< The Trial of Pussy Riot

Transcript

Friday, August 10, 2012

BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, in Moscow, closing statements in the notorious Pussy Riot trial. On February 21st the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot entered Moscow’s largest church to produce a video asking for the Virgin Mary to quote “drive Putin out.”

     [CLIP OF WOMEN SINGING/END CLIP]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Three band members were apprehended and charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. They could face up to seven years in prison. Defendant Yekatarina Samutsevich told the court “I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we now expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. Now she says, once again, Russia looks different in the eyes of the world from the way Putin tries to present it.”

Michael Idov, editor and chief of Russian GQ wrote this week in The New York Times that the Pussy Riot trial was Russia’s “Nazis in Skokie” moment. It’s “Hustler versus Falwell.” But the prosecution is built purely on emotional appeals and imagery, starting with the image of the young women themselves, as they appeared in the video.

  [VIDEO SOUNDTRACK UP & UNDER]

MICHAEL IDOV:  Pussy Riots are space aliens.

     [BROOKE LAUGHS]

I mean, people can’t really make heads or tails of them, and the interest that they command in the West is flabbergasting to the Russian public because the Russians would love to have the pop band cross over and be a big success in the West. The fact that this happened to this, you know, radical artist collective that’s not even a band and now you have, you know, Madonna with the words “Pussy Riot” written on her back and you have balaclavas becoming a protest fashion accessory -

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Because they wear them to disguise their faces.

MICHEL IDOV:  Yes, exactly.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Describe these women. Who are they?

MICHEL IDOV:  Well, actually, if you look at their statements to the court, they are incredibly smart. When you talk about punks and punk rock, you have to realize they’re, you know, art student types. Maria Alyokhina, one of the defendants, her statement to the court included, I think, three instances of the word “ontological.”

  [BROOKE LAUGHS]

This also helps explain why the Russian musicians don’t really speak up for them. Partly, it’s because they’re afraid but partly it’s also because they’re not really perceived as musicians in, in Russia, whereas when you look at them from the West they actually form a much more familiar picture –

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Mm-hmm.

MICHEL IDOV:  -of sort of this edgy, you know, punk band.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Mm-hmm. They really seem to have the ability to enrage. Do you think it’s because they, they pulled this stunt in a place regarded as holy and that was a shocking and painful act of disrespect? That’s the prosecution’s argument.

MICHEL IDOV:  The Church of Christ the Savior and the fact that they picked that church is very telling because it’s the church that was destroyed by Stalin and turned into a swimming pool. And then it was rebuilt after the fall of the Soviet Union, but it remains unloved. It’s the official seat of, of the Orthodox Church and, as such, it’s seen almost like a ministry, and I mean the ministry in, in the political sense of the word. By choosing the Church of Christ the Savior, I think Pussy Riot were targeting the specific connection of church and state, the connection that’s grown disturbingly cozy under Putin.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  You wrote that the liberal response there has involved language like, “They should let these chicks go with a slap on the ass.”

MICHEL IDOV:  Well, that’s the thing about Russian liberalism. It is closer to American libertarianism, I think, than what we usually mean by the word “liberal.” And it’s completely normal for Russian liberals, including opposition leaders in public, to use derogatory terms for gays, for example, and generally not concern themselves with minority rights, women’s rights. And “feminism” is still a bit of a dirty word.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So would it have been better if, instead of being cool and using words like “ontological” they, in the weird glass box that Russian defendants [LAUGHS] sit in, they all just burst into tears?

MICHEL IDOV:  Absolutely. If they decided to enact some sort of over-the-top remorse, yeah, public opinion would turn and their legal fortunes might turn, as well. And that is one of the most upsetting things to contemplate because law should not work like that. The prosecution trotted out this array of sometimes strange characters who claimed to be, you know, mortally offended by Pussy Riot’s actions and suffered great emotional damage.

One of the things that the members of the band did on the very first day of the trial was to actually ask forgiveness of these people. What’s interesting, none of these people, mostly church staff, has accepted their apology. They said it sounded ironic and insincere.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Do you think they have a chance to evade years in prison?

MICHEL IDOV:  Oddly enough, after the Madonna performance, I feel like they do. I think that nobody in Russia expected the Western attention to the case to crest quite so high. [LAUGHS] I don’t know, I might be unduly optimistic here but I actually think that it did change things. And the fact that the sentencing was abruptly delayed by ten days, it did feel like the prosecution and the court — in this case, the prosecution and, you know, the judge are pretty much the same side — it, it felt like they, they were in a bit of a panic.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So you think Madonna could be crucial in this.

MICHEL IDOV:  I can’t believe I’m saying this but yes, I, I do.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Michael, thank you very much.

MICHEL IDOV:  [LAUGHS] Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  [LAUGHS] Michael Idov is a former contributing editor at New York Magazine and is now editor in chief of GQ Russia.

  [MUSIC/MUSIC UP & UNDER]

Guests:

Michael Idov

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone