s closing statements by artists and intellectuals. Rahr said, “They thought that this would be a locally controlled affair, but now this trial has become internationalised. The whole world is talking about this, and that fact has to be taken into account. Russia is risking a heavy image blow if it puts these three singers into prison for three years”.

Whilst on a visit to London 2 August 2, which coincided with an open letter published in The Times from a variety of British musicians calling for the group’s release, Putin hinted the women should receive a lighter punishment than the original seven-year sentence proposed, telling reporters, “I don’t think they should be judged too harshly for that. I hope they’ll make certain conclusions themselves. Nevertheless, it’s up to the court to make the final ruling”. Experts say that Putin’s comment, although vague, was a direct signal aimed at those responsible for deciding the women’s fate… comparable to his statement on the eve of Khodorkovsky’s second prison sentence, when he remarked, “A thief should be in prison”. According to Lipman, the unexpected delay in the verdict points to the authorities’ uncertainty about how to rule the case, noting that whilst it’s nearly impossible to know who will make the final call, the “decision will be extralegal. There’s no doubt that this decision will be taken beyond the walls of the courthouse”.

Other experts say the focus of the prosecution team has shifted from producing favourable results for the Kremlin to conducting damage control in a case that has attracted high-profile support for months. Pavel Salin, an analyst at the Centre for Political Assessments, said, “This issue has a great deal of resonance, and any mistake can cost the judge and the prosecution team their careers. That’s why there’s very likely a discussion going on among those who are involved in the process about the most graceful way out of the situation”.

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10 Responses to Newsflash: Pussy Riot, Freedom of Speech and Respect to Religion

  1. JessicaHof says:

    What on earth did they think the Russians would do? They still take an affront to Christianity with due seriousness. Those who think this harsh might consider what the consequences would have been had these women done what they did in a mosque.

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  2. Gertrude says:

    I’m not sure what conclusion I have come to yet. On the one hand, the right to freedom of speech should be available to all, but, to choose to make this protest in a church, any church may be considered a sacrilege. Then… this is the former Soviet Union. It is doubtful their protest would have received the attention it has had they chosen a street corner , after all, Russians have been vociferous in their disapproval of Putin particularly in the last six months and one wonders what they expected? There seems to be growing resentment in the church/state relationship which may or may not be justified. I do not think this had much to do with Christianity; that was the excuse and one bound to evoke a response, but this is about politics, feminism and – dare I say it – Putin. God help them as an example will undoubtedly be made of them as a warning against dissent. If anything this is an example of christianity being sacrificed at the altar of politics.

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  3. veka says:

    When you write that “Here are two reports for your information and own judgement” it would be good to warn your readers that the Voice of Russia article cannot be taken seriously. What they are doing is simply false reporting based on the opinions of one guy, Johan Bäckman, whose mission seems to be painting Finnish society as haters of all things Russian and who is often interviewed by nationalist Russian journalists. One notes that Mr. Bäckman is called a “human rights activist” in the article… this sounds like some comedy.

    The article claims as an undisputed fact that the Finnish professor and other demonstrators tried to carry a can with urine into the cathedral and pour it there, a blatant lie that is as false as it is bizarre. This kind of mudslinging passes as journalism in Putin’s Russia?

    The main claim that Bäckman makes and the Russian journalists believe without questioning him, is that protesting in a church in Finland could lead to a 2-year prison sentence, and that the professor will now be prosecuted through the criminal case initiated by Bäckman. What Bäckman and Russian state media are trying to do here is to try to make Russian prosecution to look normal: after all, if protesting in a church could lead to a 2 years in prison in a western country like Finland, then they can claim that what happens in Russia is all well and not harsher than in the West. This is the whole purpose of articles like this. They are produced to justify the authoritarian politics, society and legal system in Russia.

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  4. veka says:

    One opinion of Bäckman’s activism – like the Russian state-run media calls it – is here: http://finrosforum.fi/finnish-fools-and-muscovite-mudslingers

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  5. teresa says:

    @veka, thank you I cross checked the available reports and find out that the first report is not accurate. Correction is made.

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  6. toadspittle says:

    .
    Gertrude mirrors, practically word for word, Toad’s doubts and questions re. Pussy Riot (what a rude name!).

    So he will say precious littles on this topic right now.

    Except that Putin, from being a Communist gangster, seems to be morphing into a Fascist gangster.
    Lucky old Russia!

    Like

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    I am in two minds about this myself, though I quite clearly condemn the incitation to religious hatred (or however you want to call their actions) committed by these three young women.

    The location of this shambolic protest could hardly have been more poorly selected, and the anti-Christian tone of some of their slogans is difficult to see otherwise than as odious.

    Then again, the extreme heavy-handedness of these blasphemy charges doesn’t exactly speak well for the attitudes of the Russian authorities…

    Protests by secularists inside important religious premises do seem to have a certain unimaginative sameness to them, from one decade to the next.

    People have been occasionally performing these sorts of antics since mediaeval times, at the earliest…

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  8. The Raven says:

    I find myself unsurprised at the Russian gangster-state response to the protest (although, given the fate of other Putin critics, things could have been far worse), but what I do find dispiriting is the attitude of the Russian Church.

    I accept that the protest was wrong and I know, from having been in a congregation that has been similarly “entertained” by the antics of “gay-rights” protesters, that it is upsetting to have a sacred space desecrated by such antics, but surely the proper response of Christians in such a situation is to seek mercy for those that offend us and to seek their education and conversion?

    It is instructive that a majority of Russian Orthodox believers were recently reported to oppose the Church’s collaboration in this act of state oppression.

    It strikes me that one of the lessons of the twentieth century is that when the Church collaborates too closely with the secular power, it is diminished (vide Spain and Ireland).

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  9. Carl Grillo says:

    @ megan Kelly: FOX NEWS
    With the deepest respect; I would like to place before you, for mature consideration, your ON-AIR comments regarding the “Pussy Riot” sentence. While I cannot quote you verbatim; you said something to the effect that: “I’m glad I live in the good ol’ USA…” [implying: “…where things like sentencing pop stars for two years imprisonment for ‘hooliganism inspired by religious hatred’ does not exist…”]
    If girls in bikinis invaded a Moslem temple – with nobody there – what would the sentence or punitive measure be here in the United States?
    Or if a pro-abortion group invaded an empty Roman Catholic Church?
    Or an anti-Semitic group entered a Synagogue on a weekday?
    If I misinterpreted your intention(s) or your statement(s); I sincerely apologize.
    Thank you,
    Carl M Grillo

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  10. Scientist says:

    Atmosphere here in Finland is quite strange and biased. One Finnish MP got a verdict from critisizing moslem religion (Mohammed’s marriage with underaged Ayshe) and from critsizing his own verdict. It seems that here you cannot critisize Islam but Christianity and Russia are good enemies.

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