True confession – I’ve made it a point to acquaint myself with the Russian all-female punk band Pussy Riot. Russian history and culture has fascinated me since childhood, when the USSR was the enemy that was about to annihilate us at any time. I remember feeling real terror during the Cuban missile crisis, mostly echoing the sentiments of my mother as I watched her react to the developing news. My Dad was away in Hawaii on business, which couldn’t have been foreseen, but had he been there I doubt the feelings would have been different had he been around. But Russia, the nemesis, was forged deep inside my little consciousness.
In college, I took Russian history from Dr. Gregory Freeze at Brandeis. I took the course pass/fail, since I knew my semester was already booked with some heavy work and this was going to be heavy work. The course covered the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it was packed with information, most of which I do not recall. But (and this is by memory) I learned about the Zemstvo, the form of local governance that ruled in the nineteenth century, the later part of the Tsardom, the caste system, and all the turmoil that led up to the Bolshevik revolution. The latter, as I recall, was greeted as relief by the general populace after so much uncertainty and upheaval (I am reminded that the quashing of the 1989 Chinese demonstrations was also a relief for my friend Albert at the time).
So Pussy Riot has been pardoned. I have watched the act of protest for which they were imprisoned. I don’t really care for the music, and they seem like some very angry, though determined young ladies. I have discovered (hey, it takes me a while) there is a world-wide women’s movement called Femen whose topless protests are signature acts of defiance, often targeting orthodox churches or male-dominated institutions. Reading their goals, they are at least as much against men as they are for anything. Misandry over misogyny, which doesn’t seem much better by any measure.
There is little question that there is a varying level of quite real abuse and unequal rights for women in different places around the world. And that’s not good. I do think there’s a benefit to any nation and society that establishes equal rights for all. Now, what “rights” are or are not can be debated, but the basic tenet holds. In my book. And His.
How one draws attention and resolves inequalities and injustices varies, but aside from open warfare there is little to be gained from outrageous behavior as communication. Radical provocation will land you in jail; it sets your cause back, not forward. And so we have Pussy Riot in jail. And now, out of jail.
Contrast that to Nelson Mandela, post-prison. Or Ghandi. Or MLK. They each established a legacy of change, not just during their lifetimes. Civil disobedience was their MO, not storming churches with punk culture or bared breasts (Honestly, if Femen wants to overcome male dominance, they should learn about the effect of the naked female form on sight-oriented men. Or strangely, maybe that’s what they hope to inflame, which is even more ignorant).
I’ve read what the now-free members of Pussy Riot have been saying. Nothing is resolved; if anything it’s worse. Post Olympics, I would look for these ladies to be back in prison. Or worse. They will call it victory; proof of their cause and the tactics of their enemy. I’m no judge, but I remember why the people of Russia let the Bolsheviks in – to resolve unrest. Perhaps they and Femen need to grow up, to grow wise and more strategic. Reactions to their acts are not only negative, but surly and threatening.
But it’s Christmas, time for pardons, time for gifts.
There is rebellion. And there is oppression. And there is reconciliation. I’ll take reconciliation. And peace on earth.