Pussy Riot: From a trumpet with an uncertain voice


by Sean Gabb

Here is a link to the infamous Pussy Riot video. I know everyone important is frothing about the death of freedom in Russia. However, I have a number of observations:

1. They entered a place of worship and committed what any reasonable person would regard as blasphemy. It would be a different matter if they had uttered blasphemies other than here. But this surely makes a difference. After all, most of us would defend the right of a man to say that the Holocaust never happened. We might be less willing to defend him if he had crept into a synagogue to do so.

2. The place of worship they entered was the Church of Christ the Saviour. The original building was demolished by Stalin as one of the culminations of the Bolshevik war on superstition. Its rebuilding and reconsecration in the 1990s was a leading symbol of the return to normal civilisation.

3. If they had entered a mosque in Birmingham to do what they did, they would probably be looking at much the same time inside – that is, if they had survived – and all “people of goodwill” would be denouncing them as a collective Emma West.

4. Russia has at best a tenuous history of religious or any other kind of tolerance. Two years inside for this stikes me as rather moderate.

These points in mind, I feel sorry for anyone who gets two years in a Russian prison. But they brought this on themselves. They are lucky to get off so comparatively lightly. Most of the complaints are from people who diskile Putin’s Russia for its disinclination to bow before the neocon hegemony.

I may, of course, be missing something important. If so, I look forward to correction. SIG

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27 responses to “Pussy Riot: From a trumpet with an uncertain voice

  1. Gregory Leovigild

    Well, exactly. I was moderately sympatheic until I saw the video on RT this morning. This was not legitimate dissent or freedom of expression. It was simply hooliganism, a self-publicity stunt that evidently worked. And you are correct about the relative leniency of the sentence, even compared to Germany or the United States.

  2. Well, I think in relative terms you’re right. I have been watching this outpouring of support and thinking, “…and Emma West? Where are the celebs declaring their support for her?”.

    In absolute terms, in libertarian terms, this should not be a crime, presuming they committed no criminal damage. The property owners have a right to eject them using whatever degree of force is necessary. They are effectively trespassing and being rude about it. I cannot agree with the prison terms they’ve received. It is the equivalent of me marching into my local church, shouting swear words and disrupting the service. Rude, obnoxious, grossly inconsiderate, but not criminal as such.

    I do believe that libertarianism is not just a political philosophy. Or maybe individualism; I’m not sure which I am these days. I’ll say “liberal”. To me, being a liberal individualist libertarian whatever means respecting the rights of others to go about their business as they wish. So it would not be libertarian to invade a church. As an atheist, I’ve no business being inside one, unless somebody I know is marrying or dead.

    A liberal polity requires a liberal population who act with respect towards one another (even or especially in cases where they do not respect one another). A liberal atheist leaves Christians to their worship, and a liberal Christian leaves atheists to their not-worshipping. And in the public square, if somebody is saying something you don’t like, you leave them to it.

    So, I’m not surprised at these sentences. I wonder what would have happened to some punk band doing similarly in the Olympic compound? Hmm.

  3. I’m of two minds about this one. Jail time seems to be excessive for the offense but the people really getting hot under the collar over the sentence are the same who applaud hate speech laws. Given the fact the judge described it as driven by “religious hatred”, I can’t help feeling all warm and fuzzy about seeing the shoe on the other foot.

    I know. I’m a bad person.

  4. I agree with Ian B on this one. The punishment does not fit the crime. How can trespassing and making a nuisance out of yourself merit being thrown into a cell for two years? Still, luckily for Pussy Riot their next album&tour will probably make them quite wealthy. Putin as P.R agent.

    By the by, seeing as you mentioned Emma West:

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=65c_1345237177

    I know the hate-rules are very slippery but surely this qualifies. Maybe they’ll arrest this woman in order to appear consistent?

  5. I’m told the law in our own beacon of liberal democracy says: “Potentially up to 2 years in prison in our gloriously free country, too. Could be classed as a Religiously Aggravated Section 4A Public Order offence, depending on the circumstances. They could also be looking at Aggravated Trespass.”

