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Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Pussy Riot

Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Pussy Riot

Russia’s most famous prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has released a statement on the trial of punk rock provocateurs Pussy Riot. The billionaire dissident recounts his own experience in the courtroom where the band members now sit:

Segezha, 6 August 2012 – It is painful to watch what is taking place in the Khamovnichesky Court of the city of Moscow, where Masha, Nadya, and Katya are on trial. The word “trial” is applicable here only in the sense in which it was used by the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages.

I know this aquarium in courtroom number 7 well – they made it especially for me and Platon, “just for us”, after the ECHR had declared that keeping defendants behind bars is degrading and violates the Convention on Human Rights.

This is a subtle and sophisticated way of mocking people who dared to file a complaint with the ECHR: ah, okay, so you say that a cage with bars is bad; well then, here’s a cage made of glass for you, a beaker with a little porthole through which you can talk to your lawyers, but you need to twist and contort yourself every which way to actually be able to speak through it. In the summer you feel like a tropical fish in that glass cage – it is hot, and the air from the air conditioner in the courtroom does not circulate through the glass. It was hard for me and Platon – two people – to be in the aquarium together the whole day. I can not even imagine how all three of those poor girls manage to fit in there at once…[…]

If limiting familiarisation with the case and extending arrest is just the usual run-of-the-mill lawlessness, an 11-hour court session without a decent break even for lunch sure looks like the execution of an instruction to complete the judicial investigation, and maybe even the final submissions, before the end of the Olympiad, while the world’s mass information media are busy with other things, and our ignominy does not resonate quite as loudly. The ignominy of a great country, a country of world famous humanists and scientists, turning headlong into a backwards Asiatic province.

I am very ashamed and hurt. And not because of these girls – the mistakes of youthful radicalism can be forgiven – but for the state, which is profaning our Russia with its complete and utter lack of conscience.

It’s interesting to note that while Khodorkovsky sympathizes with the defendants, he, like fellow dissident Alexei Navalny — who’s facing his legal difficulties — stops short of actually supporting their actions. Navalny called Pussy Riot "silly girls" who were being unfairly made an example of, while Khodorkovsky chalks up their actions to "the mistakes of youthful radicalism". The Russian opposition seems willing to decry the treatment of Pussy Riot, but not all that interested in celebrating their activities. 

Here at FP Spencer Ackerman puts Pussy Riot in the context of punk’s history of political agitation, arguing that they are today, as The Clash were once described, the only band that matters. Charles Homans looks at some past examples of bands who took on dictators. One imagines Vaclav Havel probably wouldn’t have been shy about cheering on the band’s "punk prayer."