Jim Bennett pointed me to a blog item by Charles Cameron on Zen Pundit about the female musicians now starting a vile two-year sentence in Russia for appearing before the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and briefly singing “Mother of God, Put Putin Away” before being hustled off and arrested. Mr. Cameron’s piece is one of three he has recently posted on the trial and is extremely informative. It consists of the court statements by the “girls” (women really, and if the statements were genuinely written by them, formidably intelligent ones), with Mr. Cameron’s occasional explanations and commentaries.
This post has changed my mind on the group as it changed Jim Bennett’s. Like him I had naturally felt that the trial was mistaken (and, of course, fixed), the verdict questionable, and the sentence monstrously excessive. But I didn’t expect to feel much sympathy with either the arguments or the tactics of this feminist-rock protest group (if I’ve got the description anything like right). In fact, when Wikipedia tells me that the group’s influences include “punk rock and Oi! bands Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, Sham 69 and The 4-Skins” and that they “cite American punk rock band Bikini Kill and the Riot grrrl movement of the 1990s as inspirations,” it is more or less listing everything I dislike about modern culture. And when the “girls” themselves say “what we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, and a non-standard female image,” I am still further alienated. The standard female image is good enough for me.
Quite different messages and personalities emerge from their court statements, however. As Cameron points out, these statements reflect some of the most traditional messages of Russian culture and religious discourse together with some more recent dissident ones. Quoting Berdayev, Dostoevsky, and Vladimir Bukovsky, they launch a powerful critique of Putinism, the siloviki security state, the corruption of the Orthodox Church, and the manipulation of religion by the state for the short-term benefit of the regime.
Now, I can see that these statements might have been cleverly composed to win the sympathy of more traditional types who have little time for “Cockney Rejects,” “Sham 69,” or even the ambigously alluring “Bikini Kill” — people like me in fact. But I can’t test their sincerity and, in a sense, it doesn’t matter except to them and to God. They shouldn’t be in prison for a political prank anyway, and their arguments are both true and persuasive even if they should turn out to be worn for the occasion. What they are opposing is the continuing scandal of the manipulation of Orthodoxy by the siloviki — an exploitation that began under the KGB and continues uninterrupted under the FSB.
Russians should be the first to rally to them against this corrupt regime with lingering totalitarian impulses, but Christian leaders worldwide should be their close second. Odd though it sounds, the girls have taken time off from impudence, feminist discourse, and politically loaded lyrics in order to give Christian witness against the corruption of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. They are being martyred for it.
And if they are merely wearing the mask of martyrdom, well, they may be more surprised than the rest of us when they take off the mask.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect a correction in the length of the sentence.