Pussy Riot Dog Whistle

Orthodoxy is not a religion that is widely understood in the West. So it’s actually the rare pundit that catches how offensive what this punk riot group was doing actually was. There’s a subtitled version of the video that helps. The video misses the positional problems. The picture screen, called an iconostasis is something like the old altar rails of Catholicism but with fairly elaborate rituals surrounding the structure. There are three doors, the center one is called the holy doors. As a lay person you’re not even supposed to walk in front of that door. It’s viewed as disrespectful, even sacrilegious. So the people in charge of order and discipline were a bit stuck because these girls were dancing in the sanctuary, in front of the iconostasis and extracting them actually meant that they had to break the rules too. Several times a Pussy Riot girl bowed and did a full prostration. One does these things towards the altar in Orthodoxy. Reversing this as the protesters did is viewed as idolatry. Who, exactly, are they bowing to? That’s the genesis of the “devil dancing” talk in their trial.

Putin may have been a target but he certainly wasn’t the target. Their attack had a much wider range of victims. This was an attack on Orthodoxy, an attack on symphonia, the concept of church and state in complementary roles and mutual respect, and also an attack on Putin.

The maximum sentence was seven years for the crime of hooliganism. The prosecutors asked for three. The judge set sentence at two.

In the US, the results might not have been very different except for the name of the crime on the charge sheet. Simple criminal trespass in Indiana where I live is punishable between 6 months and 3 years with a fine up to $10,000. As this wasn’t Pussy Riot’s first case of trespass and outrageous behavior, this is exactly the sort of case that would tilt towards the heavier end of the penalty range.

13 thoughts on “Pussy Riot Dog Whistle”

  1. Somehow These ‘ladies’, along with Madonna, Sting, et al believe that their right to free speech (a right I am not at all sure exists in Mother Russia) overules church goers right to worship as they please. In fact, the libs make this assumption quite often as the OWS crowd demonstrated so often …the idea that trespassing, invasion of privacy, vandalism, and disruption of lawful assemblies in and out of churches are activities protected by the Constitutional right to free speech if the cause is one the libs support. It seems no one has the right to life liberty and pursuit of happiness if their pursuit is in a politically incorrect manner …. like attending church.

    Can anyone imagine the uproar should a Christian group invade a Gay and Lesbian Alliance hall and disrupt a meeting, chanting prayers or Bible verses?

  2. I feel that the punishment is disproportional. Russia was never truly a Christian country, and certainly much of what passes for religiosity today is purely for the show. I somehow doubt that many people there are disturbed by what these women did. I’m not sure they themselves knew what constitutes idolatry in Orthodox church and what doesn’t. I was born and raised in the Soviet Union, and I didn’t know.

  3. That symphonia thing never quite worked out for the church. It was bad in the second Rome, but in the third Rome the church was completely overwhelmed and eventually annexed by the state, reduced to just another government department and run like one.

    If symphonia were to be reintroduced today, there’s no question who would be the dominant partner in the relationship. After all, even Peter the Great managed to subdue the Church, and the means that old Vlad has at his disposal far exceed anything Peter could have imagined.

    Patriarch Kirill knows this, yet he still goes on sacrificing the moral authority and the independence of his church on the altar of his ambition and pride.

    He wants to turn the church into a government department again – he should not be surprised people are taking their protests against the government to his church.

  4. Well, speaking as someone who does not need a subtitled version of the song and who has read some of the women’s letters from prison and, indeed, translated one of them, I should like to point out that attacks on the Orthodox hierarchy by believing Christians, which at least some of these young women appear to be, is quite common in Russian history. Their crude but accurate point that the Patriarch and others in the hierarchy seem to spend more time pandering to a rather unpleasant regime than on thinking about God will strike a chord with Russians who go beyond the propaganda produced by the authorities. Just a matter of time, really. Not many people knew what Tolstoy said at first either. Or the religious dissidents in the Soviet Union who considered, rightly, the church hierarchy to be as much their enemy as the state, there being no distinction between the two.

