Putin vs. the Punks

Jacob Laksin is a senior writer for Front Page Magazine. He is co-author, with David Horowitz, of The New Leviathan (Crown Forum, 2012), and One-Party Classroom (Crown Forum, 2009). Email him at jlaksin@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @jlaksin.


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The past year has seen an inspired stirring of political opposition in Russia, as thousands of young and middle-class Russians have poured out onto the streets to protest the country’s regressive slide into authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin. For sheer novelty and provocation, however, no protest action quite matched the spectacle that took place this past February, when the members of all-female punk rock band Pussy Riot commandeered the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral and, clad in multicolored balaclava masks, proceeded to belt out a protest song titled “Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin.” (A YouTube video of the impromptu performance shows security guards vainly trying to corral the air-kicking punk rockers while puzzled parishioners look on.)

An increasingly rare piece of political blasphemy, the song assailed the Russian Orthodox Church for its uncomfortably close ties to the Russian president. That subservience was exemplified by the Church patriarch’s devout assessment prior to the presidential election this spring that Putin’s democracy-trampling 12-year rule represented nothing less than a “miracle of God.” In mocking the Church, Pussy Riot’s lyrics proclaimed that the “head of the KGB is their chief saint.”

The church was not amused, the Russian government even less so. After their performance, the three members of Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with “hooliganism.” That was in March. Since then, they have been held without trial in extended custody. Last Friday, their detention was extended by another six months until next January. If the band members are found guilty, they could be imprisoned for seven years.

While the government response is undoubtedly excessive, it also seems calculated. The message seems to be that such limited license as the government was prepared to extend to opposition and protest views has now been totally revoked. Plainly discomfited by this winter’s mass anti-government protests, the powers that be have decided that enough is enough. Thus, Putin marked his swearing-in ceremony in Moscow this May with a citywide crackdown on demonstrators in which some 400 were arrested. Some reports suggested that young demonstrators were issued military draft notices in reprisal. The trumped-up prosecution of Pussy Riot is only the latest sign that the government is taking a zero-tolerance approach to political dissent.

On the legal front, too, there is a burgeoning government effort to outlaw opposition. Last month, the Russian legislature, dominated by Putin’s United Russia party, passed a law that would impose ruinous fines of up to $9,300 for those who participate in unsanctioned demonstrations and double that for protest organizers. Since few Russians could afford to pay such penalties, and since the government is not eager to sanction opposition protests, the law amounted to a de facto ban on opposition protests and demonstrations.

And the government was just getting started. Last week it passed a raft of new and vaguely worded laws whose overall effect would be to undermine criticism of the government officials. Among the laws was one criminalizing libel that included a special provision for libel “against judges, jurors, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials,” — in short, those responsible for upholding the country’s corrupt security state. Another law would create a blacklist of websites that all Russian Internet search engines would have to block. The government claimed that such a blacklist was intended to protect children from harmful content, but given the virtually limitless discretion to decide which websites qualify as harmful it is easy to see how the notoriously censorship-prone Russian authorities could use the law to quash disfavored speech. Each of the laws, in short, is ripe for abuse, and that seems to be the point: Having concluded that it can’t suppress all opposition openly, the government wants to force critics into silence.

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  • PhillipGaley

    Hey! Ain't no man likes a woman knockin' him—no way, shape, nor form, . . . so he throwed their butts n'the slammer, . . .

    But then, king Saul, . . . he didn't like how the women were singing about him, . . . and, . . . look where he ended up. I wonder if, . . . history really repeats, . . . I just wonder, . . .

  • Judith

    Hate the Christian Church much?

    • tony chainsaw

      Everyone knows the catholic church is Satan’s false Christian church. They change the bible to conform to their views, not God’s. Throughout history they have murdered Christians and Jews. They are not true christians. Can you say ANTI-CHRIST….

  • cynthia curran

    Well, this is the Russian Orthodox Church that has been control by the state since Peter the Great. . The left complains about the religous right here but in Eastern Europe and Greece there is a church state relationship influenced way back by Constantine. The international exposure will helped them. The problem with Russia is the nationalists or COmmunists might replaced Putin instead of a czech Republic type regime.

  • Steve Chavez

    WHAT WORD IS NEXT TO M-A-R-X in the dictionary? The Father of Communism is next to M-A-R-Y the Mother of Jesus Christ.

    There is a war between the disciples of Jesus and Marx and in the 80's, American Marxists aided the Soviet KGB and the Communist Party USA in their takeover of Central America USING LIBERATION THEOLOGY which tried to equate the teachings of Marx as equal to those of Jesus. Their deception was also to RAISE AID IN AMERICAN CHURCHES AS "TO HELP THE PEOPLE" BUT IT WAS ACTUALLY USED TO "HELP AN IDEOLOGY" WHICH SAYS "THERE IS NO GOD." Eye (FPM doesn't like first person for some reason so "eye" means !. ) screamed FIRE in the churches when Marxists were allowed to interrupt mass with their fund raising lie. When eye confronted the Priests and wanted a private meeting, they declined. Wouldn't the believers in Jesus like to know what their money was actually being used for and that their priest was allowing it?

