Another Self-Inflicted Wound For Russian Regime

If the Putin regime and other authorities in Russia care a whit for World Opinion, they sure are not showing it in their handling of non-violent dissidents, most notably the increasingly famous feminist punk protest band Pussy Riot, whose three main members were sentenced today to two years in prison for outraging the sensibilities of Orthodox believers via an anti-Putin flash-performance in Moscow’s Church of Christ the Savior.

Already the object of global “Free Pussy Riot” protests that are attracting music celebrities everywhere, Pussy Riot’s members may suffer personally from the jailings (if they are actually carried out), but they are having a massive impact on perceptions of Russia in the West, as noted by Kristen Capps at The Awl:

All the elements are there, no question: Pussy Riot have managed to connect the thread between the Russian conceptual art tradition and the Western punk tradition. And even though their protest speaks specifically to the relationship between President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill I, they’ve arrived at a message that speaks to the victims of a global war on women. And beyond: Tolokonnikova has appeared for court wearing a “¡No pasarán!” t-shirt (“They shall not pass!”)—a simple gesture that puts Pussy Riot in common cause with French resistance, Spanish communists, and Gandalf the Grey.

Thanks to the attention Pussy Riot is drawing to Russian intolerance, they’ve also helped dramatize the persecution of gay rights activists in the country, who are battling such policies as Moscow’s 100-year ban on gay pride marches.

We’ll see if Putin-style authoritarianism is as resistant to media-driven anger and mockery as the predecessor communist regime undoubtedly was. But it looks like they–not to mention the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church–don’t quite know what they’re dealing with so brutally and stupidly.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.