    Western celebs jumping on the bandwagon is a completely different issue.

  5. Bill Waddell Says: Can anyone imagine the uproar should a Christian group invade a Gay and Lesbian Alliance hall and disrupt a meeting, chanting prayers or Bible verses?

    That was my thought too. If Pussy Riot had restricted themselves to protesting in front of the church, they would have my sympathy. Now, not so much. (And of course, it may have been intended as a publicity stunt.)

  6. All societies have a notion of the sacred. In the West Christianity is essentially dead and has been replaced by PC, Cultural Marxism or whatever you choose to call it- so what is sacred there is the official victim group.

    A few examples of Westerners punished for PC forms of neo-blasphemy:
    3 Years in Jail for Revising History: In 2006, the BBC reported, “British historian David Irving has been found guilty in Vienna of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry and sentenced to three years in prison.” The BBC also reported, “the judge in his 2000 libel trial declared him “an active Holocaust denier… anti-Semitic and racist.”” Irving’s beliefs, as unpopular as they may be, were expressed in his writings and speeches, not in the middle of a synagogue he had burst into.

    4 Years and 2 Years in Jail for Operating “Racist” Website: For the crime of operating a US-based “racist” website and possessing with intent to distribute “racist material,” two British men, Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle were sentenced to 4 years and 2 years respectively in the UK in 2009. The presiding judge, according to the BBC, “told the men their material was “abusive and insulting” and had the potential to cause “grave social harm.”” Unlike Pussy Riot, however, these 2 men only crammed their leaflets into the door of a synagogue – instead of bursting in. Still they received 3-4 years in prison.

    5 Years in Jail for Disagreeing With Mainstream History: Also in 2009, a man was jailed for 5 years for “propagating Nazi ideas and Holocaust denial” in Austria, Reuters reported. Gerd Honsik apparently wrote books and magazines which he attempted to distribute in schools, though it was the content of the material, not the manner in which he tried to distribute it that earned him his lengthy jail sentence. Unpopular though his ideas may be, according to the latest tirade by the West, he not only should’ve been allowed to proclaim them publicly, but do so in a place of worship amongst those he despised.

    3 Years in Jail for Harassing a Jewish Man and Public Hate Speech: In 2011, an Australian man posted an “anti-Semitic” video on YouTube earning him a 3 year jail sentence. The video apparently showed the convicted man insulting a Jewish man before going on a tirade “in front of the Perth Bell Tower,” reported ABC of Australia. Clearly insulting someone in Australia and creating a public disturbance is a punishable crime, yet somehow the Australian government sees insulting churchgoers in Russia as “freedom of expression.” Equally as clear, is that hypocrisy and selective principles are being liberally exercised.

    Detainment for “Hateful” Public Disturbance: This year, the British Daily Mail reported in their article, “Elmo in cuffs: Man dressed as Sesame Street character is carried away in Central Park after anti-Semitic rant in front of kids,” that “the appearance of a hate-spewing man dressed up as Elmo was a jarring one for many New Yorkers who visited Central Park on Sunday afternoon.” The article elaborated by saying that though the man was put in handcuffs and taken away, he was not arrested. While no arrest or sentence was handed down, the story clearly indicates that there is a line drawn as to what is “freedom of speech” and what is “disturbing the peace” in the United States.

    Arrested for Aggravating “religious and racial” Facebook Comments: For the crime of posting “anti-Semitic” remarks on Facebook, the BBC reported that “five men and a 15-year-old youth” were arrested in May, 2012. The BBC would elaborate by reporting, “the six people arrested were charged with a breach of the peace with religious and racial aggravations.”

  7. Don’t understand why Fnn puts words anti-Semitic and racist in scare quotes when he talks about hate. Not that people should be punished for hate or that there is anything wrong with making racism taboo on social level.

