Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

How to Become an International Celebrity Protester


This week I was wandering around my local supermarket when I spotted something very unusual for Central Texas. A young woman was wearing a shocking pink T-shirt that read FREE PUSSY RIOT. I thought, Wow, they’re megastars now! Yet, although I more or less agreed with the sentiment on the T-shirt, I did wonder why these young women receive so much attention, when their protest was so asinine, and there are so many more causes in the world deserving of attention. For instance, that little girl who got shot in the head in Afghanistan earlier this week… where are the T-shirts demanding justice for her? Nowhere. Or, what about Mali, overrun by radical Islamists who are busy destroying ancient Sufi shrines? When is Paul McCartney going to tell them to stop? Never. Then, there’s NATO member Turkey, which imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world… when is Sean Penn going to speak up for them? He isn’t.

What’s going on here? Well, first of all, Russia’s very easy to understand. Russians are always the bad guys in Hollywood movies, and Putin is ex- KGB, so the Pussy Riot case is an incredibly easy narrative to frame. However, that’s not the complete explanation, because many people in Russia’s opposition are much more coherent and intelligent than Pussy Riot, but nobody in Texas is wearing hot pink T-shirts in support of Aleksei Navalny or Sergei Udaltsov. Is it because Pussy Riot consists of young women and mothers? Certainly, that increases sympathy for them, but I still don’t think that’s the core of the matter. Rather, I think it’s because their protest was extremely Western in style, as if designed to trigger a massive nostalgic response in Europe and America.

You see, punk music, feminists with attitude, irreverence for church and state… once upon a time, all that stuff was very exciting for us. Now, it’s incredibly boring. Punk music? In the 1970s, it was a bit shocking, what with all that spitting and saying rude things about the Queen. Today, the most famous punks are millionaires in their 40s or late 50s who live in mansions. As for blasphemy, you can dunk a crucifix in urine or incorporate elephant dung into your picture of the Virgin Mary and most people will yawn, whilst the artist reaps handsome rewards. See how boring that is? The ennui is terrible; there’s no risk involved. You need to go back 30 or 40 years for any of it to have meaning. In Russia, however, you’ll still get bashed on the head if you irritate the wrong people, and… as we have seen… singing a rotten song in a church can land you in jail. As the writer Zinovy Zinik once said, Russia is a vast erogenous zone for bored Westerners, close enough to provide a vicarious thrill, but sufficiently distant that it poses no risk of infection. Russians won’t protest in their thousands in front of Google’s offices in London if you say rude things about them on Youtube, for instance.

This meanwhile leads to an interesting question… how can you become an international celebrity protester? Well, if you live in the Middle East, or Africa, tough luck. Those places are too exotic, and much too dangerous. The best you can hope for is that a celebrity mediator might stop by and pick up your cause… like George Clooney in Darfur, or Sting wherever it is he hangs out these days. No, you need to live in a country that can be easily encapsulated as authoritarian, and preferably ex-communist. Thus, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei managed to achieve some renown, although he is much less successful than Pussy Riot. Retro youth culture is the way to go; you have to appeal to Western nostalgia. The problem is that punk’s been done, and protesting in a church has been done, so what’s left? I think you have to go further back in time, to the 1960s. None of that Black Panther, Weather Underground terror stuff, though; it isn’t fashionable any more. No, the protest has to be really asinine… like getting naked in public for instance. Ah, wait… FEMEN in the Ukraine have already done that (and scored decent media coverage).

Wait, I’ve got it! Here’s the height of pointlessness, the most ridiculous protest of all. Stage a bed-in, like John and Yoko! Decades afterward, people still remember that the ex-Beatle and his undertalented wife slept in late one day for the sake of… world peace, was it? Or, were they raising our consciousness? Maybe Garry Kasparov could lie in bed with Eduard Limonov and refuse to get up until Russia changes. Of course, I think President Putin would be perfectly happy if they did just that.

17 October 2012

Daniel Kalder





Saturday, 6 October 2012

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov: God, Not the State, Should Protect Believers’ Feelings


On Friday, Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, superior of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow and the Executive Secretary of the MP Patriarchal Council for Culture, said in an interview that Russia doesn’t need laws to protect the feelings of religious believers, but the state should deploy its power to defend the country against what he called acts of spiritual terrorism, saying, “We need clear succinct laws in order to defend both religious and secular verities from malicious abuse, which, in my view, is nothing less than spiritual terrorism. In my opinion, believers’ feelings need no protection other than from the Lord Himself”.

Last week, Russian lawmakers submitted draft legislation calling for prison sentences of up to five years for individuals convicted of “insulting citizens’ religious beliefs and feelings”. The bill came in the wake of the imprisonment of three members of Pussy Riot for performing a “punk prayer” criticising President Vladimir Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow in February. A court convicted Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Maria Alyokhina of aggravated hooliganism and sentenced them to two years in prison. The saga sparked international outrage, with foreign governments criticising the punishment as excessive, and music stars like Madonna and Paul McCartney publicly expressing their support for the three women.

Fr Tikhon, who spoke Friday after a presentation of the English-language version of his book Everyday Saints and Other Stories at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, conceded that the church might court similar provocations by taking a hard line against incidents like the Pussy Riot performance, observing, “Nevertheless, if these jokers are going around desecrating crosses and churches, dancing on altars, and defiling museums left and right, and everyone just shuts their mouths and thinks it’ll go away, that won’t work either”. Fr Tikhon suggested that Russia might consider implementing punishments similar to those in Israel, where anyone convicted of desecrating a holy place can face up to seven years in prison.

Fr Tikhon is widely rumoured to be Putin’s spiritual adviser, although he declined to comment when an audience member at Friday’s presentation asked about his relationship to “someone in the Kremlin”. He replied, “There’s no point in discussing rumours”. The release of Everyday Saints and Other Stories in the USA came amid celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the reconciliation of the MP and the ROCOR. The festivities include a 20-day, nine-city tour across the USA by the all-male Sretensky Monestary Choir, which performed two pieces at the presentation of Fr Tikhon’s book on Friday.

6 October 2012

Carl Schreck



Editor’s Note:

Shame on the English translator… a more accurate reading of the title is Unholy Holiness… they “castrated” the title, depriving it of its full power and meaning. Holiness is usually “unholy”… that is, it doesn’t please the pietistic bastards who fancy themselves religious. In short, I’d wonder where else they “softened” and “dumbed down” the text to please the terminally-religious. Remember, to be “holy” means loving the truth… and poseurs (such as the First Families, SVS, and konvertsy) hate the truth (“You can’t say that! They’re such GOOD people!”). That means that you won’t find holiness amongst those screaming the loudest about it. Holiness is where it is… not where it’s bruited about. In fact, some of the worst perverters of the Faith… such as Arius, Avvakum Petrov, Aleksandr Vvedensky, Alexander Schmemann, and Gleb Podmoshensky (Fathausen was a drooling disciple of the last-named heretic)… fooled many with their smarmy pietism and patina of superficial religiosity. Holiness is REAL… that means that you’ll only see it if you look at the world for what it truly is… and most of us aren’t prepared to do that.

I wonder if Potapov was around for this shindig… he probably was, but the SVR probably warned Fr Tikhon of the fact that Potapov’s a Langley asset, so, he’ll be polite and non-committal around him. After all, I (and many others) know of Victor’s loud opinions prior to the reconciliation… and who signed his pay-cheque. Will the real Victor Potapov please stand up (shades of To Tell the Truth)? Never turn your back on his ilk… it’s not healthy (do remember Potapov’s tirade against a relative carried by the ROCOR official website).


