SAY the word "Russia" and most people will probably automatically think of vodka and Russian dolls. The recent case of ‘Pussy Riot’ however, has given the country something new to be associated with.
Founded in 2011, Pussy Riot is a punk-rock Russian group, known for their controversial style and content. They are most recognised for the unlawful performance of one of their numbers at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, earlier this year.
The song, which was part of a protest against the re-election of Vladimir Putin, attracted global attention and soon became the epicentre of a legal dispute. In March, three band members were arrested and have recently been sentenced to two years in jail for hooliganism.
For a long time, I refrained from writing about this issue, mostly, due to the fact that the world was already over saturated with news coverage and quite frankly, it was getting a bit repetitive. A recent conversation I had with a Russian friend however, spurred me into literary action.
As narrow minded as this may seem now, my assumption that Pussy Riot had a large fan base of young Russian adults meant that I was rather taken aback when my friend revealed that she did not fall under this category. "I am not in support of Putin, however, I don't think what the band did was right as it was disrespectful to the church" she explained to me.
Nevertheless, my friend is not the only one that holds this sentiment. A recent poll showed that 29% of Russians saw it as a case of general hooliganism and only a mere 6% of Russians actually sympathised with the band. If this was the case however, then why had I been so shocked at my friend’s revelation?
One of the main reasons why the Pussy Riot case attracted as much attention as it did in the Western sphere was the way in which it was handled. For many, the decision to sentence to the band members to jail was undemocratic, as it deprived them of the right to freedom of speech.
It was a view so heavily reflected in Western media that it became hard not to be sucked into a discourse that saw the government as being oppressive and Pussy Riot as an innocent, justice seeking band. The danger of this however, was if we started to assume that the rest of Russia shared the same opinion, a trap I myself had evidently fallen into.
Like an interfering aunty, Western states enjoy putting their two cents in on international issues. There is nothing wrong with this, especially when by doing so, news that people may not have known about, is uncovered.
The countless reports on human trafficking in certain parts of Africa can be seen as prime example of this. Coverage on this topic has led to more exposure, which in turn can lead to ways to stop the issue. Nevertheless, what about times when the West heavily impose their opinions on domestic matters?
Everyone is entitled to have a say on a topic, but it can be argued that there are times the Western sphere feels the world are obliged to take on theirs. Perhaps this behaviour derives from a slightly egotistic conviction that they have the duty of saving the rest of the world from ‘backwardness’, converting them into thinking in the same way that they do. Many scholars have written on this attitude, defining it as post-colonialism and in many ways, I believe this is exactly what is occurring in the Pussy Riot situation.
There are numerous amounts of people that feel the band members’ imprisonment is a political landmark for those fighting for democratic freedom in Russia. This could very well be the case; nevertheless, we must not run the risk of speaking for everyone in the country.
As mentioned before, results of opinion polls suggest that Pussy Riot’s support is not as vast in Russia as it is in other countries. Although this is mentioned in Western media, it is a fact that is overshadowed by a very pro-Pussy Riot stance, allowing people to make the same mistake as I did and assume the opposite.
The bottom line is, this is an issue happening in Russia and so the ultimate say should go to the people it affects in the country. By doing otherwise, we are suggesting that Russians are just not capable of reasoning by themselves.