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Jewish World Review
August 16, 2012/ 28 Menachem-Av, 5772
Putin and Pussy Riot forever linked
When Russian President Vladimir Putin finally retires to his $1 billion-plus dacha on the Black Sea -- built, we're told, by grateful Russian oligarchs -- to pen his memoirs on how to be a dictator, he will undoubtedly include this advice:
Do not, under any circumstances, arrest punk-rock girl bands, and if you do, do not hold them for more than three days. Perhaps impose a light fine or some token community service, but do not hold them for six months without trial or threaten seven-year prison sentences.
The one thing a dictatorship cannot tolerate is ridicule, and Putin and the Russian judicial system have got nothing but since his cops arrested three members of the band Pussy Riot. The name alone should have tipped him to the trouble he was bringing on himself.
And so should their costumes -- loud dresses and full-face balaclavas in vivid shades of red, yellow and chartreuse that the women wear while performing and giving interviews.
On Feb. 21, four members of the band -- there are about 10 altogether -- entered Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, the mother church of the Russian Orthodox faith, climbed the altar and began high-kicking to a song whose most printable lyrics are: "Virgin Mary, Mother of G0d, put Putin away/ ?ut Putin away, put Putin away."
That's about as far as they got before the guards hustled them out.
Pussy Riot's music is said to be heavily influenced by English "Oi!" bands. "Oi!" -- according to the Internet; and, yes, I had to look it up -- features rough, working-class lyrics on unemployment, police harassment and government oppression, and Russia certainly has two of those three.
Pussy Riot would have remained deservedly obscure. Be honest: Can you even name another Russian band? And, no, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra doesn't count. It's from New York.
But thanks to Putin, the music, which seems to be mostly shouting, and the lyrics, adolescently raunchy, are all over the web, and the band has a worldwide following of supporters -- "fans" would be too strong a word; the band is just not very good. It seems that every major Western musical act, plus Amnesty International and the French Ministry of Culture, has taken up the group's cause.
The three band members who were arrested hardly seem like threats.
Maria Alyokhina, 24, has a young child and is a senior majoring in journalism and creative writing; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, is a philosophy student at Moscow State and the mother of a 4-year-old daughter; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, is a computer programmer and college graduate.
They hardly seem like threats -- unless, of course, a government elected in a dubious election is so insecure and thin-skinned that it feels ridicule is a threat to its very existence.
Demonstrations in Europe, Canada and the U.S. are planned for the women's sentencing, perhaps as early as Friday. Putin issued a wishy-washy statement to the effect that he hoped they would not be judged too harshly.
Putin should have been more forceful than that, because if they receive any kind of sentence that is perceived as harsh he will hear catcalls of "Pussy Riot! Pussy Riot!" whenever he leaves Russia. Russian expatriates are grumbling that Putin has made their country an international laughingstock.
And it could get worse. Pussy Riot might be invited to perform at the next inauguration of a U.S. president. The inaugural committee should insist that it perform in the original Russian because, really, you don't want to hear the lyrics in English.
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