  6. Paul Gottfried writes: “Allow me to explain why so many of us on the Old Right are noticeably indulgent of the former KGB honcho. Putin is conspicuously manly, unlike the feminized eunuchs who “administer” “liberal democratic ” politics in the “democratic West.” He supports the religious and cultural traditions of his country, unlike our politicians who are terrified of the gay and other victimological lobbies. The Russian leader despises the “youth culture,” the loathsome representatives of which I taught in college with increasing revulsion for forty years. Although I would not like to live under Putin, any more than Lessing wanted to savor the rule of the enlightened despot Fredeick the Great, I applaud him for being so different from the PC robots who rise to the top of the political ladder in the US and Western Europe. At the very least Putin gives the exhilirating impression of being a non-reconstructed, non-sensitized MAN. Paul Gottfried.”

  7. …unfortunately, at this point Professor Gottfried lapsed into a girlish swoon and had to be assisted from the podium.

  8. Putin is a murdering pig, and RT (which someone mentioned) lie and twist every day (about just abut everything) – HOWEVER the basic fact of this case is not contested. These ladies went on to PRIVATE PROPERTY and made their protest without the consent of the owner (in this case the Orthodox Church).

    Two years is absurd – but the ladies made more than a “moral mistake” (which is what they admitted) they violated private property (although they did not damage anything or hurt anyone) and thus a punishment is required.

    30 days seems about right – although the Russian legal system (which seems to be as slow as the criminal system in England and Wales) has kept them in prison for far longer than that already.

  9. Putins liking for exposing his torso at every possible photo-op would suggest that Prof Gottfrieds analysis may fall short of reality.

  10. Paul Marks

    You, sir are missing the context that Dr. Sean Gabb provided – that ‘hate crime’ laws on the books in Western countries have already imprisoned scores of people who can legitimately be called ‘political prisoners.’ As libertarians we can all easily agree that 2 years is probably excessive for a violation of property. But the very reason we are even hearing of this case is because the Western neocons and progressives have decided to make it a case against Putin’s regime.

    • I agree that the vile Putin does NOT jusfify the “hate” legislation of Western countries.

      But bad things about the West do not jusify talking of Western governments as if they were the same as the regime of Putin.

      There is no moral equivalence.

      Although in the future there may be.

      After all the ideological training of Barack Obama was fundementally the same as that of Putin (Marxist in both cases).

      Indeed, if Putin is a typical KGB man, he is too cynical to believe in Marxism .

      Unlike the Frankfurt School person sitting in the Whitehouse.

  11. Well I don’t know Paul. These people seem to have had as fair a trial as a “PC criminal” would have in our country. Putin doesn’t appear to be imposing Stalinesque purges. I admit, I am no expert on Russia, either historically or currently.

    The problem is, different States/cultures have different groups they lock up for ideological reasons, so each looks at the other’s different persecutions and sees them as “vile”. Virtual every government arrests people for the victimless crime of taking drugs, a moralist hegemony that originated in the West. Anglosphere governments have imprisoned people for being homosexual or merely brewing beer, and ours currently throws people in jail for unlimited periods for looking at pornographic Japanese cartoons. And as mentioned earlier, Emma West is being dragged through what appears to be an horrific Kafka-esque process for being mouthy on a tram.

    So I don’t know about this “no moral equivalence”, really I don’t. Are you sure?

    • As I said Ian – Putin (as a typical KGB man) may be too cyncical too be a Marxist – even though RT continues to use Marxist agitprop tactics (perhaps that is just because they do not know anything else).

      However, his regime is utterly vile – it destroyed elected Governors, dissenting broadcasters (although, yes, Britain does not allow dissenting radio or television news services either) and so on.

      A civil society was emerging in Russia (even trail by jury was promised) – but the Yeltsin government almost fell when the credit bubble banking system collapsed, so they gave more and more power to Putin. The surviving Yeltsin people regret that now – but it is too late.

      Russia today is a nasty little dictatorship – and the legal system (and everything else) is a total farce. Private property rights (even for the largest enterprises) are totally insecure.

      But the West MIGHT (or might not) go the same way.

