A few months back had you asked someone to tell you what Pussy Riot is, the answer would have been nothing more than a quizzical look or a shake of the head.
But suddenly all and sundry know about the Russian punk band after its members were convicted to serve two years in prison for staging a protest against President Putin’s re-election.
And how did the staunchly feminist threesome express their dissent? By performing a song titled “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” at a cathedral in Moscow. If it was worldwide attention that the three female musicians— famous for sporting brightly coloured dresses and covering their faces with balaclavas—craved, they have it now.
The world is now using their incarceration as a pretext to criticise the draconian laws of the Russian regime. Suddenly, a great debate about the lack of freedom of speech and fundamental rights has erupted in the social media. Madonna got her two minutes in the spotlight by telling the government to “set Pussy Riot Free” during her recent concert in Moscow. Even world leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are not shying away from condemning the jail sentence for being disproportionately harsh. Moreover, with angry balaclava-donning protestors lining the streets of European cities, it appears like the band’s newfound fan following will resist its repression.
But as the world runs ‘riot’ in supporting Pussy Riot’s cause, here’s a little known fact: a recent poll conducted amongst Russians showed that only 6 per cent sympathised with the band, while 51 per cent felt antagonism or had nothing good to say about them. The truth is that many Russians actually feel that the band, by speaking its mind, transgressed its bounds. Every society has its holy cows— for the West, especially Europe, anti-Semitic speech can send one to jail.
So why the double standards in Pussy Riot’s case? It was not only Putin’s leadership that the band criticised; they, in fact, made overtly blasphemous remarks in their song that surely offended Russian Orthodox believers. And despite knowing that their little act would plunge them into hot water in a conservative society, the band still went ahead with it. Perhaps they anticipated the fuss it would cause subsequently. Does anybody else, too, sense a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder?