Russian Opposition Confronts A Society Apathetic To Pussy Riot
After the conviction and two-year sentence imposed on the punk band Pussy Riot, the mood amongst Russian dissidents is oscillating between satisfaction and despair.
The good news is that the Putin government has discredited itself in foreign opinion by a sham judicial trial in which the deck was stacked against the defendants and condemnations are pouring in from abroad.
On the other hand, opponents of the Putin government find it hard to reconcile themselves with a situation where repression is currently harsher than in czarist Russia or the waning years of Leonid Brezhnev.
After venting their rage and ridicule on Vladimir Putin or the Russian Orthodox Church, dissidents must face the fact that an apathetic Russian society has not bestirred itself in outrage. One critic of the trial wrote as follows:
If the public is ready to go through these trials, then any critic of the system or any person who comes at hand will be imprisoned as a "blasphemer", as a thief of United Russia's treasure, as an unsanctioned walker, as someone wearing the wrong clothes or on any other pretense. And the pretenses will be invented as necessary.
As opposed to the outpouring of protest by foreign entertainers, the Russian entertainment world was either silent or even called for the punk group to be punished.
According to the poll conducted by the Levada-Center, the opinion of most Russians about the judicial system has not changed.
Some analysts praised the verdict as just right. Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information said: "If the young women had been freed, the opposition would have seen the authorities as weak. If it had been too harsh, the Kremlin would be labeled as repressive."
Novosti, the official Russian news agency, sneered at the low turnout of protesters in the first Sunday following the sentencing. Sunday, when people are off from work, is a favorite day for demonstrations. Only 500 demonstrators attended and Novosti described them as appearing "tired and apathetic". The demonstration was far outnumbered by the number of Muscovites visiting the Moscow zoo.
Confident that domestic dissent over the trial is more than containable, the Kremlin is concentrating on parrying foreign criticism.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov trotted out the pleas by both President Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church not to punish the accused harshly. Now that the verdict was in, both Vladimir Putin and the church would have to let justice take its course, including the appeals process. The Russian Foreign Minister cited laws against blasphemy in houses of worship that prescribed punishments equal to that imposed on Pussy Riot.
Lavrov even cited a case in Israel where a man who brought a pig's head to the Temple Mount received two years imprisonment.