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Igumen Sergei Rybko of Bibirevo Wrote to Sir Paul McCartney on Pussy Riot…


A Foreword by Fr John Dresko

For those of you who’ve been following the unfortunately named group of women who launched a protest in front of the iconostas at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, then, were subsequently arrested and convicted, the following is a wonderful and humble open letter from an Orthodox priest to the famous Sir Paul McCartney, who voiced loudly his disapproval of the Russian court’s action. It’s worth reading, as it explains the violation that the Russian people felt about this incident, and why the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of the women isn’t something the Western mind can easily understand. I especially love Father’s signature and credentials at the end. Please, take the time to read it.


Dear and Highly Esteemed Sir Paul McCartney,

I’m a Russian Orthodox priest, a typical representative of the generation of the 70s. Even though we were born in a country behind the “Iron Curtain”, nevertheless, we were brought up with the great music of the Beatles.

Dear Sir Paul,

You can’t even imagine how the art of your friends and yours personally was important to us. The Beatles’ songs taught us to think about the meaning of life, good and evil, even about God and eternity, taught us to understand and love freedom in all its manifestations. The absence of freedom was extremely felt in that totalitarian country, in which we were doomed to be born and live. The “Iron Curtain” separated us not only from our mates in the free world where they could create and live according to their desires. This deadly “curtain” separated hearts in our country as well. Moreover, it tried to hide from us the Heavens and God. In our childhood, we were taught about the “class struggle”. We had to be victims for the sake of a mythical “bright future”. We were brought up in an atmosphere of hatred of the whole world. Could you imagine, dear Sir Paul, what your songs, which called for peace, freedom, and love, meant for us in that heartless and godless country (“sovok”)?

But the freedom of a person praised by the Beatles was achieved not at the expense of other people… it never derogated the freedom of another person. We’ve always wanted to be free just in this sense. I’m free, but my freedom doesn’t stand in the way of other people. Millions of Russian people set for guitar all the songs of Beatles that penetrated to us through the “Iron Curtain” and “Berlin Wall”. Your never-dying melodies could be heard in every flat and courtyard; not a single celebration party went without them. Not Lenin and Marx taught our generation the meaning of life, but four honest guys from far and almost legendary English Liverpool. But I’m thankful to you mostly for having taught me to think and strive for the real freedom; your music and poetry eventually in a mysterious way helped me to understand Christ. Believe me, Sir Paul, I’m not alone. When I became a priest and monk of the Russian Orthodox Church, I met thousands of people who admit that they had come to Orthodoxy because of your songs.

Dear Sir Paul,

Some months ago, Russia witnessed an act of evil. We, Russian believers, perceive this event in this way. In a church, built in honour of the freeing of Russia from Napoleon’s invasion {this year is the 200th anniversary of the First Great Patriotic War against Napoleon, which ended in the triumphal entry of the tsarist army into Paris, led by the Cossack host: editor}, in a church which for us is a great national shrine, four young girls began to dance right before the altar, swearing, singing sacrilegious songs, and offering offence to our Patriarch, who is, for all of us, a spiritual leader and honourable man. All this Bacchanalia was filmed and went all over the world. Needless to say, what a shock and spit in the soul we, Russian Orthodox religious people, had experienced.

Several weeks before this event, members of Pussy Riot tried to do something like this in another Moscow church. They were politely asked to leave, without having a chance to give it public utterance. They conducted a similar action in Red Square, just exactly where you, dear Sir Paul, gave your concert. Again, sacrilege and twisting were left without any consequences. At last, before the “action” in the Church of Christ the Saviour, members of Pussy Riot popped up and performed an act of group sex with their partners in the State Zoo Museum {does he mean the Moscow Zoo (Московский зоопарк)?: editor} in broad daylight, and in the presence of visitors including children. Video and photos of this effrontery were also made public on the Internet, and shown over the central Russian TV channels.

Sir Paul,

I’d like to ask you whether you consider these actions normal? What could happen in future if these so-called punk rock performers, who in reality have nothing to do either with the punk movement or with rock music, weren’t stopped? Of course, times are changing, and, in the “civilised world”, this is probably considered normal, but I can’t imagine that the Beatles, even with their nonconformity, would allow something like that in the presence of children in a museum. There exist some norms of moral, decency, ethics, good, and evil, not necessarily connected with this-or-that religion, which nobody can neglect. If people overstep these limits, they’ll lose the character of Homo sapiens and become like animals.

