The Russian Orthodox Church’s response to the Pussy Riot case has been more complex than many realise, argues Katja Richters
Since the beginning of the year, much has been said and written about the members of Pussy Riot who were convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ after having performed a so-called punk prayer in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in central Moscow. Their trial was generally seen as politically motivated and Amnesty International declared the accused prisoners of conscience. In August 2012, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, but Samutsevich’s prison term was later suspended upon appeal.
As their ‘crime’ was committed inside one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most high-profile cathedrals the Church and its official representatives were dragged into the debate. Questions about the Orthodox hierarchy’s take on the matter and its relationship with the state were widely discussed in both Russian and international media. They were reinforced by the indictment and the verdict which highlighted the damage that the punk prayer had allegedly caused amongst the Orthodox.
One line of reporting suggested that the Church had adopted a very strict attitude towards the incident. Given the obviously offensive and arguably blasphemous lyrics contained in the punk prayer, these reports are quite credible. But they only tell half of the story. In fact, it was mainly one cleric, the Church’s head of the Department for Relations with Society, Vsevolod Chaplin, who took a particularly tough approach to the case. (more…)