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August 21, 2012 2:14 pm

Madonna, The State Department and The White House Have It All Wrong: The Russian Orthodox Church Is The Victim, Not “Pussy Riot”

avatar by Ed Koch

Email a copy of "Madonna, The State Department and The White House Have It All Wrong: The Russian Orthodox Church Is The Victim, Not “Pussy Riot”" to a friend

people gathered in Minneapolis to support the feminist punk band Pussy Riot who were sentenced to 2 years in prison for "hooliganism" after recording a performance without permission in a Russian Orthodox church. Photo: wiki commons.

This week, a Russian court sentenced three feminist punk performers who call themselves “Pussy Riot” to prison for two years.  The three women were charged with “hooliganism.”  The graveness of the charge was described by the New York Times of August 18th: “The case began in February when the women infiltrated the Cathedral of Christ the Savior wearing colorful balaclavas, and pranced around in front of the golden Holy Doors leading to the altar, dancing, chanting and lip-syncing for what would later become a music video of a profane song in which they beseeched the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Mr. Putin.”

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow had been deliberately destroyed by Stalin.  It was rebuilt in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, and is one of Moscow’s architectural gems and now once again a heavily used by Russian Orthodox church.  The Times reported on the Russian Orthodox Church’s reaction to the Pussy Riot: “On Friday, the Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement that referred to Nazi aggression and the militant atheism of the Soviet era, and said, ‘What happened is blasphemy and sacrilege, the conscious and deliberate insult to the sanctuary and a manifestation of hostility to millions of people.'” The sentencing Judge Syrova, when delivering her decision, according to the Times, found that the action in the church was “motivated by religious hatred.”

The Western cultural elite is rallying to the defense of the disrupters in the cathedral. Some approve of the verbal attack on Putin. Others support the denunciation of the Russian Orthodox church leadership and the church disruption because of the church leadership support of Putin. All cited characterize the issue as one of free speech. I do not.

I would assume that many Pussy Riot supporters would take a different position, and rightly so, if here in the U.S. a black church were invaded and three men or women engaged in comparable conduct insulting holy places within the church and the pastor.  I recall when I was Mayor in 1989 and the AIDS activist group Act Up, unjustifiably angry with John Cardinal O’Connor, invaded St. Patrick’s Cathedral and interrupted the Mass, throwing the Communion wafers – which for Catholics are the actual Body of Christ – to the floor.  Some were arrested.  So far as I can recall, no one was punished.  I think the decision of the Russian court to punish a hate crime was just and to be applauded, rather than condemned and ridiculed.  One can argue concerning the degree of punishment, whether fines rather than jail time should have been imposed, but that is a function of the Russian penalty procedures.

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I also believe it is not in the interest of the U.S. to support the actions of the Pussy Riot defendants. At a time when the Iranian nuclear threat grows by the day and we are fighting Islamic extremists around the world, we should be seeking to enlist President Putin to join the West in our effort to prevent the Islamist fanatics from achieving their goal of destroying Western civilization, not making him the enemy and Pussy Riot the victim.

The attacks on President Putin for “squelching free speech” included one by Madonna performing at the time in Moscow. “The extent of the culture clash was evident this month when Madonna paused during a concert in Moscow to urge the release of the women, who have been jailed since March, and performed in a black bra with ‘Pussy Riot’ stenciled in bold letters on her back.  The next day, Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister, posted a Twitter message calling Madonna a ‘whore.'” Madonna is an artist, always testing the limits of decency and often going beyond restrictions accepted by ordinary people. I do not, however, defer to her judgment on such political matters.

Most shocking to me was the response of the White House, as reported by the Times: “In Washington, where Obama administration officials followed the trial closely, seeing it as a measure of Mr. Putin’s new presidency and its own troubled relations with Russia, the White House and the State Department each criticized the verdict.  The State Department all but called on Russia’s higher courts to overturn the conviction and ‘ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.’  A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said the verdict was disappointing and the sentences disproportionate.  ’While we understand that the group’s behavior was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system,’ he said.” Offensive to some?

I do not believe the issue is properly one of freedom of expression. The right to free expression is not unlimited and does not mean one can say anything anywhere and at anytime. Further, Russia and most countries do not have embedded in their law the Constitutional protection of the First Amendment that we do. I for one am delighted they now punish religious hatred. Aren’t you?

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  • COMMENTER ANDREW:
    You ask of koacj, are you that weak of a xtian man.
    I call him a good xtian and a bad jew.
    He calls himself the williamsburg bridge

    cuomo calls himself a president in the making.

    they are democrates, what can you expect….

  • Jeremy

    Thank you, Mr. Koch, for this article. This is exactly what my wife and I have been saying the entire time.

    And, andrewi31, you said, “Going by what you say, anything negative said about organized religion should be punished as religious hatred.” I respect your opinion, but I don’t see that at all in his article. In fact, it seems you’re exaggerating here.

    He simply has said that they shouldn’t have done it IN THE CHURCH! The Church – whether you agree with them or not – is not a public forum. Of course, everyone is welcome, but one must abide by some rules and have some decorum. These girls did not.

    This charge of “hooliganism” and the subsequent 2-year sentence would never have happened if they’d protested on the sidewalk across the street from the church. This charge of “hooliganism” and the subsequent 2-year sentence would never have happened if they’d come respectfully into the church. This charge of “hooliganism” and the subsequent 2-year sentence is their own fault. There were other options.

    The world has tried to make this out to be about free speech. It is NOT. It is about three girls who did a B&E (breaking and entering) and proceeded to behave ludely and inappropriately in a place where that type of behavior is not welcome. It is no different than the anger you’d feel if three men broke into your home and behaved ludely and inappropriately in front of your children. You’d want the book thrown at them. Yet the church has given forgiveness and asked for leniency.

    And Madonna…she’s not a threat. She’s a nothing! No one who is serious would give her opinions any consideration whatsoever. In fact, I only bring her up here because you did.

    I do agree with you regarding Putin. I hope that the US can get together with Russia on foreign policy. There is real potential. I’m anxiously watching.

  • andrewi31

    It’s hardly just Pussy Riot. What of the case of Maxim Yefimov? Explain to me how his blog victimized the Orthodox Church? Luckily he escaped Russia and now has amnesty in Estonia. But the victims of the Church are piling up. Going by what you say, anything negative said about organized religion should be punished as religious hatred.

    Some of us here would like to work with Putin, and we are moving slowly on free trade issues that can benefit American businesses.

    The fact that we are bedfellows with these Islamic extremists that you say we are opposing, especially in Syria, but also Egypt, Libya, tells me that we’ll never find common ground on Iran. There’s too much of a credibility gap on on all sides of the Iranian issues to come to any consensus. You seem to like Putin still, so don’t pretend he’s foolish and trusting enough to work with us there. Russia has its clients, and America has theirs. You just seem naive.

    Also, nobody cares about what Madonna thinks. You got to be joking. Is she such a threat to you? Are you that sad and weak of a Christian man, if that’s what you are?

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