Dear Sir Paul,

I’m sure that you and other famous musicians were misled as to the essence of this latter event and came out for Pussy Riot without knowing these details. That’s why I ventured to let you know the position of Russian believers. In your letter addressed to Pussy Riot, you struggle for the freedom of art and self-expression. Nobody is against that. Everything… freedom, art, and self-expression… are elementary rights which God gave every man. As the Lord Jesus Christ taught us, You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free (Gospel according to St John 8.32). Christianity is a religion of lovers of liberty and free-thinking people.

In present-day Russia, our desire to be free is multiplied by that life experience in a totalitarian communist state which, we, Russians, had. Please note, Sir Paul, that the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t call for the punishment of Pussy Riot… judicial proceedings took place because private persons who’d been deeply offended by their act petitioned the court. I understand those people. When Pussy Riot blaspheme in the street, it’s their private affair. Many people do the same. But if they break into our church disturbing people at prayer, blaming our God, our faith, our Patriarch, they offend personally each of us.

Please, tell me, Sir Paul, what would be your reaction if during one of your concerts somebody ran onto the scene, began to break your instruments, hindering your performance, and, then, took your microphone, and used dirty words to offend everything that’s dear and sacred for you, i.e. your wife, your parents, your art, your moral values? Would you call it self-expression and freedom of art, or would you consider it as common disorderly conduct? What would you do in such a situation? I think that as a man possessing chivalry, you wouldn’t wait for the guard, but take actions against such a person yourself.

Probably, the sentence for Pussy Riot is somewhat severe. But it was passed by a judicial body. Wishing these young women good, please, understand also us, Orthodox believers. To nobody do we wish ill, prison, long time in prisons, but at the same time, we wish that our shrines, for which our fathers and grandfathers spilled their blood in the not-so-far past, not be subjected to such an affront. It was not us who pushed the members of Pussy Riot, but it was they who plunged into our church and insulted deeply the present people and thousands of Internet users, which saw the movie with their sacrilege. They mocked before God’s altar. We wish not long terms in prison for these ill-educated and disorderly women, but only that something similar will never take place in any of our churches.

With all due respect,

Igumen Sergei Rybko

Rector of Moscow Church of Holy Spirit

Member of Intersynodical Presence of Russian Orthodox Church

Drummer in rock-group and member of the hippie movement in the 70s

Friday, 17 August 2012

Most Russians Agree with the Pussy Riot Trial


A recent sociological survey shows that most Russians agree that the Pussy Riot punk group should be put on trial. 44 percent of respondents believe that the trial will be fair and impartial, but 17 percent of respondents feel otherwise. Meanwhile, 40 percent of those polled believe that the decision to try the punk group was prompted by Orthodox believers’ outrage at the Pussy Riot’s rowdy behaviour in a Moscow church in February this year.

A Moscow court is due to pass a sentence on three members of the punk group later today. The procurator demanded a three-year jail sentence, whilst the counsel for the defence insists that the girls in the dock should be acquitted. In February, the accused entered the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, and started jumping and grimacing in front of the Royal Doors, whilst hurling insults at the believers. This went on for several minutes.

Today, at 15.00 MSK, the three women (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Maria Alyokhina) charged with hooliganism for their punk-prayer at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour will know the verdict. Their supporters plan to hold a peaceful rally near Moscow Khamovnichesky Court Friday before the verdict is delivered.

In late February, four members of Pussy Riot performed a so-called “punk prayer” before the Royal Doors of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Some of their supporters called this blasphemy a “performance”. Three band members were detained and charged with hooliganism. The trial triggered a lot of fuss in the country and abroad. They received support from a number of Western celebrities, such as Madonna, Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, Anti-Flag, Franz Ferdinand, Stephen Frey, and Yoko Ono, whilst some Russian stars condemned the girls and said that they deserved punishment.

17 August 2012

Voice of Russia World Service


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