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Bolshie Women: Free Pussy Riot

Three members of the Russian radical feminist band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. The verdict is grossly out of proportion to the collective’s “crime” of singing a rowdy anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral two weeks before his re-election as president. Sally Turner and Joy Macready write

Their real crime – in the eyes of the Russian state – is exposing the unholy alliance between Putin and his ex-KGB colleague Kirill, now head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill threw the weight of the church behind Putin’s campaign for a third term and called on Russians to stay away from the anti-government protests that erupted in December 2011. He pronounced the Putin era as “a miracle of God”.

But God has nothing to do with it. Putin has systematically maintained his iron grip on political power by installing puppet president Dmitry Medvedev for four years, while at the same time working hand in fist with the bastion of conservatism and reaction – the church.

Putin and his cronies have made themselves exceedingly wealthy through rampant capitalist exploitation in Russia. They have used treachery, deceit, bribery, hypocrisy, greed and lawlessness to line their own pockets, and brutal repression to maintain their grip on power.

Repression

Since 4 March, two weeks after their ‘punk prayer’ went viral on YouTube, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have sat in pre-trial detention, repeatedly being denied bail. The state launched a massive public smear-campaign against the “moralising slut” and “blasphemous women”.

The band members’ lightning-quick trial, marked by procedural violations and absurdities, has revealed Putin’s determination to strangle dissent.

In June, the Duma (parliament) passed a series of draconian laws to rein in an opposition movement that has brought tens of thousands of people into the streets, and tens of thousands more into critical forums online. The new laws have dramatically raised fines for illegal protest and another law has created an internet blacklist that will censor online content.

Pussy Riot dared to challenge Putin’s monopoly and are being made an example of by his regime. Their sentence is a direct warning to the mass movement that protested against the ballot rigging and fraud in the last presidential election.

Bolsheviks

Almost 100 years ago the revolutionary government of the Russian Bolsheviks introduced free abortion on demand, instant divorce and equal pay. They opened up areas of industry that had previously been closed to women. They provided free childcare and socialised housework and dining, which freed women to participate in society as equals with men. In this way they removed the material basis for women’s oppression – as slaves within the family.

Despite many of these gains being rolled back during the Stalinist regime, Russian women are much worse off today. Carrying the double burden of work and raising children, the majority of Russian women are trapped in low-wage ghettos, such as healthcare, education, and clerical jobs. On average women are paid between 33 per cent and 50 per cent less than men. Women make up 45% per cent of the unemployed, while more than 450 occupations are closed to them.

Young women are discriminated against when applying for a job because they may get pregnant and many fall prey to trafficking schemes. The unleashing of market forces brought terrible consequences alongside the ‘freedom’ to choose between competing sets of corrupt political gangsters.

But women are fighting back. Samutsevich said the guilty verdict handed to her and two other group members has strengthened her resolve to fight for Putin’s downfall. The three women have turned the show trial into a political platform, effectively putting the state and the capitalist system in the dock.

In her closing statement Tolokonnikova laid the blame squarely on the capitalist state: “It is the entire state system of the Russian Federation which is on trial and which, unfortunately for itself, thoroughly enjoys quoting its cruelty towards human beings, its indifference to their honour and dignity… The authoritarian political system is to blame.” Their performance, she said, “is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed by the corporate state system.”

 

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