A glimpse at the front page of the newspapers this morning: Ex-chief minister of Maharashtra is dead, Mamata Banerjee accuses judiciary of corruption, the President of India cautions against “endemic” protest, a pregnant woman loses her child after she is beaten by a family (not her own) in the middle of a busy road…
Happy independence day indeed.
On the plus side, there won’t be a newspaper tomorrow so we’re spared more depressing news. For at least 24 hours. If you don’t watch the news on tv. Then again, they don’t actually have news on tv. They have screaming matches.
Anyway, it seems far more fitting to quote from the remarkable and admirable Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statements. You should read the statements by all three of the Pussy Riot ladies. I’m only putting up excerpts here (many of which made me think of India and rue that there isn’t anyone like these women here). Their words give me goosebumps. I have to admit, when I first saw the clip of their performance (right after they were detained), I thought it was somewhat ridiculous. They looked almost cartoonish in their brightly-coloured dresses and masks, waving limbs around like unselfconscious kids. A friend watched it with me and said, “This is what Putin is scared of? Why is he even bothering?” If Maria Alyokhina’s feistiness during their “so-called” trial wasn’t enough, the closing statements by all three shows why they are more than worthy opponents.
Our schooling, which is where the personality begins to form in a social context, effectively ignores any particularities of the individual. There is no “individual approach,” no study of culture, of philosophy, of basic knowledge about civic society. Officially, these subjects do exist, but they are still taught according to the Soviet model. And as a result, we see the marginalization of contemporary art in the public consciousness, a lack of motivation for philosophical thought, and gender stereotyping. The concept of the human being as a citizen gets swept away into a distant corner.
The consequence of the process I have just described is ontological humility, existential humility, socialization. To me, this transition, or rupture, is noteworthy in that, if approached from the point of view of Christian culture, we see that meanings and symbols are being replaced by those that are diametrically opposed to them. Thus one of the most important Christian concepts, Humility, is now commonly understood not as a path towards the perception, fortification, and ultimate liberation of Man, but on the contrary as an instrument for his enslavement.
In jail, as in our country as a whole, everything is designed to strip man of his individuality, to identify him only with his function, whether that function is that of a worker or a prisoner. The strict framework of the daily schedule in prison (you get used to it quickly) resembles the framework of daily life that everyone is born into.
In this framework, people begin to place high value on meaningless trifles. In prison these trifles are things like a tablecloth or plastic dishes that can only be procured with the personal permission of the head warden. Outside prison, accordingly, you have social status, which people also value a great deal. This has always been surprising to me. Another element [of this process] is becoming aware of this government functioning as a performance, a play. That in reality turns into chaos. The surface-level organization of the regime reveals the disorganization and inefficiency of most of its activities. And it’s obvious that this doesn’t lead to any real governance. On the contrary, people start to feel an ever-stronger sense of being lost—including in time and space. In jail and all over the country, people don’t know where to turn with this or that question. That’s why they turn to the boss of the jail. And outside the prison, correspondingly, they go to Putin, the top boss.
I believe that we are being accused by people without memory. Many of them have said, “He is possessed by a demon and insane. Why do you listen to Him?” These words belong to the Jews who accused Jesus Christ of blasphemy. They said, “We are . . . stoning you . . . for blasphemy.” [John 10:33] Interestingly enough, it is precisely this verse that the Russian Orthodox Church uses to express its opinion about blasphemy. This view is certified on paper, it’s attached to our criminal file. Expressing this opinion, the Russian Orthodox Church refers to the Gospels as static religious truth. The Gospels are no longer understood as revelation, which they have been from the very beginning, but rather as a monolithic chunk that can be disassembled into quotations to be shoved in wherever necessary—in any of its documents, for any of their purposes. The Russian Orthodox Church did not even bother to look up the context in which “blasphemy” is mentioned here—that in this case, the word applies to Jesus Christ himself.
I would like to point out that very similar methods were used during the trial of the poet [Joseph] Brodsky. His poems were defined as “so-called” poems; the witnesses for the prosecution hadn’t actually read them—just as a number of the witnesses in our case didn’t see the performance itself and only watched the clip online. Our apologies, it seems, are also being defined by the collective prosecuting body as “so-called” apologies. Even though this is offensive. And I am overwhelmed with moral injury and psychological trauma. Because our apologies were sincere. I am sorry that so many words have been uttered and you all still haven’t understood this. Or it is calculated deviousness when you talk about our apologies as insincere. I don’t know what you still need to hear from us. But for me this trial is a “so-called” trial. And I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of falsehood and fictitiousness, of sloppily disguised deception, in the verdict of the so-called court.
Because all you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom.
I am amazed that truth really does triumph over deception. Despite the fact that we are physically here, we are freer than everyone sitting across from us on the side of the prosecution. We can say anything we want and we say everything we want. The prosecution can only say what they are permitted to by political censorship. They can’t say “punk prayer,” “Our Lady, Chase Putin Out,” they can’t utter a single line of our punk prayer that deals with the political system.
Perhaps they think that it would be good to put us in prison because we speak out against Putin and his regime. They don’t say so, because they aren’t allowed to. Their mouths are sewn shut. Unfortunately, they are only here as dummies.
A human being is a creature that is always in error, never perfect. She quests for wisdom, but cannot possess it; this is why philosophy was born.
“You are not sincere,” they said to us. Too bad. Do not judge us according to your behavior. We spoke sincerely, as we always do—we said what we thought. We were unbelievably childlike, naïve in our truth, but nonetheless we are not sorry for our words, and this includes our words on that day. And having been maligned, we do not want to malign others in response. We are in desperate circumstances, but we do not despair. We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. It is easy to degrade and destroy people who are open, but “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Katya, Masha and I may be in prison, but I do not consider us defeated. Just as the dissidents were not defeated; although they disappeared into mental institutions and prisons, they pronounced their verdict upon the regime. The art of creating the image of an epoch does not know winners or losers. It was the same with the OBERIU poets, who remained artists until the end, inexplicable and incomprehensible. Purged in 1937, Alexander Vvedensky wrote, “The incomprehensible pleases us, the inexplicable is our friend.”
“The inexplicable is our friend”: the highbrow and refined works of the OBERIU poets and their search for thought on the edge of meaning were finally embodied when they paid with their lives, which were taken by the senseless and inexplicable Great Terror. Paying with their lives, these poets unintentionally proved that they were right to consider irrationality and senselessness the nerves of their era. Thus, the artistic became an historical fact. The price of participation in the creation of history is immeasurably great for the individual. But the essence of human existence lies precisely in this participation. To be a beggar, and yet to enrich others. To have nothing, but to possess all.
Have you forgotten under what circumstances Stephen, the disciple of the Apostles, concluded his earthly life? “Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. They put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law.” [Acts 6:11-13] He was found guilty and stoned to death. I also hope that you all remember well how the Jews answered Christ: “It is not for good works that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy.” [John 10:33] And finally we would do well to keep in mind the following characterization of Christ: “He is demon-possessed and raving mad.” [John 10:20]
A judgement is expected on August 17.