The riot in my p*ssy
Russians who oppose the war in the Ukraine supposedly labour under Soviet-style oppression. Yet this is not the case: the war has seen protests against Putin—one girl even stormed a TV news broadcast with an anti-war sign. Arrests have been made, abusive graffiti scrawled on the doors of anti-war activists, and doubtless protesters have been beaten up. This only seems like gross excess if you forget the context: in Soviet times there were no protests to be broken up, no people to be roughed up—none. You did not protest; only when the regime had become relatively soft, around 1968, did an 8-person protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia happen in Red Square—and they were yanked off the streets almost immediately and severely punished.
So the fact that Russians feel they can march through the streets—let alone dance around on TV with a sign—indicates that Putin runs a relatively, to use a chimerical phrase, “free society”. The norm for Russia in the 20th century was that late one night a black van came for Uncle Pyotr, and then you tacitly understood you never spoke of him—a situation that might last twenty years, eventually a letter would arrive to inform his mother that Pyotr died in a “TB hospital” five years ago. This is the context; and by comparison Putin’s Russia—even under war conditions—remains liberal (in the literal sense of the word without any philosophical overlay, just relaxed).
Perhaps there was more freedom in Yeltsin’s time, but there was also complete anarchy; and that negates what freedom you have. Russia will never be a let-it-all-hang-out Berkeley-type society, nor will it be peopled by English eccentrics. The Russians do not have the individualistic temperament for liberty, and they have never been governed like that—they do not want to be like that, cannot be. Yet that does not mean there is no such thing as Russian freedom, and Putin has given the Russians more freedom than they have had in probably over a century—he is the first “good Tsar” in a long, long time. This is why Russians feel the confidence to clown around on TV and go on protest marches against the war—yes, these acts will be treated more harshly than in the West, but there is no comparison to the USSR where such acts would be inconceivable (and probably so in the time of many Tsars as well).
This brings me to a faded cause célèbre from the 2010s: the feminist punk band P*ssy Riot. All women are psyops, but with P*ssy Riot this was especially so. With an aesthetic that recalls the electro-pop band Le Tigre—all neon balaclavas and feminist politics—P*ssy Riot was founded on the day Putin returned as president after he took a constitutional break; so P*ssy Riot was explicitly aimed at him and, in particular, his close relations with the Orthodox Church.
What was P*ssy Riot’s most famous stunt, the one they were sent down for? They stormed the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow during a service and played their anti-Putin and anti-Christian music (more or less just the girls screeching obscenities)—it was all very brief, they were quickly detained. “Yeah, man it’s just like a protest against for reproductive rights—Putin is so harsh and dictatorial he can’t take any criticism. He’s a big baby. It’s just a church, relax—Jesus did crazy things in a church (sic) too.”
The context is important: the Communists blew up Christ the Saviour in 1931—they intended to put the Palace of Soviets there instead, a complete overlay to symbolically efface Russia’s Christian legacy. The war intervened and they built a swimming pool in its place instead —a typically utilitarian gesture; bread first, poetry later—or do we only find our daily bread with poetry?
The cathedral’s restoration in the 1990s was highly symbolic, it represented Orthodoxy’s victory over Communism. Now what do P*ssy Riot think about Communism? Member Katia Samutsevich explained in a BBC film; she carefully examined the lives of the early Bolshevik women and feminist propaganda with approval. So what do P*ssy Riot really want? To restore Communism. They are not poor darling little dissidents at all, not cute little Solzhenitschicks; no, they are the people who would bring back the gulag system. During their trial for their antics in the cathedral, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (the ringleader, I can assure you—go look at her photos) wore a t-shirt with “No pasarán!” emblazoned around a red fist—the slogan for the Communist side in the Spanish Civil War.
The real equivalent to the P*ssy Riot stunt: imagine if a neo-Nazi group barged into a rebuilt Berlin synagogue and sang a “screwdriver metal” hit about how Germany groans under Judea’s oppression. This is the real equivalent to what P*ssy Riot did—and, as you can imagine, if that happened the Germans would prosecute the group to the full extent of the law and the media would be horrified. It is the same act: P*ssy Riot wants to tear down the cathedral and reinstitute Communism, just as surely as the neo-Nazis would pull down the synagogue. Yet P*ssy Riot are darling little dissidents who have been brutalised and badly treated by mean old Putin—and they are still celebrated by the Western media today.
P*ssy Riot are spoilt idiot girls from the intelligentsia, in court they rolled their eyes sarcastically when assorted babushkas present in the cathedral when the act happened testified that they found the performance to be an insult to them and their religion. As for the cathedral: “It’s God shit.”—an opinion endorsed by one of their fathers, who helped them to write their lyrics. These girl are the type who, if they did reinstitute a government like the Soviets, would be among the first to be thrown on a plane to Paris or Portland with no return ticket—if they were not shot outright or exiled to Siberia.