The conviction of three members of the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot have drawn sympathy and solidarity from around the world. The crime was ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ though the performance lasted less than 2 minutes the three singers have received 2 years each. The sentence was excessive by any measure as the standard sentence for ‘hooliganism’ is 15 days. In his usual man-beast posturing Putin claimed that the Pussy Riot singers wouldn’t have survived if they had pulled a similar stunt in a mosque in the Caucasus. It should go without saying that even if this were the case would it mean that Christian countries should stoop to the same level? It has nothing to do with Christianity or offence. Putin has used the Russian Orthodoxy as a rod to beat this feminist punk band because it represents opposition. It demonstrates his ultimate impotence. The father who beats you is not stronger than the father who can instil silence just by looking at you. The obscenity of Putin is close to public view now. This scandal may be a welcome wedge to be driven into an anaemic political discourse.
Putin has long been perched at the apex of ultra-political populism and anti-political despair, it’s inevitable that he will fall rather than relinquish power. Yeltsin did not hold onto his dignity when he gave up the reins of power and neither shall Putin. The impotence of the Kremlin was further demonstrated by the security lockdown that had to be imposed across Moscow in anticipation of protest over the verdict. And there has been plenty of protest, and no doubt there's plenty to come. These events are symptomatic of the authoritarian brand of Russo-capitalism now not even concealed behind democratic institutions. The Kremlin might as well as revert to the old mantra of the Tsars: orthodoxy, authority, nationality. It’s certain that these are the pillars of the superstructure in the Putinian management of Russia's rapacious capitalism. Only in the midst of the chaos inflicted on Russian society by the breakdown of really existing socialism and the turmoil of really existing democracy could Putin take the reins as a self-styled Leviathan.
The exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky appeared on Newsnight in debate with Putin apologist Alexander Nekrassov over the trial and verdict. Nekrassov insisted that the band should’ve performed elsewhere, as the cathedral has a political resonance in Russia given that it was rebuilt to symbolise the end of Stalinism. He suggests that Pussy Riot should have sung at Lenin’s mausoleum for example. The idea that the band could make a devastating statement against Putin’s rule in this way is farcical.In response, Berezovsky made his standard soap box pose as an enlightened proponent of a people’s capitalism. He made a casual case for religious pluralism, that we all communicate to God in our own way and the particularly free creativity of Pussy Riot poses a threat to tyranny. Then came the usual spiel about Putin’s personal involvement in exiling Berezovsky and poisoning Alexander Litvinenko. No doubt these are major crimes, but Berezovsky’s only real complaint is that the Yeltsin years came to an end. All Berezovsky cares about is stuffing himself with the riches of a vast and beautiful nation.
This simply will not do. We may enjoy the antics of Russian oligarchs in Britain, but there’s a reason these people are over here taking advantage of loopholes in our tax system. The moralisations of Western liberals will not do with this kind of conduct. It's easy for any Russian to see. George Osborne and Peter Mandelson were caught out yachting it with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and suspected murderer. That's fine company for the guardians of freedom! And what of this talk of Russia 'immature' democracy? Again, it's a bit rich given that Britain itself is a deformed democracy and the same can be said of its republican neighbours. What about civil liberties and human rights? The former puppet-states of the Soviet Union have done their bit, Uzbekistan have taken prisoners 'renditioned' by Western intelligence agencies to boil them alive. The US government has recently rammed through an act which allows them to legally murder American citizens if they think they are part of the ‘associated forces of al-Qaeda’. Putin can always say "Well, you're no better!" and we walk right into that one on a regular basis.
The juxtaposition between the Kremlin’s whore Nekrassov and the kleptocrat Berezovsky serves as a reminder of the dilemma for the Russian people. The choice for many Russians seems to be a return to the rapacious ‘shock therapy’ after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which plunged over 70 million people into poverty while Moscow became a playground for billionaires and stray dogs. By comparison with the Chinese model the Russian brand of capitalism is particularly inefficient, dysfunctional, cronyistic and unproductive. The Russian state opted to sell-off state industries over night to boldly leap into the developed world. In actuality it just opened up a space for an oligarchy to spring up at the expense of the rest of society. The only major opposition comes from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. It is more like a far-right party than a socialist party in its bid to criminalise the lives of ‘foreigners’ and ethnic minorities. The choice is Putin or fascism. And all too often we in the West indulge in the illusions of self-love, "Aren't we better than these barbarians?" Meanwhile Russia is no better.