  8. Pussy Riot was being intentionally offensive, good explanation as to how from TM, but an important point to recall is in Russia the Patriarchate and Orthodox clergy are not in symphonia, they are part of the state security apparatus. By that I mean, not merely as co-opted informers, but also as actual officers of the secret police. This is as true today under Putin’s soft dictatorship as it was under the Soviets’ hard one




    Presumably, that state of affairs should be at least as offensive to the sensibilities of the believers as was Pussy Riot’s protest against the regime. There has not been an Orthodox Church in Russia free of state security since the death of St. Tikhon


    Had Pussy Riot protested somewhere less inflammatory and attention-getting, would the result not possibly have been worse? Russia is the land of cracked skulls and dead journalists and reformers who criticized Putin.

  9. Bill Waddell – While not entirely enforced in practice, freedom of speech is protected in Russia’s constitution and there are implementing rules in her legislation. Putin lost a chance to prosecute on entirely unobjectionable grounds. The hooliganism charge was self-defeating.

    PenGun – The Russian constitution, like a number of others, tempers its respect of free speech to ban citing religious hatred. I don’t think that this is the way to go (I like America’s variant better, thanks) which is why I opposed Canada’s deviations from protecting free speech too. Their song, sung in the most important church in Russia blasphemes the Holy Spirit while they evade attempts to kick them out as they criminally trespass. We don’t make things better when we ignore the trespass, blasphemy, and purposefully inducing others to sin.

    Edgeofthesandbox – I think that they over punished too. Community service in an Orthodox soup kitchen instead of prison would have been a better solution but I’m not sure that was available given the charges. I disagree profoundly on whether Russia is a christian country. If it was not Orthodox, what was it? And as for your later comment on racism, noted and agreed but I won’t address it more than tangentially because I don’t feel like hijacking my own thread. Racism

    Lukas – Yes, the state would be the dominant partner now. But symphonia gives an alternate path to power and an alternate way to think about power, something that Russia desperately needs. The Church in Russia needs reformation and renewal. Even Putin would agree with that.

    Helen – As per my reply to Lukas, the Church needs reform and yes, hierarchs are not exempt from criticism. If the subtitles were accurate, the singers blasphemed the Holy Spirit. That’s not the act of believers who are criticizing a corrupt hierarchy. An Orthodox reform movement that actively recruits and supports reformist seminarians and holds current hierarchs to account would be much more devastating in its effects on Russia’s moral corruption. But that’s not what we’re seeing here.

    Daran – If they’d have done it in front of the Church, they likely would not have been arrested.

    Fnn – All you say about Western elevation of PC is true. The hypocrisy level is pretty elevated. It will make their support for Pussy Riot ineffective, and unfortunately reinforce Us vs Them attitudes in Russia which is a shame. The pathetic cause of holocaust revisionism is one best fought openly without resort to the courts.

    Zenpundit – We agree on the sad state of Russian Orthodoxy’s hierarchy. Pressure needs to be applied to improve Orthodoxy’s personnel roster. Pussy Riot is not helping there. They have been protesting in a number of venues. While it is true that Putin is perfectly capable of administering a beating as a response, I don’t think he has in their case.

  10. TM, Lex, Zen, all:

    As some of you know, we’ve been having a parallel discussion of these matters on Zenpundit. One quite I ran across, and may well make the basis of a Zenpundit post, is this one, from Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith in the (UK) Catholic Herald, under the headline Catholics should be wary of supporting the Russian Orthodox Church against Pussy Riot:

    It cannot be the job of a Catholic such as myself to tell the Orthodox Church what to do. But let us remember, that when the Church is married to the spirit of the age, she will be a widow in the next. What will come after Putin? And what will the Patriarch do then?

  11. TMLutas,
    I am trying to write a post about Pussy Riot, but I have two little once, so it’s a bit of a challenge.
    Russia was never wholly converted; it’s just too big of a country. Today Russian Orthodoxy is largely a national identity matter.

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