Pussy Riot – the background

Pussy Riot (Thanks to Wikipedia for the image)

 

Pussy Riot are the only Russian punk group I have heard of.  I think I am in good company on that, as they seem to be a lot more interested in getting publicity for their political protests than their art. On the whole I don’t approve of either religion or authoritarian tendencies in nominally democratic governments.  So I am sympathetic in a general sort of way to what Pussy Riot seem to be doing.  On the other hand, religious people are entitled to hold whatever beliefs they have and to practice those beliefs.  And those rights ought to include not having a punk band set up without permission in a cathedral.  So I am not sure that Pussy Riot have got their tactics quite right.

As I have written previously, I have decided that I am better informed about current affairs by reading history books rather than following the news.  One reason the news is such a poor source of information is that people keep pulling publicity stunts, and other people keep reacting to them.  So now not only have we got Pussy Riot going to prison, but other people are now organising further publicity stunts to highlight their self inflicted plight.  Does any of this help anyone understand the real issues in Russia?  I think not.

But lets look at recent Russian history and see what might be behind the stunt.

First, the collapse of the Soviet system got rid of what was a pretty rubbish political system.  There was no freedom of expression and a lot of beneficial economic activity was prevented one way or another. And the lack of accountability meant that large state enterprises were both economically inefficient and rather damaging to the environment.

But this was replaced with something that was worse, at least in the short run.  Loads of right wing theorists from the West turned up and gave the Russians a ton of really unhelpful advice.  Rather than a steady transition from a state centric system, they got a sudden lurch into wild free markets.  In the process huge sections of the state’s resources ended up in private hands, and not many hands at that.  The lucky winners (read ruthless exploiters) could pocket huge fortunes not by creating anything in particular but simply by getting the rights to things like oil and gas.

For most Russians the period immediately after the demise of socialism was both miserable and disorientating.  Living standards fell and, most crucially, life spans fell as well.  Under communism the population had been growing to reach just under 150 million.  When the Soviet Union collapsed the population started to fall.  It is still below its peak, and has only just started to rise again.

The economic disruption of the reforms combined with the theft of the state’s natural resources is certainly something to protest about.  Some 10 million fewer Russians are alive today than could have been if a bit more common sense had been applied.  The people who should have been in the dock are the neoliberals who sold the Russians a crock of nonsense, the men we now call oligarchs who lined their own pockets to an astonishing extent, and the officials who let them get away with it.

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