Kseniya Sobchak – Pussy Riot isn’t Russia’s only malcontent

Have you ever heard of Kseniya Sobchak? Most likely, no, but we have all heard of Pussy Riot, right? Well, if you have not been keeping an eye on what is happening in Russia over the past year or two, the world’s largest country and former super-power had elections in 2011 for its Duma (lower house of parliament) which were hotly contested with wide-spread vote rigging reported allowing the ruling United Russia to claim victory, though with out a majority. Large scale protests were subseuently seen on the streets of Moscow and elsewhere in which people from all walks of life came out onto the streets demanding the results to be annulled and for fresh and free elections to be run again.

This was turned down by the authorities and the focus, politically, moved from these results onto the then upcoming presidential elections where then sitting president, Dmitry Medvedev, decided he would not contest re-election and instead, allowed his confidant, benefactor and the man believed to be the real power behind the throne, Vladimir Putin, to run for the post of president.

Putin received support from a number of key constituencies, including from the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch, Kirill I. This subsequently inspired the now infamous protest in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour at the edge of Red Square in Moscow by the feminist punk collective, Pussy Riot, who gave a performance of their song ‘Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away’, which can be seen below.

As a fan of punk rock, the tune or the performance wasn’t all that great, but then again, they didn’t really have any time to do a sound check so I will let it slide this time. As we all know, a trial ensued where the criminal charge of ‘premeditated hooliganism performed by an organized group of people motivated by religious hatred or hostility‘ was brought against Maria AlyokhinaNadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, three of the five seen on the altar in February 2012. They were subsequently convicted on August 17, 2012 to two years in a Russian penal colony, not known for being places of rehabilitation or quiet reflection.

Whilst the trial and treatment of the three members of Pussy Riot has been condemned by large scores of organisations and individuals across the world from Amnesty International to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and I too hope they are released sooner rather than later, I have to ask myself whether or not the treatment of the collective and their actions will do much to change opinion within Russia itself? I know quite a few people who would  support the actions of Pussy Riot and who would naturally be against Putin and his version of cronyism, but will the actions of PR change the minds of others in Russia who have not had the good fortune to have lived abroad in London, Paris, New York or Rome where there are large and ever increasing Russian ex-pat communities? Will people in Russia side with a fairly controversial group of left-wing anarchists who have been part of what can only be described as incredibly provocative political displays including one  entitled ‘Fuck for the Heir Puppy Bear’ where an orgy was publicly staged in  Timiryazev State Museum of Biology in Moscow by ‘Voina‘ (Pussy Riot in effect came from the Moscow faction of Voina) protesting against the election of Dmitry Medvedev as president (the word ‘Medvedev’ being Russian for ‘Bear’)?

Well, never fear, as the opposition in Russia is quite disparate, like it should be! Whilst the focus has been on PR over the past year, it should be noted that there are a huge number of different parties, movements and people who do not want Putin to remain in charge, yet have varying political philosophies that they preach. While PR are clearly left leaning anarchists, we have the likes of Kseniya Sobchak who could not be any further from the PR girls and their followers if she tried.

I was drawn to her in an article I saw on Novaya Gazeta’s English language site a few weeks ago which I found to be quite interesting (more to follow) and again in the Irish Times yesterday where it noted she was voted on to the opposition’s co-ordination committee by way of an online poll. As you can tell, this has piqued my interest somewhat; who is this woman who has a reputation for partying in her youth, as Moscow’s ‘Paris Hilton’ (oh dear, I hope not), former presenter of show ‘Dom-2‘, kind of Russian ‘Big-Brother‘, yet now is turning to political activism (Davina McCall for Westminster)?

She’s the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the first democratically elected mayor of St Petersburg who was the political mentor of one Vladimir Putin. In previous interviews she spoke quite fondly of Putin and the loyalty he showed to her father after his stint as mayor:

So many people used to bring me presents and shower me with false affection, and then one day there was absolute silence. The phone did not ring and nobody came anymore. I hope I never experience that again. [Putin] did a lot for my family then and I am proud he was a friend of my father.

This stance seems to have changed recently after she became one of the Russian protest leaders targeted by the Investigative Committee of Russia when her apartment in Moscow was entered and searched. This event, more than most, seems to a casual observer like myself to have crystallised her opinion on the authorities in Russia and Putin in general:

It was offensive and humiliating, deliberately so. I’m now wondering whether to start on the repairs in my flat or whether to move completely, since it’s become so hard to live there now. It’s disgraceful! They went everywhere, rooting around. Whenever I go to the toilet I see riot police standing there right in front of me watching, pardon me, as I take a pee. At first they didn’t even let me go to the toilet. Only four hours after the search began did they send for a female officer. Before she was there I couldn’t stand it.

Further, she sees a  need to rebalance the opposition away from the extreme left to include some right leaning voices too:

[T]he forces which are currently not represented in politics come to power and something changes. This isn’t Udaltsov’s ‘Left Front’, but rather right-leaning liberal democratic forces. Unfortunately the situation over the last few months shows there is an imbalance towards the extreme left.’

I do not lean towards the right, so I am biased (aren’t we all) when it comes to politics, however, that said, I believe that what is best for a country and it’s body politic is to have clear choices available to the electorate. A divide between left and right where the electorate are given the chance to kick a group out in free and fair elections. So, oddly enough, I would welcome a constructive centre-right party emerging in Russia together with a whole host of other, constructive parties of every variety of political philosophy. I believe this would help create a coherent and balanced civic community.

How successful are protests nowadays, especially in countries where the people in charge simply pay no attention to your concerns? Do Russians want another revolution or a more representative form of democracy where they can see real change being effected as they would like?

Novaya Gazeta: Do you believe in the possibility of dialogue with the current authorities?

KS: I believe that it’s the only avenue to pursue. We need a plan that’s based on one foundation: a constructive process. A programme that encourages dialogue.

I couldn’t agree more with the above assessment and I hope that after the show of mass protest in relation to the Duma and Presidential elections which was good humoured, well marshaled and able to bring together so many disparate groups and followers, from anarchists, communists and libertarians and everyone in between, that the authorities realise that if they do not come to the table to discuss and enact reforms that they may face even greater trouble down the line, maybe even violence. I hope this is not the case (violence) and, coming from the North of Ireland, I do believe that talking to one’s opponents is the only game in town, but who knows what the future holds for Russia.

Sobchak, as a new figure head of the opposition came up with an interesting perspective and thought regarding the role of the opposition in a country like Russia:

‘[T]here’s a lot that I don’t understand recently! I don’t understand why people who go around with slogans like “Honest elections!” are called opposition. At the Moscow State Institute of International Relations they told us that an oppositionist is somebody with an alternative political agenda. But people who want compliance with the law, a fair justice system, honest elections- why would they be called oppositionists?! Rational authorities should care for, cherish and indeed base themselves upon these kind of people.

Quite.

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