A Review of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

 

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer details the aftermath of the Pussy Riot performance in the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Short review of the movie, I enjoyed it, mostly because it helps you realise what the situation is like for activists in Russia, particularly pro-feminist and anti Putinist activist.

 

 

First of here is the performance that caused all the trouble.

 

 

 

Less than a minute and a half of a few women singing on stage to a prerecorded sound track and doing some surprisingly well choreographed dance moves considering the situation.

 

 

The result was that three of the four women dancing in that cathedral were charged with ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’. At first I though that was a nonsense crime, but really it seems to be a bit of a mistranslation, in the Soviet Union hooliganism described any disruptive behaviour, apparently disorderly conduct would be the New Zealand equivalent.

 

 

The three women arrested were Nadia, Katia and Masha, they performed in the cathedral to draw attention to the links between the Church and State in Russia which the believed the cathedral symbolised. However conservative Russians found the performance to be highly offensive, the particular spot where they performed was forbidden to women and the lyrics that Pussy Riot sang were considered offensive.

 

 

The film uses footage from members of Pussy Riot and media covering the trial as well as interviewing their families and people who were opposed to Pussy Riot. It takes you through the groups history and how the three women arrested came to be activists, as well as the trial and their eventual imprisonment.

 

 

From watching the documentary you get the idea the trial was a bit of a joke and the conclusion was never in doubt. The three were found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison, former gulags in South and East Russia to be precise. I can’t help but disagree with the sentence though, the hooliganism charge I can’t really argue with because I don’t understand what it means in Russia. However, the three were clearly not motivated by religious hatred, take a look at the lyrics of their song.

 

 

St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin!

Black robe, golden epaulettes
All parishioners are crawling and bowing
The ghost of freedom is in heaven
Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB is their chief saint
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend the Holy
Women have to give birth and to love

Shit, shit, It’s God’s shit!
Shit, shit, It’s God’s shit!
St. Maria, Virgin, become a feminist
Become a feminist, Become a feminist

Church praises the rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
In school you are going to meet with a teacher-preacher
Go to class – bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, you better believed in God
A chastity belt is no substitute for mass-meetings
In protest of our Ever-Virgin Mary!

St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin!

Pussy Riot clearly has a problem with Putin and the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church as well as the Churches promotion of Putin and oppression of women. However that isn’t religious hatred, it is possible to criticise things without hating them, in fact looking at the lyrics they suggests that they feel that the Orthodox Patriachs support for Putin is getting in the way of his religious role. I really don’t see how there can not be ambiguity around their ‘hatred’ of the Orthodox Church. My favourite point of the movie is when Masha says she doesn’t understand the charges because she doesn’t understand what the basis for her hatred is. Of course the judge gets annoyed and the trial steam rolls ahead.

 

 

“God will punish you, mark my words! God will punish you for going near the altar!”

 

 

Which raises the question, if God is going to punish these women anyway why does that state have to as well.

 

 

Also the sentence was out of all proportion to their crimes, their performance was less than 2 minutes long. If the cathedral was full, which it clearly was not, and the total disruption lasted for five minutes then a grand total of 25,000 people minutes would have been disrupted, by comparison the three women were sentenced to spend a total of 3,156,000 people minutes in prison. Those two numbers are very different and I don’t see any way it could be justified.

 

 

However Pussy Riot were the winners of this trial, even if Nadia, Katia and Masha came out worse off worse. This trial really shone a light on Russia and over the past two years a length stream of authoritarian conservatism stories have been coming out of Russia. International pressure is growing against Russia.

 

 

But I’m not convinced this will change anything in Russia… The countries government seems resolute to continue being authoritarian and corrupt regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

 

 

Also Blog related Stuff

I’m thinking over the next few weeks I’ll do a bit of a review of the local body candidates in Hamilton this election.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Glenice H. Gart said,

    September 6, 2013 at 16:20

    I suppose the lyrics “Shit, shit, It’s God’s shit!” might be argued to express religious hatred.

    • September 10, 2013 at 04:42

      I don’t see how. Everything up to that point is about the relationship between the church and state, half of the lines before then are actually referring to the actions of the state imprisoning people. If anything God’s Shit is expressing hatred of the justice system in Russia. But if you would like to make that argument I’d be stoked to read it.

      • Glenice H. Gart said,

        September 12, 2013 at 12:33

        Yes I find it quite difficult to disentangle criticism of the state and criticism of the church in these lyrics. And the criticism of the church that is there – is it criticism of the church’s core beliefs? Or is it criticism of the church for getting in bed with the state, and possibly in the process even abandoning its core beliefs?

        The lines:
        “…The head of the KGB is their chief saint
        Leads protesters to prison under escort”

        Seems to suggest the latter option. But these:

        “…In order not to offend the Holy
        Women have to give birth and to love”

        to me seem to suggest the former. The call to the Virgin Mary to become a feminist – is this so she can cast off the shackles of her religion? Or be true to it? I wouldn’t want to rule either way on this.

        If we return for a minute to ‘shit’ though – a standard tactic for blaspheming, or tearing down, things that people regard as sacred is to associate them with things that are disgusting or revolting.

        Thanks for the review – really enjoyed it!

      • September 12, 2013 at 14:08

        I will agree with everything you said except that I don’t find challenging the core beliefs of a religion or blaspheming to be proof of religious hatred. In this context the blaspheming strikes me as attention seeking and nothing more while it is possible to criticise something without hating that thing. Yes they have been offensive to the Orthodox crowd but they were found guilty of being motivated by religious hatred, which is further than the evidence supports.

        Glad you enjoyed this post.


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