Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Orthodox Church in PR Nightmare! or how one priest in a BMW opened a can of worms...

Rob attempts an appraisal of issues surrounding the modern Russian Orthodox Church...

There is something gleefully Father Ted about the story of the intoxicated Russian priest crashing an ambassadorial BMW in Moscow the other day. (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/clergyman-crashes-sports-car-with-maltese-diplomatic-plates/466547.html) While the official story of what happened is pending an internal investigation, there is a sense of supreme irony hanging in the air, especially with the news that Russian deputy Prime Minister, Vladislav Surkov, has just been appointed the Orthodox church’s new PR man.

It’s not been a great year for the Orthodox Church in general. A few months ago Patriarch Kirill, the spiritual head of the church, was caught up in a row involving a disappearing watch from one of his press shots. The watch, a lavish Breguet costing between 28 and 36 thousand euros, was edited off of his holy wrist, but was caught reflecting in the polished surface of a table to the embarrassment of his press department.
(1)Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - scene of the "Pussy Riot"
A distinctly less funny episode in the church’s recent history is the on-going trial of Pussy Riot – the Russian punk band/ feminist-political art group. Their performance, a warning to the church not to get too comfortably in bed with current government, has been portrayed as a near satanic act. Kremlin spin doctors are attempting to enrage Russia’s huge Christian population and cast the band as enemies of Christianity. The trumped-up charges of religious hatred are an obscenity and can only damage the Church’s reputation under western eyes.

(2)Patriarch Kirill (right)
The appointment of Surkov, to sort out the Church’s dreadful image, is itself indicative that the Russian government is worried about this. The Orthodox Church has always been closely linked to Russian patriotic feeling, after all, it’s a uniquely Russian faith. Thus, chaining it closely to a government is to essentially put Christian voters into a difficult position. Russian Christians are right to be outraged at religious hatred, but with Pussy Riot this is clearly not the case. Russian Christians need to understand that spirituality exists beyond earthly politics and should equally abhor any attempt to lock their faith to a regime. Pussy Riot don’t hate Jesus and aren’t sluts from the pit. Their performance inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was pure provocation and probably pretty insulting but it was not an act of arson or vandalism – it should be forgiven and not result in a jail sentence. Surely religion should only be used as a force for good?

Oh dear, well if there is one other religious organisation that knows a lot about bad PR, it’s the Catholic Church. This week, although seeing a scandal involving a Papal butler, sees the current Pope making significant motions towards reforming policy on birth control. Surkov is not facing a particularly easy job, especially in the wake of Father Jack’s drunken joy ride, but the problems he faces are surely not as large as those that the Vatican has been dealing with. The good that needs to come from this should not only be justice for Pussy Riot but also justice for Russia’s Christians who, at the moment, are being cast in the same unfortunately negative light as their church – old fashioned, choking on wealth and at the disposal of a controversial government.  

IMAGES: (1) Courtesy of Argenberg, taken under creative commons (2) Courtesy of acor-cannes, taken under creative commons

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Punk's not dead! (But it might end up in prison)

Rob finally weighs in on the Pussy Riot story...

3 years – arguably longer than the punk movement lasted in its entirety. Yet three years is the sentence that prosecutors are pushing for in the case against Russian punk band Pussy Riot who performed an impromptu concert in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour last February. The group shouted political slogans, dressed in masks and generally acted like, well…punks.
A simple case of hooliganism is being given a sinister, religious spin by prosecutors who are attempting to cast the trio as the whores of Babylon. Sadly, such an approach may prove successful in the surge of pro-Orthodox feelings after the fall of the Soviet Union. The bizarre religious edge to the case is obscene with the band being affronted for wearing “definitely colourful dresses*” which seems to be equal to an act of treason in a country where nationalism and religion are so dangerously interwoven.
On top of this, the reduction of the group’s actions from “protest” to “hooliganism” is also an attempt to pull the veil over Russia’s wooly political atmosphere that the band was trying to give an artistic opinion on. In this light, the state can be seen to be using religion as a levering tool to remove an opposition voice – something that should outrage Christians as much as secular Russians.
Pussy Riot in their "garish hell dresses"

If the mix of ultra-conservative religious fervour and politics doesn’t make you sick enough already then you need only pick up the Sex Pistol’s debut to feel really nauseous. “God Save the Queen the fascist regime”, while tongue in cheek, is a work of provocative, political art that raises a serious point of contention in contemporary Britain. This can be proven by how quickly it flared up again as an issue surrounding the grandiose royal wedding a few months ago with graffiti showing up across the UK showing republican discontent.
While rigid conservative types and royalists were bound to be flustered in 1977, a public court case against the Sex Pistols was never opened. The group was never incarcerated. Society didn’t break out in anarchy. Johnny Rotten changed his name and started flogging butter.
Surely, these attempts to lock up Pussy Riot will achieve nothing but the converse of the prosecution’s hopes. Global attention has been drawn to a band that practically no-one outside of Russia would ever have heard about.  Last night, Madonna was the latest celebrity to add her support the band’s bid for freedom. Unfortunately this kind of foreign support will only be turned into anti-Western propaganda and may prove to be even more damning in court.
So it’s to Russians themselves that this article should be re-directed. Orthodox Christians should be outraged at the use of their church as a tool for furthering political goals. Non-believing Russians should be outraged at the harshness of this sentencing. And everyone involved should be gobsmacked that the prosecution is trying to say that the group’s actions were in no way political.
 *quote taken from: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/prosecutor-insisting-case-isnt-political-seeks-3-years-for-pussy-riot/463318.html

Photo: Lorena Cupcake (taken from flickr through creative commons)

Quick Update

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My summer plans have changed dramatically over the last few weeks. Basically I have decided to stay in the UK and intern at a well-known, national newspaper. (No guesses). So, i'm turning "fromrussiawithrob" into a place to comment on Russian news and culture from my angle. Please comment on what I write as without you i'm just an autocrat with a keyboard. And that would be dreadful!

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