Russia

Orthodox Church Loses Either Way As The Pussy Riot Trial Heats Up

The members of the Russian female punk rock group are on trial for a protest concert in an Orthodox shrine that offended many believers. But now, Church leaders are in a bind of their own as public opinion could sway against them.

Members of Pussy Riot on trial in Moscow (Pussy Riot)
Members of Pussy Riot on trial in Moscow (Pussy Riot)
Grigory Tumanov and Anna Solodovnikova


MOSCOW - The trial for Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band accused of hooliganism inspired by religious hatred, is taking place in exactly the same room where, several years ago, the court tried Yukos Oil's former head, Mikhail Khodorovsky. Interest from the press, including the foreign press, was no less than during Khodorovsky's trial, and the line of journalists extended from the room's door out into the street.

All this commotion comes after the all-women group's protest last February, when Pussy Riot staged an unauthorized concert of their song, "Mother of God, Kick Out Putin," in the cathedral of Christ the Savior. The three women on trial, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina, have been behind bars for nearly five months.

Six people came to the stands as prosecution witnesses in Monday's proceedings, all Cathedral employees and all claiming "moral trauma" from the impromptu concert. One woman said she suffered moral injury after seeing what she described as "devilish twitching" and "slander of the Virgin Mary."

Unexpectedly for some of the observers, Tolokonnikova announced that even though they do not admit to being guilty of hooliganism, they are prepared to apologize to the believers who saw the performance. "Our ethical guilt comes from having allowed ourselves to react to the Patriarch's call to vote for Vladimir Putin, which we found upsetting. We did not consciously intend to insult anyone," Tolokonnikova said.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has so far avoided publicly speaking about the protest in the Cathedral, saying only that he will comment after the trial is over.

But the Church is not completely united in reaction to Pussy Riot. The Senior Deacon Andrei Kuraev, a well-known Orthodox writer who has drawn attention in the past for anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic views, has more recently been criticized by the Orthodox leaders for advocating mercy for the Pussy Riot members. Kuraev has also said that the current scandal really puts the Church in a lose-lose situation. "It has turned out that a part of the population believes that the feminists are behind bars because of the Church's initiative," Kuraev said. "Whatever the verdict is, it will be sad for the Church's relationship with society. If they are convicted, everyone will say that the Church is out for blood. But if they are let off, everyone will say that the court has more of a heart than the Church."

But Kuraev also said that Church leadership has never once brought up the idea of forgiveness and mercy. He considers that it would be more appropriate to let the women go and to start a societal discussion about the shortcomings of the judicial system. "Especially because the girls apologized, they spoke in the language of the Church, and the Church could respond to that," he said.

Others close to the Russian Orthodox Church leadership say Pussy Riot's actions were part of a coordinated effort to discredit the hierarchy. But when questioned about who might be behind such an effort, those Church leaders refused to give an answer.

Read the original article in Russian.

Photo- Pussy Riot

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