Geopolitics

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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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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