Pussy Heroes

In the wake of the sentencing of Pussy Riot members to two years in prison for hooliganism and religious hatred, there has been international rallying in their defence. Liberal pop personalities and Western government officials alike have been unified in their condemnation of the verdict and, correspondingly, Putin’s government. As UK Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, put it ‘I am deeply concerned by the sentencing of three members of the band Pussy Riot, which can only be considered a disproportionate response to an expression of political belief.’ It is perhaps worth considering the value of this kind of quick-to-the-gun statement, and whose politics it serves.

Not that I understand their motives or politics intricately, but it seems worth offering the reminder that Pussy Riot may not have much reverence for the UK government – they are after all a punk band. So it’s interesting to me to see the UK minister swiftly stepping up to the lectern in their name as the arbiter of free speech. It is possible, as the band’s influences might partially intimate, that Pussy Riot sees the UK not as an antidote to the oppression found in Russia but a comparable model, wherein socio-political oppression works in different but relatable ways and to different degrees depending on the given cultural / political tactic or ideology.

In the case of the UK, these tactics include pre-emptive arrests (as in the case of the royal wedding protestors who were detained – without charge – until after the symbolic ‘balcony kiss’); official complacency in the face of systemic police violence in the context of public protests (as seen in the case of Ian Tomlinson who died as a result of an unprovoked attack by PC Harwood, an officer with an extended record of abusive policing); and so called ‘total policing,’ tactics that include kettling and dispersal through intimidation and group disordering, not to mention brazen rhetorical intimidation. In this context, it is interesting to consider what ‘response to an expression of political belief’ is appropriate in Burt’s eyes.

CG

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