Pussy Riot May Be Russian Guitar Heroes

Russian free speech advocates are up in arms. 

Three women from the punk band Pussy Riot were slapped Friday with a two year prison sentence for railing against Putin in musical fashion at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral Church – what the verdict described as an act of “religious hatred.”


The resulting outcry is justified, but the case begs the question of whether these rockers appreciated beforehand the consequences of their actions. Did they not expect such a harsh sentence? They slammed Putin whilst donning what Reuters described as “bright ski masks, tights and short skirts,” at an Orthodox Church altar, nonetheless. Add to that the band’s edgy name, likely to offend stodgy politicians and bureaucrats, and you have a performance bound to end badly.

Unless Pussy Riot was incredibly naïve – and it’s difficult to believe that they were – the band has knowingly energized the movement against Russian anti-free speech measures.

Had this episode transpired in any reliably democratic state, Pussy Riot would have had reason to expect fairer treatment. But this was in Russia, where, even though Putin requested for the band to be treated reasonably, his latest presidential stint and December’s controversial parliamentary elections make clear the government’s disregard for democracy.

In a country where the president and prime minister play musical chairs and even a previous head of state questions the electoral process, government transparency and free elections are a tall order. One imagines Pussy Riot had the common sense to figure their deed would not go unpunished.

If not, then they weren’t heroes, even if they ruffled the feathers of Russia’s oppressive regime. Rebels are heroes only if they respond to injustice ready to face the consequences of their actions. Otherwise, they are mere captives of fate; unable to know what was coming for them but forced to deal with the consequences anyway.