Let’s remember the names of the three Russian girls now turning their country upside down — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, or more simply Nadya, Masha and Katya. They form a group called Pussy Riot, and staged a “Punk Prayer” on the altar steps of the cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. This involved shouting, “Mother of God, drive out Putin.” No doubt this performance was vulgar, even blasphemous. No doubt too the group’s name and antics are copied from Western pop-folk — I cannot call them artists. But they were arrested, they have spent the last five months in prison, and now been brought to trial handcuffed to butch female warders who might have come straight from Gulag or even Buchenwald. In pure totalitarian style, the verdict had been pre-arranged. In 179 trials, Judge Maria Syrova, a Party hack if ever there was one, has given just one verdict of not-guilty. The girls received sentences of two years. Their lawyers said they would appeal, and one of them risked his own future by adding that the girls would not humiliate themselves by begging pardon from “such a bastard” as Putin.
Putin is emulating Stalin in coercing the people, but the difference today is that a good number of them are not afraid of the consequences of open opposition. Outside the court Nadia’s husband declared, “I feel like we have to make a revolution.” Demonstrations broke out in Moscow and then in New York, Paris, Brussels, Sofia, and other cities. The KGB-like police have arrested a number of opposition activists, for instance Gary Kasparov. One of the White House spokesmen who give the regular impression of being born without a spine, said that he was “deeply disappointed,” while his opposite number in the British Foreign Office was “deeply concerned.” They must just want the laughter to echo round the Kremlin and the dispatch of some champagne to Judge Syrova, for her participation in creating political prisoners once again in the country.
When the Emperor Napoleon ordered the judicial execution of a harmless Duke, Talleyrand — a diplomat from the days before the lily-livered official creeps of the present — made the unforgettable crack that this was “worse than a crime, a mistake.” The Pussy Riot girls are also harmless, and Putin has made a mistake. Violence is more and more likely to overtake his intention to remain dictator until well into the next decade.