Foreign Policy Blogs

Pussy Riot or Dixie Chicks?

A few months ago, few Americans had heard of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk band turned latest icon of the anti-Putin opposition. That’s because the band was known under a different name in the US press: ‘P***y Riot’.

In an amusing and predictable turn of events, the same American newspapers have got busy accusing Putin of viciously censoring musicians whose very name was deemed too risqué to even show their own readers.

Of course, such little hypocrisies should not detract from the grotesque injustice done to the young women in question. But it raises some interesting questions that may help put the incident into better perspective.

The facts: A group of young women members of a feminist punk band called Pussy Riot, dressed in what resembles bondage gear, enter Russia’s central religious shrine, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and perform a song at the altar calling for the Virgin Mary to chase Putin out of office and suggesting that Russia’s archbishop believes in Putin rather than God.

Pussy Riot is witty, funny and provocative. Certainly, their brave performance did not merit the relentlessly disproportionate response of a hideous show trial.

But just imagine for a moment such a thing happening elsewhere, even in the U.S., where there is no powerful central church.

Imagine a feminist punk band storming a Baptist church in Alabama or Arkansas six or seven years ago, and calling for Jesus to depose George Bush. They would almost certainly be arrested, probably for their own protection. And for all the ways Bush was reviled, the women would be very short of public sympathy.  Then ask yourself, how many of the same liberal organs condemning Putin today would have leapt to their defence?

Or, take an even better parallel: a religious country with an established, official church. Say Italy or Ireland.

In none of these places would Pussy Riot have garnered as much sympathy in the Western media. After all, remember the Dixie Chicks? Though the band were not detained by the state, they faced death threats, a radio boycott, overwhelming media hostility, even congressional attention. All  just for saying that they were ashamed that George Bush was a fellow Texan. This is in one of the most pluralistic and democratic places on earth, for a much lesser “crime.”

All this just goes to show that the desirability of political provocation and pushing the boundaries or civic-religious discourse still too often depends on it targeting someone “we” don’t like.

 

 
  • John

    Its not little hypocrisies so much as Nikitin’s perennial “whataboutism” that pervades his Russophilic interpretation of the Pussy Riot action. The girls have been in jail for 6 months and face 7 years in jail when activists like Udaltsov and Navalny got 15 days! Now a corrupt and biased Putinist judge is orchestrating a show-trial no better than that which convicted Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This just shows the Western world that maybe Russia really isn’t a part of what it would think is Europe, and rather like somewhere beyond the “Stans”.

Author

Vadim Nikitin
Vadim Nikitin

Vadim Nikitin was born in Murmansk, Russia and grew up there and in Britain. He graduated from Harvard University with a thesis on American democracy promotion in Russia. Vadim's articles about Russia have appeared in The Nation, Dissent Magazine, and The Moscow Times. He is currently researching a comparative study of post-Soviet and post-Apartheid nostalgia.
Areas of Focus:
USSR; US-Russia Relations; Culture and Society; Media; Civil Society; Politics; Espionage; Oligarchs

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