Pussy Riot Debate

On Wednesday, September 19, the Russian Department held an open debate on the ongoing Pussy Riot scandal.

What is the Pussy Riot debacle? On Feb 21, 2012 the anarcho-feminist punk band Pussy Riot performed a song in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in the heart of Moscow. In it they implored the Virgin Mary to get rid of President Vladimir Putin (this was just before the Presidential elections.) The provocative dress and lyrics, as well as the location – the Church is the main cathedral of Russian Orthodoxy – led to violent discussions throughout Russia and then Europe and the States, with artists like Madonna coming on board to defend Pussy Riot’s right to free speech. Three of the five band members (all young women, some with children) were arrested and held without charge for several months, and last month they were finally sentenced to 2 years in prison on charges on incitation to religious hatred. The case highlights issues of church/state division in post-Soviet Russia, the role of the church today in Russian consciousness, and many other sensitive issues.

Advanced Russian students presented a chronology of recent events in Russian (with translations projected on-screen) and three Russian Department faculty offered three different scholarly views on the Pussy Riot performance and scandal.

Alex North ‘13, a Russian major who participated in the event, said the following: “What I consider to be the most successful aspect of the event was that of contention. Westerners’ support of Pussy Riot often feels to me to be based in a misunderstanding of Russia’s political and religious climate. It is easy for westerners to simply label the Pussy Riot trial as a slight to freedom of speech, as an example of Russia’s cultural backwardness and political corruption. While I believe that these points are valid and play an important role in understanding this event, I think it is crucial that the Pussy Riot controversy be understood from an insider perspective as well. The debate was beneficial because those in attendance were given a holistic understanding of the event, with religious, artistic, and cultural contexts.” – Alex North ‘13

Russian 101 student, Victoria Gluszko ‘16, said that she had “heard a few things about Pussy Riot in the past few months, but never really got the whole story. I wanted to go to the debate to learn about it and get the whole story. I am so glad that I did.”

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