Putin’s Kulturkampf

The trial and punishment of Pussy Riot was the latest battle in a Kulturkampf between Russia's liberal intelligentsia and conservative, often fundamentalist believers in the unity of the Orthodox Church and the Russian state. By staging a show trial, Putin has staked his presidency on an eventual conservative victory.

MOSCOW – August is often an unlucky month in Russia, particularly President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Submarines have sunk, neighbors have been invaded, and forests have burned out of control. But, this August, the crisis was purely man-made – indeed, made by one man. The conviction of three members of the agitprop punk-rock group Pussy Riot for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” has turned the three young women into an international cause célèbre.

On February 21, 2012, five members of the group tried to stage a performance, later described as a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The “prayer” lasted for no more than 40 seconds, at which point security personnel expelled the performers. But their visit to Russia’s largest church was not in vain – footage of five women, dressed in glowing dresses and balaclavas while jumping in front of the altar, circulated widely on the Internet.

Their song accused Kirill, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, of kowtowing to the government and advised him to believe in God, not Putin. The song’s refrain – “Mother of God, drive Putin away!” – incited the wrath of both church and state. So retribution was certain. The word “blasphemy” was used more and more frequently. On March 3, the day before the presidential election, two members of the group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, were arrested. A third, Yekaterina Samutsevich, followed them to prison 12 days later.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

http://prosyn.org/9wY7IuK;
  1. haass102_ATTAKENAREAFPGettyImages_iranianleaderimagebehindmissiles Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

    Taking on Tehran

    Richard N. Haass

    Forty years after the revolution that ousted the Shah, Iran’s unique political-religious system and government appears strong enough to withstand US pressure and to ride out the country's current economic difficulties. So how should the US minimize the risks to the region posed by the regime?

  2. frankel100_SpencerPlattGettyImages_mansitswithumbrellawallstreet Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    The US Recovery Turns Ten

    Jeffrey Frankel

    The best explanation for the current ten-year US economic expansion – tied for the longest since 1854 – is disappointingly simple: the Great Recession was the worst downturn since the 1930s. And if the dates of American business cycles were determined by the rule that most other countries apply, the current expansion would be far from beating the record.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.