The Reckoning

Pussy Riot v Mother Russia

pussy riot members
A threat to the state of things: From left, Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit inside a glass enclosure during a court hearing in Moscow last week. 

Photo by Natalia Kolensnikova/AFP/Getty Images.

Mother Russia? Really? Does this strike anyone as an anachronism? Maybe it’s time, what with “Mother Russia” about to jail a bunch of lingerie-wearing, punk-rocking female political activists, for us to arrange a moniker trade. Germany—“the Fatherland”—seems wildly misnamed right now, for instance. With Angela Merkel’s finger controlling the flow of blood through Europe’s economic jugular, das Mutterland might be more suitable. Then Vladimir Putin and his boys can fulfill their judo-chopping, bare-chested destiny and become, at last, a mythical Slavic Vaterland.

I hear you—“What was in his cereal this morning?” you’re asking. Well, it’s all down to Pussy Riot, the female punk band facing seven years in prison in the latest, and most self-defeating, of the Kremlin’s overreactions to those who just want a little democracy in their country.

Many of my American readers will know Pussy Riot primarily because the stars of stage and screen, including a bevy of Hollywood actors, Yoko Ono, Bono, et cetera, have petitioned for their release. The three women, all in their 20s, are charged with hooliganism and sacrilege for performing an anti-Putin song last spring at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.

The Kremlin was not amused, and within days a kangaroo court will issue a verdict that could be up to seven years in Russia’s tuberculosis-infested prison system.

For some reason, Madonna’s protest on the band’s behalf during a Moscow concert was the thing that really pissed the Russians off.  Madonna, of course, is no stranger herself to charges of sacrilege. But Russia’s former ambassador to NATO, summing up the private sentiments of Russia’s ruling elites, denounced her in Twitter a “moralizing slut.” That’s Russian for “Madonna whore,” I think, which is the whole point of her persona, right?

“Either take off the cross or put on panties,” he tweeted in his best diplomatic prose.

You really can’t make that stuff up.

Pussy Riot are no angels—and, again, that’s the point, right? But they’ve comported themselves in captivity in the finest tradition of patriots.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a 22-year-old guitarist for the band, put it this way in her closing statements last week in Moscow: “This is a trial of the whole government system of Russia, which so likes to show its harshness toward the individual, its indifference to his honor and dignity. If this political system throws itself against three girls … it shows this political system is afraid of truth.”

You can hear the manly belly laughs emanating from the Kremlin.

Of course, there are wonderful Machiavellian (or should we say, Rasputineque) opportunities here for Putin. By pardoning the “criminal” rock band, he can show that, underneath that iron exterior, there beats the heart of a bear (a bear mommy, of course, as this is still the Motherland). “Mother Bear gets quite angry sometimes when her cubs are naughty,” he might announce through the Kremlin’s spokesman. “But mommy loves you. Remember, anything I do to you is for your own good, darlings.”

Or, he can let the Russian Orthodox Church hold the bag. The church—allegedly the “offended party” here—has given no quarter, Christian charity be damned. The bearded zealots (and that’s just the women) feel violated by Pussy Riot’s sacrilege and want the full force of the law to rain down upon their harlotty heads in this world, before their thongs are burned off of them in a fiery, eternal afterlife in hell.

This is the “mother church” of Orthodox Christianity. Nice.

Whatever course Putin’s government chooses—and don’t kid yourself, his writ sways the courts, too—the Kremlin seems determined to drive home its point: A Pussy Riot is a spectacle, but for real, unadulterated violence and vindictiveness, a penis still helps.