Politics and P.R. (Pussy Riot, Punk Rock, PRokhorova, and, well, just PR)

As the court deliberates on the fate of Pussy Riot, celebrities and cultural ministers and yes, even some actual Russians have voiced concern. In an interview with Pussy Riot’s lawyers, the New Times’ Elena Masyuk marvels that this trial has done more to blemish Russia’s image than the war with Georgia, the blatant miscarriage of justice for imprisoned Yukos-founder Khodorovsky, and Putin’s “re-election” combined.

One particular effort caught our eye – an Amnesty International banner proclaiming that “Punk Rock is not a crime.”

It’s encouraging to see people fighting, but it would be more encouraging to see them know what they’re fighting for. To be clear, THIS TRIAL WAS NEVER ABOUT PUNK ROCK.

As Facebook-friendly as the story goes, it’s not Punk vs Putin. For starters, the situation in Russia is not the work of one man, as Vladimir Pastukhov dared to venture in his column  yesterday (We haven’t translated it, but it’s worth reading if you can.) And secondly, we should remember that Russia – and specifically Leningrad – has an absolutely rich and fascinating history of Punk. Just look to Perestroika, when bands like Svinyi were rejecting everything about the social order.  The Necrorealists were publicly doing things far more subversive than Pussy Riot might ever dream: from gang-bang sodomy sessions on public buses to painting canvases of dismembered corpses to staging guerrilla fighting and lynching of life-like dummies in the forests, in full view of the passing passenger trains. (For a brief primer, just watch this video.)

So if it’s not about Punk, what is at stake here? Law? Religion?

In the the interview with Masyuk [All that follows are the translations of Baibakov Art Projects, for the purposes of this blog ONLY. Find the full text here.], Pussy Riot lawyer Violetta Volkova confesses, “today’s trial with Pussy Riot is just more evidence that if the state needs to crush you, it will do it, regardless of any laws, or international standards of justice, regardless of public opinion. We’re not anticipating any mercy from the state here.” In fact, as she admits later, “You know, I have the feeling that this is our last trial, because after this, they are certainly going to try to revoke our ability to practice law… We are not seeing the judicial process as it’s meant to be. We are seeing higher powers of the state attempting to humiliate lawyers in front of the journalist sitting in the courtroom.”

As for the new climate of political Orthodoxy? Lawyer Mark Feigin continues, “This is a de-ideologized system, authoritarian and corporate in its own way, and – very importantly – materially motivated. This is its core.”

This is a completely utilitarian thing: it arose from the need to fill the lack of some form of ideology. With what? Western democracy? That wasn’t their style, organically; it would limit their possibilities as rulers. And what else is left in the trunk? Reliance on the authority of the Church and the clergy. I don’t see much Christianity in any of these, but I do see bureaucratic apparatus, the Synod, the corporate aspects.  In this model, Orthodoxy serves as the core ideology. Of course, any other faith could have stood in…

So basically, this is not about religion, it’s about civil society, a position promoted by Irina Prokhorova.  In a piece for Echo Moscow, cited August as a traditional month for uprisings in Russian history, before comparing Pussy Riot to Adam Smith. We have provided a translation of excerpts below. (Bear with us as we quote it at length, but we believe Prokhorova hits on some important truths that don’t fit on a Facebook banner.) [PLEASE NOTE: This translation is Baibakov Art Projects’, for the purposes of this blog ONLY. Please find the original text here.]

The paradox of our young civil society is that it exists in spite of everything else, that is, it’s technically illegal from the perspective of our current state and religious leaders. Our secular culture clearly does not have the arguments strong enough to defend its rights and freedoms and life styles.

The show trials of the last decade – starting with Khodorovsky and the trials around the “Watch Out Religion!” exhibition, and leading up to the current charges against Pussy Riot – all have demonstrated that the expert assessment of the financial workings of enterprises,  the artistic value in a work of art, appeals to the Constitution and the rights of man can all be easily shut down by one argument: an insult to the feelings of believers/veterans/ordinary citizens, etc.

In this situation, morality and justice become the sole property of the authoritarian system, while advocates of democracy or civil society are relegated to the unenviable role of trouble-makers, libertines, free-thinkers – basically, “Voltaireans.” In some senses, we find ourselves in the exact same situation as 17th century Western Europe, when there was the vital necessity to formulate a new Humanist system of values, which could serve as the ethical measure for all of society while protecting secular culture from the clutches of the clergy.  Why hasn’t this happened, if we have so easily mastered modern political rhetoric?

The thing is, the Russian educated class, brought up on the masterpieces of European thought and art, have unconsciously shut their eyes to the obvious, miserable fact: in Russia, there has never been an autonomous secular culture, nor a full-fledged civil society.

The history of the Russian state is one of a painful struggle for the existence of a humanist civil society. This is how it was under the Russian Empire, and how it was under the Soviets. (Although the Soviet Union was a classically fundamentalist government, where the function of a total aggressive religion was fulfilled by the Communist doctrine.) The whiff of freedom in the 1990s played a very cruel trick on us: setting loose the market economy, the democratically-minded part of society did not take care to develop a clear ethical foundation for the new society.

Prokhorova insists that Russians must take it upon themselves to lay these foundations now, concluding:

The events of the past few months have shown that the sound-minded parts of society are ready to take on this kind of endeavor.

Of course, it is amusing that the catalyst for the maturing of an intellectual revolution comes not from the underlying efforts of Russian Kants, Voltaires or Adam Smiths, but from the antics of the girls from Pussy Riot.

Then again, what can we say? We’re living in a Postmodern era…

We could not have put it better ourselves.

The verdict is expected on August 17, 2012. Until then, we’ll be following more arguments as they develop.

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2 Responses to Politics and P.R. (Pussy Riot, Punk Rock, PRokhorova, and, well, just PR)

  1. Pingback: Radya, Taus and Biennales Galore: In Which We Get Excited about 2013 | Baibakov Art Projects

  2. Pingback: Black is the New Orange: Post-Prison Pussy Riot | Baibakov Art Projects

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