Saturday 18 November 2017

Russia can't blindfold the eyes of the world at Sochi

Eilis O'Hanlon doubts whether a call to boycott the Winter Olympics is the best expression of Pussy Riot's valid message

Maria Alyokhina. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin
Maria Alyokhina. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin
Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezha Tolokonnikova

Eilis O'Hanlon

Bursting into Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral in the middle of a church service attended mainly by elderly women, then singing a deliberately offensive song on the altar -- including the words "Sran Gospodyna" ("shit of the Lord") -- is hardly a commendable use of the right of free expression, however justified the cause. There were other ways for punk rock feminist band Pussy Riot to protest about the links between the Russian Orthodox hierarchy and Vladimir Putin's despotic government.

That's why many Russians still, after all the international consternation at the jailing of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, believe the group's actions, in the words of Putin last week, "went beyond all boundaries". Not least because it happened in a church destroyed by Stalin and symbolically rebuilt after the fall of Communism.

Such protests can lead to serious repercussions in countries far less repressive than Russia, after all. Trenton Oldfield swam into the Thames to disrupt the Oxford/Cambridge boat race a few years ago in a protest against "elitism". He was convicted of public nuisance and sentenced to six months in jail. He served seven weeks behind bars, was electronically tagged for the remainder, and is now fighting a bid to deport him back to his native Australia, despite having no previous convictions. All this for swimming. There are a few murmurs of dismay in Britain about this, but not many.

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