Pussy Piot conducts a typing school

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Published 28-08-2012, 11:46

Pussy Piot conducts a typing schoolby Patrick Armstrong

As we all know, a group calling itself Pussy Riot staged a stunt in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February. Three members were arrested and have been sentenced to two years in jail. Which, less time served in "preventative detention” which counts twice, amounts to 14 months in prison. With the possibility of parole.

 

 

I’m not here going to talk about what they said and did in the church or any of the stunts that they pulled before or during the trial that probably extended the process. I’m not even sure of my own opinion about what should have happened to them. My concern here is the suspicious unanimity of coverage in the Western media.

We hear much about how they are mothers, as if there were some hitherto unknown legal principle that mothers get a free pass. We are told their ages and they are described as a "punk band” or sometimes as a "feminist punk band”. They are protesters against Putin. And, of course, it is taken for granted that Putin is really the law and judge in the case. DerSpiegel has all the memes. Masha Lipman misses out telling us that some are mothers. A particularly vapid piece in the New York Times about their style misses the mother part too. But a piece in Huffington Post gets them all in. An especially absurd piece in the Globe and Mail hits all the notes – and more: "Like the Pussy Riot heroines, whose names should be written with markers across all of our bodies, if only to remember an era in which we, too, were not afraid.” The Guardian gets them all in. As does the Bellona NGO. Something not mentioned in all the stuff about Putin and the Russian Church being in cahoots is that both the Chief Mufti and the Chief Rabbi also supported Putin).

There is a great deal of information about Pussy Riot to be found on the vibrant Russian blogosphere but, it seems, few Western media outlets bothered to look. Here for example (Warning VERY NSFW) are photos of another of their performances, albeit under another name, (sex in a museum in 2008). Further information here. No music then. And no charges or arrests either. Or another performance involving chickens and a grocery store in 2010 (again under a previous name – go to 2:29). Again neither music nor arrests. So "punk band” is hardly a complete description. The reader is also invited to compare the actual film of the cathedral event with the edited version. Quite a difference; that alone ought to set reporters to wondering if they were being manipulated. In short, there was some background that could have been examined but wasn’t: all we heard was young, mothers, punk music band and political. And this was all spun into a story that Putin was cracking down on political dissent. But they, and their source group, Voyna, had been political before and the authorities ignored them. Perhaps they wanted more attention. But, in the Cathedral church of Moscow – with all its history – their latest stunt did result in an arrest.

Russia, like other countries, has laws about public order even if the Russians (and, as we will see, the Ukrainians) quaintly call it "hooliganism”. Here is New York City’s and the UK’s for example. Poland has a law against blasphemy and an individual has been fined for something she said in an interview (but not in a church). But the standard story did not mention this and often barely hinted that the charges were not that the young mothers were protesting Putin (something rather common and even placid these days) but committing a public order disturbance and insulting religion. Furthermore, numerous Western countries have "hate crime” legislation and people are punished – even jailed– for that. But all we heard was young, mothers, punk music band and political. The most hyperbolic (and idiotic) headline was surely "Pussy Riot trial ‘worse than Soviet era’”. No, actually, it wasn’t: lack of vegan food is not quite the same as the "conveyer” or "beat, beat and beat again”. The Guardian headline creators might want to read their Solzhenitsyn again – a required text in Russian schools, by the way.

In short, Western consumers of its media outlets were treated to a very partial story indeed and to one version. Little effort was made to research any background. It was typing not reporting.

So who wrote the script that so many media outlets faithfully re-typed? Alexander Goldfarb perhaps: we are told that he "set up Pussy Riot’s legal fund in the United States”. He turns out to be the Executive Director of the International Foundation for Civil Liberties which was set up by Boris Berezovskiy. Given that Berezovskiy has more than once said that his aim in life is to bring Putin down by whatever methods, why would any supposedly impartial reporter re-type his press releases? Goldfarb was also a key player in that other media re-typing exercise, the death of Litvinenko, and was the source of much of that story. Some say there are other manipulators: the US State Department or its innumerable funded groups. (NOTE: The reader is reminded that, when all the normal sources of "news” are re-typing the same press release, reality must be sought elsewhere at the margins. Click through the references in these last two and decide for yourself how plausible their arguments are.)

Last Friday a crucifix erected near the former headquarters of the Soviet political police in Kiev in commemoration of Ukrainians who died in the communist years was cut down by one of the members of FEMEN (also Dear Reader, thanks to laws in many Western countries, the URL is also NSFW). She was young, possibly a mother, not apparently a punk band member (but a self-confessed feminist) and there was a political motive. The Ukrainian authorities are preparing a charge of hooliganism against her too. Will this also become a huge story? Perhaps it will, given that Berezovskiy doesn’t like President Yanukovych. And, dare I suggest it, now that Ukraine does not have a government that wants to get in to NATO. Stay tuned.

 

 

Patrick Armstrong – former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow, senior fellow of American University in Moscow

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