Pussy Riot confirmed what the Kremlin wants Russians to think of its critics.
Last week’s “Duly Noted” dealt with a protest. The action against Putin came from a punk band, self-branded –and not thusly libeled- as “Pussy Riot”. Your columnist reported how the three women of the gang entered in Moscow the “Christ the Savior” cathedral to put on a show they called a protest.
By Duly Noted’s judgment, that protest, sold, as a “Punk Prayer” had been an exercise in lewdness. That tastelessness, was rated by the perpetrators as “art”. The term seems to be an excuse for anything. Whatever the real purpose the performance, the women bared everything –except much of a political purpose. Accordingly, the problem did not come from asking the “Virgin Mary” –an insufficiently emancipated Godess- to intercede “further up” to remove Putin. CXlaiming that no support for “Putinism” is intended, the commentary targeted the band. In “The Punk Test of Liberty’s Limits”, a point was made. The piece argued that the previously ignored group gave legitimacy of what Putin does with his presidential power. The focus of the posting had been the improper form of Pussy Riot’s (hereafter “PR”) self-serving action.
PR’s “critique” alienated your otherwise anticlerical correspondent. The case can be summarized. If you have a valid argument, you do not need to shout. A convincing case does without theatrical embellishments. Only the lack of facts demands noisy “padding”. The form of a protest can impair its point. Bad taste and the injury of values and folkways will not augment the impact of a presentation. PR claimed to act in behalf of hindered liberty but it did so in a way that violated the sensitivities and, even worse, the rights of others. Claiming to do "good" is no justification of what are, by any standard, bad deeds. PR intended to shock, and any cause would have served its purpose to call attention to itself. That pursued goal is located less in the realm of public affairs and more in that of publicity. Displaying a lot of skin and having little to say in an unsuited place, even if accompanied by amplified music, does not win arguments. This remains the case even if those legitimately present at the venue are put in a state of shock by the disrespectful violation of the place’ privacy and the demeanor expected there. This puts PR’s anti-Putin performance in the category of self-serving publicity.
A letter reacting to the article prompts the return to the subject. Its translated gist is that “No matter how tasteless and lacking in depth” PR can only be expected to express itself “in its own way”. The message that Putin shall go to hell is “in itself, praiseworthy”. Praise is due for “the courage exhibited” by the punks. “Had it not expressed itself in that way then it would not have been a Pussy Riot action and it would have remained the protest of a small group of youths. Proceeding in a less tasteless manner, they would have received less attention. This counts. It matters that the average Westerner is made aware of Putin’s tyrannical abuse of authority. In that light it is immaterial that even the name, PR, is a lewd regardless of whether used in a church or on the fish-market.”
Let us affirm that, protest against repression is legitimate. “Slavery” and unfreedom, even if legally mandated, is illegitimate. Asserting elementary human rights against the laws of a dictatorship violates regulations but is morally legitimate. This principle supports resistance and, if need be, the right to revolution. Even so, we need to be careful about how we apply the principle of lawful disobedience.
Not every action against a tyranny is made legitimate by intending to topple a dictatorship. In the past National Socialist and Communists, and in the present Islamists, have opposed suppressive regimes. However, doing so does not make these democratic. Accordingly, the power they assumed has not createt systems of liberty. Dictatorships can oppose each other without becoming, through that, democratic and freedom loving. Therefore, the opposition to a dictatorship does not amount to a democratic movement. In the realm of practical politics, dictatorships are likely to produce, besides a democratic opposition, also authoritarian alternatives. This is no accident. Authoritarian movements will be more effective under the restrictions of dictatorship than will be the advocates of an open society. Nazi rule strengthened in occupied Europe their Communist opposition and not the democrats. Similarly, given the chaos of the time, in 1933 the real choice of the Germans was not between Hitler or a democrat but Hitler or the Communist Thälman. Batista in Cuba did not retire in favor of a local George Washington but was followed by Castro and Guevara.
PR opposes Putin. That made them feel authorized to proceed by violating the rights of others. With that, they applied Lenin’s definition of right and wrong. To him the question was “who whom”. Thus the issue was not the decency of a deed but who did “it” to whom, who abused whose rights. Some regard this principle to be the thought with which the derailment of lived Communism began. Conclusion: opposing a dictatorship is not necessarily opposition to dictatorship per se or a certificate of the intent to liberate.
In the light of PR’s needlessly lewd performance in a cathedral, the question inspired by Lenin arises. It is a test to be applied to all movements that claim to pursue “liberation”. Ask yourself what the deeds in opposition betray about their post-victory policies. What does that comportment reveal about the use power once it is attained? In this case, ignore Putinism. Ponder whether you would want to live in a system run by PR?
What, besides fame, has PR achieved? If the goal has been, as claimed, the reform, possibly the removal of Putinism, then the result negates the intention. The disorderly conduct that, even in democratic countries would have legal and social consequences, has agitated many Russians. A claim that authoritarians like to make, has gained credibility. Putin’s contention that “order” depends upon his leadership, received confirmation. So has the claim that “your choice is between me and chaos”. Between rule by “Putin” and that of the “punks”, the average person will choose the former.
As we conclude, the consequences of PR’s protest should be considered. Pussy Riot shocked needlessly and without any political benefit. While advertising itself, PR created support for authoritarian rule and compromised the genuinely democratic opposition. Legislation with sanctions against desecration and for the protection of religious sentiments is in the making in Russia. Applied, such laws will help to suppress dissent and cement the alliance between the regime and its subjects.