Friday, March 09, 2012

Russia: Orthodox Believers Stand Up For Jailed Anti-Putin Punk Rockers

Sympathizers rallied in support of Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova outside a Moscow police station on March 8

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

Orthodox Believers Stand Up For Jailed Anti-Putin Punk Rockers

By Claire Bigg
Public outrage is mounting over the jailing of two Russian women accused of staging an illegal anti-Kremlin performance in Moscow's largest church.

Investigators claim the pair belong to the all-girl dissident punk group Pussy Riot that broke into Christ the Savior Cathedral last month and performed a caustic "punk prayer" from the altar.

The young women, who have been on hunger strike since their March 3 arrest, face up to seven years behind bars if convicted on a hooliganism charge that includes motives of religious hatred.

Sympathizers rallied on March 8 outside police headquarters in Moscow to demand their release.

"I think it was wrong to place Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina in pre-trial detention for their performance. Both have small children," said Olga, a 19-year Moscow student who attended the Moscow rally. "That's why I came today."

A Moscow court this week ordered the women's detention until April 24. News of their plight has spread beyond Russia's borders; similar pickets were planned today in Paris, Berlin, and Prague.

Facebook accounts and an e-mail address have also been set up to drum up support for Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina.

Gone Too Far This Time?

This is not Pussy Riot's first guerrilla concert. The group has performed a number of dissident songs in public places, including one on Red Square called "Putin Pissed Himself."

The band members, who wear brightly colored dresses and conceal their faces behind ski masks, denounce Russia's authoritarianism and lack of reform.

But many Russians say Pussy Riot has simply gone too far. Footage of the gig at Christ the Savior is making the rounds on the Internet and has sparked a heated debate:

Many believers found the song, which criticizes the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties to the Kremlin and calls on the Virgin Mary to "drive out" Putin, deeply offensive.

"Girls, get prepared for trial, you'll receive your fee in prison," writes one LiveJournal user.

"Burn them at the stake!" writes another.

Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin has hailed the arrest of the activists and, while saying they did not deserve prison, called for a severe punishment.

Putin himself, fresh from his March 4 presidential victory, has personally apologized to Orthodox followers on behalf of Pussy Riot and voiced hope that such incidents would not happen again.

Embarrassed By Church Reaction

Not all Orthodox, however, back the legal assault against Pussy Riot.

Many say they are embarrassed by their church's reaction so far and thousands have signed an open letter calling on Patriarch Kirill, who has yet to react publicly on the matter, to intercede in their favor.

"Most of us believe such behavior in a church is unacceptable," says the letter. "But we consider that the reaction to this incident -- the prosecution, the detention, and the harsh comments by members of the Orthodox Church toward participants of the 'punk prayer' -- has been even more unacceptable."

Photo RIA Novosti