Church, state and punk: The Pussy Riot protest

During the week in which the Orthodox Church prepares for the Great Lenten Fast, a video appeared on the website of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist group known for its public provocations. It showed four women wearing ski masks and brightly colored dresses and tights kicking their legs, pumping their fists and screaming, “Mother of God, drive Putin out,” to the accompaniment of piercing electric guitar music. The apparent setting for this “punk prayer service” was Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow’s central Orthodox church.

A few weeks later, in early March, three members of Pussy Riot—Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova—were arrested and charged with hooliganism motivated by antireligious hatred. On August 17, after a two-week trial, they were sentenced to two years in prison.

The women have become a cause célèbre of the political opposition in Russia and its Western supporters. For them the issues boil down to freedom of speech and artistic expression. In the weeks leading up to the trial, “Free Pussy Riot” joined “Russia Without Putin” as an opposition slogan. Some demonstrators carried placards that depicted a hooded Pussy Riot woman nailed to a cross.