Fed Up Followers of the Week – Pussy Riot

Who knew it would come to this? Who knew Russia’s president would be first publicly ridiculed and now directly challenged by three women from a feminist punk band – Pussy Riot? Who knew Madonna would raise the stakes by becoming embroiled in the fiasco – voicing her support for the band “as an artist, as a human being, [and] as a woman”? Who knew Russian rockers would come to incarnate the growing opposition to perennial Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin?

Along with anti-Kremlin activist Aleksei Navalny – about whom more another time – Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, all women in their twenties, have been the most visible symbol so far of the anti-Putin opposition. For staging a political protest on the alter of Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral in February – OK, so maybe taking on the government and the church at one and the same time wasn’t the world’s smartest idea – they have been imprisoned since March, charged with hooliganism.

Some of this is funny – including, arguably, Pussy Riot’s original stunt, some of the subsequent courtroom theatrics, and Madonna’s appearance this week on a Moscow stage, in a black bra with “Pussy Riot” stamped on the back. But most of it is not – not funny in the least. Pussy Riot is only the most visible, risible, symbol of an opposition that is growing not only in size, but in the level of its temerity. Since disputed parliamentary elections in December, and Putin’s election, again, as president in March, there have been more or less regular anti-Kremlin protests, some of them involving tens of thousands taking to the streets.

Putin has always been used to getting his way. And likely as not he still will – or at least he will try as hard as he dare, to shut up and shut out those who threaten his power. But times have changed: bully leaders are less likely now to be tolerated, and intrepid followers are more likely now to risk protesting in public.

Notwithstanding his reelection as president of Russia, it’s not been a good year for Putin. Not only does he face unprecedented opposition at home, he faces widespread opprobrium abroad, for defending, at this rate to the death, Syrian dictator, Bashir al-Assad. So far, Putin’s response to all this has been to hunker down and double down. Whether or not this will prove a viable strategy over the long term remains of course to be seen. I, for one, rather doubt it.

Stay tuned – I will be on Putin Patrol on a regular basis..

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