On February 21 of this year, three masked punk singers got up on the solea of Christ the Savior Cathedral, sang a bunch of offensive verses, and approximately 50 seconds later were escorted out of the Cathedral. Since then, the world has protested the jailing of what was, just a month earlier, an obnoxious prank, earning the perpetrators a fine of just $16.
But the stakes were higher in the Patriarch’s Cathedral, and a few weeks after their removal, three of the members of “Pussy Riot” were arrested, detained and have been jailed since. Secular world opinion, which considers what happened to have been a harmless action, has largely sided with the singers. In Russia, the hostility is largely directed at the Moscow Patriarchate, where even President Putin has begun to distance himself ever so slightly from the Patriarchate’s stringent request for three years in jail.
In 2 hours, the court– largely considered to be a subservient proxy to the Kremlin– will render its decision. The real winners in this will be, in the end, opposition groups in Russia– if the three are released, it will inspire future protests; if not, the singers will be considered political martyrs.
Who are the losers?
One would be inclined to say at the outset that Putin loses either way. It’s tempting to see it that way, but an objective look at the situation indicates that Putin is largely immune to the fallout from this trial. In the first place, he’s distanced himself as much as possible from the trial; in the second, the very fact that sparked the protest, the fact of his right to a third term, is no longer a question or in dispute.
There can be no doubt that the losers in this trial are the proprietors of the Cathedral. A media firestorm has surrounded the Patriarchate for months, and their image as a body representing Christ in the mind of many has been replaced by that of the grand inquisitor– indeed, Russian media made the comparison repeatedly even this week, and references to the “medieval” nature of the trial were issued from Russia’s most famous prisoner– former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
There is no doubt that the Kremlin will continue to work in silencing dissent, and that will likely not change regardless of the outcome, so in this sense they are truly unaffected by the trial. The real question is whether or not the Russian people will see the Moscow Patriarchate as their agent in the future– or whether the image this trial created as rich, powerful, merciless individuals, shattering the illusion of these men as worthy clergy– will become ingrained in the new Russian mind.