The opening of the trial of a Russian female punk band for an unsanctioned performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in which they called on the Virgin Mary to drive away Putin is more than a travesty of justice. It is also an ominous hint that Putin now faces real political opposition in Russia, and may seek to defend himself with the help of a new authoritarian ideology.
The members of the band, Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, are being charged with “hooliganism motivated by racial or religious hatred,” a crime that carries a maximum sentence of seven years. They are being tried in the same court where the oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted in his second trial and, like the Khodorkovsky case, the matter has overarching symbolic importance.
#more#As Putin has strengthened his authoritarian control over Russia, he has relied increasingly on the Church to legitimize him. He is regularly accompanied by Church hierarchs at political events and is shown celebrating all religious holidays. A course on “Orthodox culture” is offered in the schools while no other religion has such a privilege. The presence of Orthodox priests is common for the “sanctification” of banks, offices, and even weapons.
At the same time, the Church leaders have benefited from corruption. The opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, in a recent article on the personal wealth of Kirill, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, estimated his personal wealth at $4 billion. A recent photograph of Kirill wearing a $30,000 Breguet watch was photoshopped to remove the watch. Unfortunately, the photo specialists neglected to remove the reflection of the watch in the surface of the polished table at which Kirill was sitting.
— David Satter is senior fellow of the Hudson Institute. His most recent book is It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway (Yale). He is also the director of a documentary film, Age of Delirium, about the fall of the Soviet Union based on his book of the same name.