Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The future's never looked so haggard

Perhaps it’s ironic my starting blogging again over the Pussy Riot issue, because the actual case itself is one I’m very ambivalent about. I support freedom of expression and I am skeptical about prisons in general, I'd like the girls to apologise and be released. But I also think a lot of my fellow civil libertarians are showing abject moral cowardice in implying that this is a freedom of speech issue. It isn’t. It isn’t about the freedom to express opinions in the print or broadcast media. One can only support pussy riot because one supports the ‘right’ to harass and offend people in their own space. Or, as The Guardian’s Masha Gessen put it: ‘it is Russia choosing what path it should take. Is it going to be a country where every citizen crosses herself precisely as directed? Or will it be a country where people can speak – and sing – their minds, even when and where others may find it offensive? Ms Gessen is a truly abysmal writer as shown in a paragraph highlighted by Anatoly Karlin from same article: ‘But the three women do personify the essence of the protests: they have no articulated political agenda, they offer no detailed critique of the regime; they are just very loud and very expressive about wanting an end to the stifling rule of Putin and his cronies. They have been in jail for five months and face years more for this: being loud, irreverent, and very, very clear about what they want.’ She also has likes to speak well of convicted criminals as long as they're richer than the riff-raff. However, even bearing this in mind, it’s pretty interesting to see that she thinks being able to be insulting ‘even when and where others may find it offensive’ will make Russia more civilised. This is something that requires a bit of lateral thought that most CiFers are evidently unable to even attempt. Just some questions: -Should people be able to go into burns units and make fun of the victims? -Should stand up comedians be able to make paedophilia jokes in front of child sex abuse victims? -Should Hearts fans be able to go into Catholic Cathedrals and belt out ‘the famine song’? -Should Holocaust deniers be allowed to go into synagogues and hand out leaflets? If you answered no to these (and I hope you did) then maybe you don’t really think that freedom of speech should be unlimited by space and time. And this is coming from someone (i.e. me) who opposed the religious hatred bill, who thinks any act of simulated violence or sexual activity between consenting adults should be permitted in (age-rated) films and that political correctness is real and is used to curtail liberty of expression. However, this does not really figure much in Te Graun’s abysmal coverage of Pussy Riot. For them, this does not seem to be about protecting a principle but about backwards dark-age Russia against the yoof. The ironic thing about this is that it seems to me that the anti-Christian liberals are the ones acting as fundamentalists: -They confuse what they want to be true with what is and don’t think that statistics are needed to support their statements Look at this Independent article: ‘while many Russians found their stunt distasteful, the harsh response has brought public opinion round to their side.’ Not a single poll or figure. Incidentally, nice reply to my comment where Lucas Sutton describes Russians as ‘simian’ and which gets five recommends and no thumbs down from Indy readers. Nice how tolerant western liberals are these days. They also seem pretty certain of what the outcome will be, regardless of any indications. And, in their own cosmology, the Russians will face condemnation if they don’t travel the one and only right path to the future. Which brings me back to Gessen's original quote. Only through shocking behavior in Russia's most cherished buildings aimed at one of Russia's most cherished institutions can the Russian people gain any kind of freedom. This is an utterly false dichotomy. The only problem is that the future Russia seems more like the 1990s Russia. And by that, I don’t just mean selfishness and anarchy, but even the sheer cheesiness. Just check these quotes and see if the liberals don’t sound like especially naff characters from a novel written by a talentless imitator of Victor Pelevin: He'd also told me that Verzilov "will blow your head off. It's phenomenal that he's only 25. It's just the most incredible story. It's just so rock'n'roll. It really is punk. What they did was as shocking as what the Sex Pistols did. Maybe more so. Because it was against this dictator. It's punks against Putin." Incidentally, this is one of numerous positive Sex-Pistols comparisons The Guardian makes. This is the band whose member probably murdered a woman and whose second most famous member allegedly assaulted two women and a black man. Nice ideals of progress Graun feminists have. Incidentally, what kind of person says 'It's just so rock and role. It really is punk'? The salt of the earth or a public schoolboy? Anyway: ‘Everybody is talking about it. Andrei Yerofeyev, one of the most respected curators of modern art in Russia, who in 2010 was himself tried (and found guilty) on charges of inciting religious and ethnic hatred by staging a show called Forbidden Art, compares it to Iran. To Saudi Arabia.’ Hahahaha. Really? Russia is like Saudi Arabia where women can be whipped for driving cars? Could he sound more arrogant, pompous and self-aggrandising whilst also wallowing in hatred of his country and being full of pop existentialism. It gets naffer: "but Nadia, she looks like she's in a perfume ad or something. They're all so cool, but you should see Nadia walk into court in her handcuffs. It's an incredible sight. She's like Simone de Beauvoir. I'm romanticising a bit, but she's Simone de Beauvoir. And Peter is Russia's Sartre." ‘She's probably Russia's most influential art critic. "She said what you were doing was incredible. That it's going to change Russian history. That there is no question that what you are doing is art and that no Russian artist has brought about this much change, ever," I say.’ I agree. No question that what you are doing is art. ‘And Artemy Troitsky, Russia's foremost rock critic? "That three girls might be the ones to break the spine of a tyrant." He looks pleased. But then, Pussy Riot are musicians and artists, and some are members of a group called Voina, Russia's most outrageous performance artists, whose work included painting a massive penis on a bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St Petersburg ("Dick Captured by FSB"), and staging an orgy in a museum on the eve of Medvedev's election in 2008 ("Fuck for the Heir Puppy Bear") They drew a giant penis? Whoa, the mad thing is these artistic geniuses left a similar masterpiece on a concrete underpass I saw the other day near Kirkaldy. I bet their satirical gifts were totally missed on the commuters. I find it rather depressing that so many in the Western media think (and hope) that Pussy Riot and this ‘underground’ network of cultural figures is not just the future of Russia but its only possible future. That rude, puerile and self-aggrandising people (who sum up everything that neo-liberalism stands for) are going to reshape Russia to be a ‘western’ culture in the worst sense of the word (and when our own culture and civil liberties recede and decay. I do personally wish that Russia did have some values that Western Europe has (though these are waning in Britain) such as freedom of censorship, open elections and a transparent legal system. However, I am more concerned with these decaying in Britain than in their faults in Russia. I'm also worried about the growing racism and xenophobia of the British left towards Russia and other countries such as Serbia and China. However, I do also think Russia has an invaluable and beautiful cultural heritage: of Dostoyevsky and Belii, of Chekhov and Gogol. I would much rather that Russian culture was reinvigorated by returning to these figures than to puerile 'modern' rubbish by Pussy Riot and the like. It seems to me this is a path most Russians want to go down. But one that a vocal minority hate. But believing in a future is not the same as creating it. Maybe those who despise Russians for appreciating their unique and beautiful heritage will be the ones ultimately left on the pavement of history.


  1. "The only problem is that the future Russia seems more like the 1990s Russia. And by that, I don’t just mean selfishness and anarchy, but even the sheer cheesiness."

    Man is that ever true. I mean, what is with the riot grrrl antics in 2012? Even movement members like Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney recognize the silliness into which this kind of pop liberalism often descends.

  2. Hi John, thank you for your comment. I'd agree that punk protests are often very naff and childish.