In their final statements before a Moscow court Wednesday, members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot were defiant.

“Who would have thought our history, in particular, the recent great and frightening Stalinist terror, would teach us nothing?” lead singer Nadezhda Tolokonnikova asked.

“Nobody can deprive me of my inner freedom,” band mate Maria Alyokhina concluded.

Ultimately, Yekaterina Samutsevich said, “although it looks like we have lost our trial, in fact we have won it.”

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and Samutsevich were arrested in March and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for briefly performing a punk song called Holy Shit at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in protest against the rule of President Vladimir Putin. They have since become an international cause: Amnesty International “prisoners of conscience” who Madonna said she was praying for at a Moscow concert Tuesday. And with a verdict looming next week, commentators are weighing in on the case and its import.

In The New Yorker, Masha Lipman details the “outrageous, astonishing, biased, exhausting, ridiculous, and times comic spectacle” that is the Pussy Riot trial, from the prosecutor demanding the defendants serve three years hard labor to the judge rejecting all but three of the 17 defense witnesses. Over at Foreign Policy, Spencer Ackerman argues that, verdict aside, Pussy Riot has already won by drawing “international attention to the paranoid repression of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.” Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former oligarch who himself ran afoul of Putin, has also weighed in, writing of his pain at seeing the defendants in the “aquarium,” the glass holding cell in the courtroom:

I know this aquarium in courtroom number 7 well – they made it especially for me … after the ECHR had declared that keeping defendants behind bars is degrading … This is a subtle and sophisticated way of mocking people who dared to file a complaint with the ECHR: ah, okay, so you say that a café with bars is bad; well then, here’s a cage made of glass for you, a beaker with a little porthole through which you talk to your lawyers, but you need to twist and contort yourself every which way to actually be able to speak through it … I can not even imagine how all three of those poor girls manage to fit in there at once …

One of the most interesting insights comes in a Times op-ed by GQ Russia Editor Michael Idov, who points out the skepticism, if not hostility, toward Pussy Riot in Russia. Tens of thousands of Russians may have taken to the streets to demand their political rights since December, but, Idov suggests, liberalism does not extend to the social sphere in Russia, where sexism and sexual discrimination are mainstream.

“Even the liberal response [to Pussy Riot's case] has involved language like ‘They should let these chicks go with a slap on the ass,’” Idov writes, adding, “… Russians remain distinctly uncomfortable with activist women.”

Idov goes on to say that Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and Samutsevich could shift public opinion – and even their legal fates – by breaking down, apologizing and seeking forgiveness.

“When you’re a woman in Russia, nothing but tears will do,” he writes.

But by standing firm, Idov suggests, Pussy Riot is defying even more than a president. That’s defiance.

Photo from Wikipedia

S. Adam Cardais

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Email: adam.cardais@tol.org.

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