Michael Idov attends the closing arguments in the Pussy Riot trial.
…the hometown opinion on Pussy Riot is mixed at best. Even the liberal response has involved language like “They should let these chicks go with a slap on the ass.” Despite the rapid Westernization of the city elites, the rise of the vaunted “creative class” and the widespread distrust of the state-coddled Orthodox Church, Russians remain distinctly uncomfortable with activist women.
Pride parades remain banned in Moscow, while opposition leaders freely use the Russian word for “faggot” in public. The idea that liberalism is partly about upholding someone else’s liberty — including their right to do something that’s personally offensive to you — is an exotic and untested notion in Russia.
This allows Russian commentators to say or write things like “these women disgust me, they should rot in jail” without noticing the clear line between opinion and law that separates the first thought from the second.
It seems such a conspicuous line to fail to notice, doesn’t it. Is there a crime of “disgusting someone” on the books in Russia?
A case that should pivot on a specific legal question (“Does a violation of church protocol rise to the level of religious hatred?”) instead hangs entirely on emotions, including those of Patriarch Kirill I and President Vladimir V. Putin, that the judge and the prosecution appear to be trying to divine. The debate about the trial has also been full of pointless syllogisms: What if it was your daughter up there? What if they tried doing this in a mosque? What if someone came into your house and defecated on the carpet?
Snort. Pointless indeed. A public space like a church is not the same as “your house” and swearing is not the same as defecation. No carpet was damaged in the singing of Pussy Riot’s song.
Of course, if the defendants decided to convey over-the-top remorse (by falling to their knees, crying, etc.), then public opinion and even their legal fortunes would almost certainly turn. But Ms. Alyokhina, Ms. Samutsevich and Ms. Tolokonnikova remain cool, smiling and remote — a “Western” and “unfeminine” attitude. When you’re a woman in Russia, nothing but tears will do.
Policing the woman’s face again.