    WHAT WORD IS NEXT TO COMMUNISM? COMMUNION, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

    There were many events that proved the WAR and its victory in the end by JESUS. An group of East German's began a hunger strike in ST. MARY'S CHURCH in Berlin in 1989. Their supporters were so many that they spilled into the streets. In Nov. of that year, the Wall fell. (In 1995, eye went to that church and the Gate of Heavenly Peace or the Brandenburg Gate.)

    Many events happened but the ultimate was Mikhail Gorbachev interrupting our CHRISTMAS DAY with the FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION as the Wall and Iron Curtain were already falling.

    IS THIS BAND MARTYRS? The Kremlin next to St. Basil's Cathedral. ON AND ON.

    OBAMA, a disciple of MARXIST BLACK LIBERATION THEOLOGY, which is as racist as it gets; a FAKE CHRISTIAN AND FAKE SUPPORTER OF JEWS AND OF ISRAEL THAT HE LEARNED IN THE 80'S; growing up being a Muslim; his appeasement of Muslims and honoring its start of Ramadan while canceling the Christian's National Day of Prayer; his bowing to Arabs while spitting on Netanayu; AND BLAMING CHRISTIANS GIVING ORDERS TO CHRISTIANS!

    JESUS VS. MARX. ROMNEY VS. OBAMA!

  • noorazao@hotmail.com

    Oh yeah, majority of Americans are supporting the war-mongering, oil-robbing, Saudi/Islam-bowing Jihadist/War Criminal/Dictator Barack Hussein Obama, who even forged his birth certificate, and then trying to bash Putin – such hypocrisy! By the way, I support free speech but let me ask these so-called revolutionary punks, would they have dared to pull such stunt in a MOSQUE? I don't think so, because the usually COWARDLY left only dare to attack Churches/Christians!

  • tagalog

    The Russian Orthodox Church has not only played ball with the new Russians, they also were close to the hierarchy of the Soviet Communist Party during the Communist years.

  • Schlomotion

    If the Russian Center for the Study of Popular Culture had caught this group in advance, none of this would have happened.

  • germ

    I don't see why I should stand up for people desecrating a church. There is no need to abuse a holy place for protests against government – in particular since a Christian church never was the adopted home for the decidedly nihilistic punk movement.

  • Paul

    Regardless of Putin's authoritarianism, I hate it how people can justify those rockers' desecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior–which was the most famous architectural victim of the communists. That cathedral is a monument to the rebirth of Orthodoxy in Russia, and those women went in and sang a song mocking Christianity and liberally using the word "s–t." They should be punished.

    • Soloview

      Appreciate the sentiment: perhaps the former bolshevik knows something the West does not know; the next thing after mocking Christianity with lyrics using the word "s–t", is "s–tting" in the church for real as the "occupy" protesters did last fall in ST.Paul's cathedral in London.

  • akreynin

    I agree that what these girls did was unacceptable, singing without any authorization and cursing in a church. But the way the Russian justice system reacted to what happened is also unacceptable, and two wrongs don't make a right. Detaining the girls for a year? Sentencing them to seven years in prison? In the States, they would have had to pay a fine and perform community service. This was a complete overreaction of the Russian justice system. It is clear that the reason for the Russian government's harsh treatment of these girls is not their behavior, but their criticism of Putin. Ths is an example of Russia falling into authoritarianism, a dictatorship, back to the Soviet days of suppression of free speech. I mean, what if these girls were glorifying Putin, instead of criticizing him? Then the Russian government's reaction would not have been so harsh. The Putin government is becoming more and more intolerant of opposing views.

  • akreynin

    I got a Russian joke for everyone. Here I go. Russia is having presidential elections. Three candidates are running: a Communist, a pro-Western democrat, and Vladimir Putin. The Communist says to people, "If you will vote for me, you'll live like they did in the USSR." The democrat says, "If you will vote for me, you'll live like they do in the USA." Putin says, "If you will vote for me, you'll live." Get it?

  • WilliamJamesWard

    The Communists persecuted the Church, stole property and wealth, destroyed Church buildings,
    executed 26 Bishops and thousands of priests in and orgy of secularizing society. The effort
    while great did not end the Church but led to years of division, they could take the Church out
    of Russia but not out of the people who remained obdurate in their faith. Communists when
    they took Moscow pulled the Bishop out to the front of the Cathederal and demanded he
    admit his Church was a lie and Jesus Christ was false or they would kill him. The Communsits
    believed he would tell the truth to save himself. He said he would not ever deny his faith
    in Him who he served and was shot dead, so it went, Marxist murder and a sea of blood.
    William