      Time will tell.

  12. Well, I dunno Paul. I may start sounding like somebody from the C4SS here, but I find Western criticism of Russian “oligarchs” and state power hypocritical, considering that us RightWingExtremistLibertarians are painfully aware of our own oligarchy, lack of democracy and powerful State. Is Russia more corrupt? Probably; but a number of writers (such as CS Lewis, GK Chesterton) have argued that a corrupt prison is better than an honest one, since at least you’ve a chance of bribing a guard for an easier life. The characteristic of Britain that makes it so suffocating is that everything is by the book; we destroy our Emma Wests honestly and justly, in plain sight. But destroy them nonetheless.

    Oh, unless we’re doing it in a secret court, like the family courts, or under hyper-injuctions that ban people from even talking to their MP about it. Don’t worry though, we’re a free(er) country! I found this on a random BIng. (I am trying to give up Googling. They’re too oligarchic for my likiing).

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/08/13/russia-s-new-police-state.html

    Last month President Dmitry Medvedev made a point of publicly backing a sweeping new law that gives the FSB powers to arrest people on suspicion of planning an act “contrary to the country’s security” before they have actually done anything illegal.

    Good old Free Britain wouldn’t do that! Oh, we do.

    The law also establishes fines and detentions of up to 15 days for people seen as “hindering the work of an FSB employee.”

    Oh, we do.

    Despite some clauses included at the behest of the Presidential Human Rights Commission—such as an explicit ban on torture—much of the new law would extend the police’s already extensive authority. They would have almost unlimited power to stop and search people and to detain them for up to an hour just to check their documents

    Oh, we do.

    a reversal of the presumption of innocence enshrined in the Russian Constitution.

    “Presumption of innocence”. I think we had one of them once.

    Police can also now enter private homes without a warrant.

    Oh, dearie me. Luckily an Englishman’s home is his castle. Oh, wait a minute…

    Okay so I’m cherry picking from one article here. But like I said, which of these Russian things can we proudly say we don’t do? Just about the only thing I can think to say is that our prisons are nicer places than theirs.

  13. Sean Gabb is right to imply that blasphemous protests at places of worship cannot be tolerated as a matter of course. But surely the authentic libertarian position is to argue that occasional protests of the sort carried out by Pussy Riot are not merely to be tolerated but positively encouraged. Religious institutions possess immense cultural authority and often wield it in grossly authoritarian ways. Critics of religion aren’t always afforded as much mainstream exposure as they deserve, notwithstanding the recent influence of Dawkins, Hitchens and their ilk. That’s why it’s so important that scrofulous young atheists occasionally invade the precincts of the holy and put on a good old-fashioned display of obnoxiousness. At least a few people in Russia will have been provoked by Pussy Riot’s shock tactics into reconsidering their position on religion. Free the Moscow Three!

  14. “But surely the authentic libertarian position is to argue that occasional protests of the sort carried out by Pussy Riot are not merely to be tolerated but positively encouraged.”

    Sorry, no. Why should libertarians encourage degenerates to enter a cathedral uninvited and make a show of themselves? There is nothing libertarian about that. Insofar as the cultural authority of any institution remains merely cultural, that is to say does not impinge on an individual’s right to their body&property, then only cultural criticisms apply. A church is not an authoritarian institution if you can simply leave. Remember that whole voluntary organisation thing?

    If the church does involve itself in actual acts of aggression, then they are no more and no less culpable than any other individual or group of individuals. To “invade the precints of the holy” is to INVADE – hardly a libertarian stance.

    P.S “Critics of religion aren’t always afforded as much mainstream exposure as they deserve” – Does mainstream mean BBC1? If so, they’ve had quite enough exposure. What does “deserve” mean in this context anyway?

  15. Lucas Gervas comments on Facebook: “There’s nothing particularly likable about Putin’s regime. The reason Old rightists defend it is simple and old hat. Though clearly authoritarian it seems to have limited aims: staying in power and keeping the masses from getting too restless. Unlike Putin regime however the democratic globalists who run Britain and Germany are totalitarian. They are concerned with creating a new ‘Democratic Man’, micromanaging their entire societies and indoctrinating their subjects in globalism and anti-nationalism. At the moment they are trying to bring all of Eastern Europe into conformity with them (mainly through NGOs heavily financed by corporate foundations.)”

