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What Is Pussy Riot?

To consider the trial of the ‘Pussy Riot’ women in Russia.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5

Aims

To consider the trial of the ‘Pussy Riot’ women in Russia.

Preparation and materials

  • Download pictures of the women who are currently in prison. There has been an appeal against the two-year sentence. On1 October, a Russian court adjourned the appeal hearing. Check the Internet for the latest information.
  • Download pictures of other political prisoners from sites such as Amnesty International.
  • Download a typical monastic chant, ideally from an Orthodox monastery.

Assembly

  1. Three women sit in a glass box in a Moscow courtroom. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina stand accused of hooliganism after performing a protest song at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a Russian Orthodox church, early in 2012.

    They are opposed to the re-election of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has become synonymous with a tough and assertive Russian nationalism and has also been accused of human rights abuses and a return to Soviet-style autocracy. Although Putin is popular in much of Russia, it is believed that in his election there was voter intimidation.

    Large protests accompanied Putin’s re-election, along with the formation of protest groups, such as Voina (War) and Pussy Riot. These groups use art and music to express their anger at the direction being taken by the Russian state. The three accused are members of Pussy Riot, a punk group, and also the name of a wider movement for women opposed to Putin.
  2. The Cathedral protest was born after Kirill I, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, publicly endorsed Putin’s candidacy, describing Putin as ‘a miracle from God’. Three members of Pussy Riot performed a song entitled ‘Mother of God, put Putin away’. They were arrested after just over a minute’s performance.

    The charges against the trio stem from the fact that their performance took place inside a church: they were accused of trying to incite religious hatred and blasphemy. They denied this, arguing that they were making a political protest against Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of him.

    The women were found guilty and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in a penal colony.
  3. While many ordinary Russians supported the prosecution, the harsh sentence has attracted criticism from around the world as well as from inside Russia.

    The Orthodox Church has said that clemency should be possible, should they repent of their ‘punk prayer’.

    Others have compared the trial to Soviet-era show trials and purges of any political dissent.

    Further development

    You might like to find out about the work of Amnesty, and possibly set up a support group for Amnesty in your school to campaign (via letters) on behalf of political prisoners (see ‘Time for reflection’).

Time for reflection

(Light a candle, and look at the pictures of the prisoners.)

While not everyone may agree with the manner of Pussy Riot’s protest, all can agree that the sentence was harsh.

Large numbers of people in many countries remain prisoners of conscience (those imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their beliefs or because of their race), including in countries that are allies of the UK. While there has been international condemnation from world leaders at the severity of the punishment meted out to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina, rather than speaking out on behalf of the many other political prisoners, governments around the world choose to remain silent. 

Nations must allow freedom of expression, combined with a respect for traditions and institutions.

How can we work to enable free speech in our daily lives? Do we censure what others say with regard to politics or religious faith, or do we listen, even if we don’t agree?

Music

Play the downloaded chant as students leave.

Publication date: December 2012   (Vol.14 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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