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Pussy Riot Jailed: Why This is Both a Religious and Political Issue

The arrest and conviction of Pussy Riot on charges of hooliganism fits into a broader context of Russian cultural history and political structure. Pussy Riot's conviction is yet another example of the collaboration between church and state typical of Russian history, aimed to increase Putin's power.

Russian culture and political structure have always lagged behind the benchmarks set by the neighbors to the West (and sometimes by those in the East). For over a decade, the Putin regime has governed on one fundamental principal: divide and conquer. However, now Putin has a new and solid ally in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

This is not the first time that the Russian Orthodox Church has partnered up with various Russian forms of government. The ROC was the official religious authority during the rule of the Romanov dynasty, it cooperated with the KGB under Communist rule, and it is following that well-established Soviet script once again in the interest of the Putin regime.

The ROC has a long rap sheet in their relationship with cultural figures, highlighted by two incidents in the 19th century and one in the 20th century. In 1821, Alexander Pushkin published a short work titled “Gabrieliad” that described the sexual encounters of the Virgin Mary as having been “visited” by Gabriel, Satan (as a serpent), and God (as a dove). The ROC led an inquest in 1828 into the blasphemous work. Pushkin was forced to deny his authorship and through the patronage of Tsar Nicholas I, he was spared serious punishment.

In the very beginning of the 20th century, the ROC excommunicated another literary titan, Lev Tolstoy. In addition to writing fiction, Tolstoy engaged in philosophical writing on the very fundamental structures of state and organized religion. For his beliefs, he was excommunicated, but not prosecuted, in 1901.

In both instances, the state either stayed out of the matter or supported the creative thinker. This has not been the case with Pussy Riot.

By pressing for the charges to be presented before the state authorities over an unconventional prayer of “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away,” we are witnessing an unprecedented level of collaboration between the ROC and the Putin regime for the purposes of political prosecution.

On this issue, Alfred Koch the former deputy prime minister of Russia, put it best on his personal website: “I cannot for myself formulate my attitude to 'the imbeciles' of Pussy Riot. On the one hand, this is a stupid, unfunny prank minded, they are infantile, irresponsible fools who only crave instant glory and now with evident pleasure, fully reap the benefits of the 'glory' that they were seeking. On the other, this idiotic nonsense (which normal people would not pay any attention to) suddenly reveals a gaping chasm of animal hatred, obscurantism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees of our idealistic inquisitors. All of a sudden the crowd unleashed a feature that always scares me: showing their impunity, forcibly repressed sadism, his hatred of all who differ from you.”

While Pussy Riot do not come close to the literary genius of Pushkin and Tolstoy, they are expanding a growing rift in Russian society between those who are committed to democratic institutions and those who are steeped in traditional top down ideology. The ambiguity and fear is bringing the worst out into plain sight.

As a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, I am deeply concerned by this collaboration between the church and the state in undermining liberty to serve political aims of the ruling authorities. I urge all those concerned to go to your local Russian Orthodox Church this Sunday and request, in the best of Christian traditions, a prayer for the health and salvation of the members of Pussy Riot and our Patriarch.

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