  16. Graham Davies

    Should be interesting to see the reaction of the media and the authorities towards the black lady on the bus. The footage is reminiscent of Emma West, but I doubt the video will get half the attention. It also will be interesting to see whether the authorities will use the infamous 1986 POA to gaol her.

    • Ian – Western attacks on “oligarchs” are indeed odd, as independent large scale businessmen are exactly what Putin ATTACKED. Today a bussinessman (no matter how large scale) has to support the regime.

      Of course there are very rich people in the West who work with the statists also (take a bow George Soros, Warren Buffett and…. so many others). However, there are also DISSENTING business people in the West – and they are not sent to Gulags for financiing the opposition. Although the endless threats from the IRS (and so many other Federal agencies) are an increasing problem.

      As for Sean Gabb calling the British government “totalitarian” and saying that it is much worse than the Putin regime.

      Well I am no Cameron fan (I am from Kettering after all – this was not exactly Cameron country in the leadership election, or now), D.C. is a conformist Progressive (although more “Progressive Lite” than hard core Progressive). However, to claim call-me-Dave is a totalitarian and is worse than Putin…. is Sean Gabb playing this role of “nutter” that he has created for himself (it was NOT always so – I can remember when Sean did not hate Churchill and think that Hitler should not have been resisted, and I can also remember when Sean did not take a Soviet line in relation to the Cold War). What I can not make up mind about is whether Sean really has become an idiot – or is PRETENDING to have become an idiot.

  17. Turning back to “Pussy Riot”….

    The story really has become absurdly large, For example, on the BBC Radio Four show “Sunday” this morning the historic meeting (and peace document) between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Polish Roman Catholic Church (centuries of bloodshed between two nations and two churches) got barely a mention – no examination of the historical and theological discusssions, and the terms of the document produced.

    The only mention of this was a brief aside in the “Pussy Riot” coverage on the show. I have already said that I regard two years in a labour camp as an absurdly harsh punishment – but the main religious story of the week was basically IGNORED (on an supposdly religious show – or as close to one as the vile BBC gets), in favour of just more “Pussy Riot” coverage.

  18. I think you have it dead on. My own observations, with links to this and some others here:
    http://ex-army.blogspot.com/2012/08/pussy-riot-control.html

  19. I wonder if the girls responsible will think it’s worth it when banged up with some of the hardest, murdering, psycopaths in the world? Maybe being raped, beaten and buggered with cruel instruments might make them rethink? And then there’s the Russian mafia to deal with….

    Do think the Kaballah loving Madonna (ironic name cares not for her namesake) would be defending them had they run amok in a synagogue?
    Maybe the lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith is already on the case for the human rights Reprieve, made famous for freeing the African drug mule Samantha Orobator from a Laos prison, after self ineminating herself with a fellow inmate’s sperm to avoid the death penalty by becoming pregnant. Afterall she was a Brit because she’d lived in the UK for 12 years, although born in Nigeria having moved to the UK at 8 years old. Maybe good old Clive can find a song, a scribble or a facebook mention to ‘Britain’ and have them shipped over to the UK to be mentored to communist loving and fellow defender Paul McCartney?

    Forget their crime for a minute. The noise they produce should result in life imprisonment!

  20. Pussy Riot leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova addresses the court (with English translation)

    Tony

  21. Personally, I don’t see what the fuss is about. The church is not the place for a demonstration, and claims that this event shows Russia to be illiberal merely reflect the prejudices of Western observers. Coming from a country where children can be thrown off their bicycles by the police and people arrested for not smiling – both in order to ensure the “safety” of the Olympic parade – our concerns about the sentences handed out here seem misplaced.

    • I agree. Most of the protest is less about violated rights than simple Putin-bashing. If he were stroking that reptile Hague and calling for Syria to be handed over to al Qa’eda, I doubt the story would have made the inside pages.

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