Mary Dejevsky: Pussy Riot's enemies don't stop at Vladimir Putin

The Church is one of few institutions to have flourished since the fall of the USSR

Share

Three 20-something women who look, in their glass courtroom cage, no more than girls, are being tried in Moscow for "hooliganism". The charge, which could see them imprisoned for seven years, relates to an anti-Putin song they sang in Moscow's main cathedral. The case of the Pussy Riot three has, rightly, prompted outrage, both that criminal charges were brought at all in response to what appears little more than a punk-band prank, and for the harshness of their treatment – they have spent the past five months in custody. The celebrated quotation about "a butterfly broken on a wheel", which headed a Times editorial about Mick Jagger's 1967 drugs trial, has received a new outing in the English-speaking world.

Amid the outrage, however, one aspect of the case risks being lost. In performing their anti-Putin routine before the altar of the cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the women offended not just one, but two, powerful constituencies. The first, and the one most Western condemnation has focused on, is Vladimir Putin – back in the Kremlin for a third presidential term. But the second is the Russian Orthodox Church.

It is a little as though British anarchists had called for the Queen's head from the altar in Westminster Abbey, in an age when both the monarchy and the Church were held in awe. Even this comparison, though, underplays the position of Russia's Orthodox Church.

For all the compromises with secular power that taint its past, the Church is one of very few institutions that have flourished since the fall of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's perestroika relaxed the grip of official atheism, and churches rushed to re-gild their domes and commission new icons. Orthodoxy became a rallying point for Russians' reclaimed national identity.

And the cathedral of Christ the Saviour has resonance beyond this. Built to commemorate the retreat of Napoleon and dynamited by Stalin, it was rebuilt on the personal order of Russia's first post-Soviet leader, Boris Yeltsin. The crowds that now throng its services testify to the religious, as well as national, revival of the past 20 years.

Some of the fiercest ire against Pussy Riot has come not from the Kremlin, nor from a patently equivocal Prime Minister, but from Orthodox clergy and ordinary people, who regard the group's antics as blasphemy, and do not separate Church and State. The Kremlin's hand may indeed be discerned in this prosecution, but so can the outlines of a dispute about tolerance and what sort of society Russia wants to be. The reference to "breaking a butterfly on a wheel" is thus still more pertinent than it might seem. The Pussy Riot trial is about culture quite as much as it is about power.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all