Pussy Riot International: Support demos engulf the globe as verdict looms

Supporters of female punk group Pussy Riot hold signs to form the message “Blessed are the merciful” during a protest on the steps of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (REUTERS / Stringer)
The world’s gone Pussy Riot-crazy as global pressure mounts on the Russian authorities to set the punk activists free. A Moscow court is to say Friday if the group’s mock prayer in a major cathedral amounts to hooliganism driven by religious hatred.

­Prosecutors demand Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich each spend three years behind bars for their scandalous “punk prayer,” performed at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. As the verdict looms, the three girls’ support front widens, absorbing politicians, stars of all caliber, human right groups and individual sympathizers.

On Wednesday, several dozen activists and journalists – wearing cheery balaclavas a la Pussy Riot – gathered outside Christ the Savior Cathedral. Each held a character printed on paper; the characters formed a Bible quote “Blessed are the merciful.” This alluded to the virtue of forgiveness, purportedly central to Orthodox Christianity.

But the small demo was short-lived, as cathedral guards advanced on the activists to disperse them. Later, the guards claimed that demonstrators had attacked them. After one activist’s arm was injured and another demonstrator was kicked in the face – as unconfirmed reports go – the protesters had to summon the police to deal with the cathedral's over-enthusiastic security forces. After dividing the two parties, the police proclaimed the gathering unlawful and arrested at least five protesters, says Ekho Moskvy radio.

Another Russian citizen was sentenced Wednesday to $15 fine, a minimal punishment for minor hooliganism, after showering the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square with pro-Pussy Riot leaflets. The man says he wanted “to make Lenin smile.

Pussy Riot copycats take the world by storm

Summer winds have blown the Mad Hatter’s spirit, which condensed during the Pussy Riot trial, to Europe. Unlike the Russian authorities, who are looking at the group’s performance solely from a religious standpoint, in the West the three girls have gained wide support as political activists speak out against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Balaclavas are popping up everywhere: Paris, Berlin, Helsinki, New York, Vienna. Pussy Riot copycats have even descended on several cathedrals.

The most recent attempt took place in Austria Tuesday, and first went unnoticed by the clerical staff. Two men in bright balaclavas and small dresses went to the pulpit and were photographed holding a banner reading “God loves Pussy Riot.” Later, the photos appeared on Facebook.

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Image from Facebook user San Precario
Image from Facebook user San Precario

The St. Nicolas Cathedral in Vienna is administrated by Russia’s Orthodox Church. On Wednesday, the clerics called on the Austrian authorities not to turn a blind eye to the “blasphemy.” They also said the cathedral would be “cleansed” by a prayer to God to expunge hatred and spite.

In Helsinki, three unrelated girls stripped outside the Russian Embassy Wednesday. The words on their chests formed the message “Free Pussy Riot!” Ten days earlier, another group of Pussy Riot supporters tried to enter a Helsinki cathedral, but were banished to perform outside.

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Pussy Riot Solidarity Act at Helsinki′s Orthodox Uspenski Catherdal (Image from Facebook)
Pussy Riot Solidarity Act at Helsinki's Orthodox Uspenski Catherdal (Image from Facebook)

Politicians and celebs slam Pussy Riot case

Since the latest court session, Pussy Riot's supporters have mobilized the world over to press the Russian authorities, if not into freeing the band members, then at least into easing their punishment. This should culminate on Friday, when a simultaneous protest is planned in 43 cities worldwide as the court announces its verdict.

Meanwhile, political pressure has also been building up. In the previous week, German MPs sent a letter to the Russian ambassador calling the five months the band members have spent in custody and the possible prison terms a "draconian and disproportionate" punishment. The US State Department has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the case.

Some officials have put aside their official ways. In this connection, Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr Sunday rode through the streets of the Icelandic capital in a Gay Pride parade dressed like a Pussy Riot band member – wearing a bright pink dress and matching balaclava – and lip synching a Pussy Riot song.

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Screenshot from video by YouTube user porkkalaporkkala shows Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr during his pro-Pussy Riot stunt
Screenshot from video by YouTube user porkkalaporkkala shows Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr during his pro-Pussy Riot stunt

Madonna wrote the name of the band on her back while performing in Moscow (and later a Russian ultra-religious group burnt down her portraits over the “blasphemy). Sting, Bjork, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Franz Ferdinand are just some of those who have spoken out in support of the group.

American actress Alicia Silverstone has also personally addressed President Putin. The celebrity grew worried that Maria Alyokhina, who is a vegetarian, is not being fed appropriately while in administrative detention. Silverstone asked Putin “to ensure that vegan meals are available to Ms. Alyokhina.

In their closing statements, Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich again said it was an ethical mistake to bring their action to the Cathedral, and denied charges of hooliganism driven by religious hatred.

They said their action was politically motivated, since they wanted to criticize what they saw as a coalescence of Russia’s ruling elite with the Orthodox Church. Earlier, the girls stated they went to the Cathedral after Patriarch Kirill named Vladimir Putin “a miracle from God” who had “rectified the crooked path of history,” effectively calling on believers to vote for him in the upcoming presidential poll.

The girls’ performance, which involved short, bright dresses, high kicking and calls to Virgin Mary to become a feminist, is said to have gravely offended many believers. The Russian Orthodox Church refuses to comment on the trial, but hints that without due repentance there can be no forgiveness. Still, according to the latest polls by the independent Levada Center, 58 per cent of Russians believe a jail term for the Pussy Riot would be excessive.

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Protesters wear balaclavas and colourful dresses, in the style of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, outside the Russian embassy in Berlin.(REUTERS / Thomas Peter)
Protesters wear balaclavas and colourful dresses, in the style of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, outside the Russian embassy in Berlin.(REUTERS / Thomas Peter)

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Protesters wearing masks take part in an Amnesty International flash mob demonstration in support of Russian punk band Pussy Riot in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.(REUTERS / David Moir)
Protesters wearing masks take part in an Amnesty International flash mob demonstration in support of Russian punk band Pussy Riot in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.(REUTERS / David Moir)