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Mainstream journalists are failing to recognise that the most resolute reactions to Pussy Riot's recent incarceration are originating from outside of Russia. Moreover, the majority of the Russian population disagrees with the group's actions. The chances of political change in Russia need to be placed within the context of the ongoing power of the Russian Orthodox Church within society, and we have to see today's differences from those historical events that did trigger mass revolutionary movements.
Before its protest on March 3, 2012 in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, most people had never heard of the group Pussy Riot before. They staged an illegal performance, which they called a 'punk prayer' at the altar of the tallest Christian Orthodox church to get rid of Vladimir Putin. Specifically, their protest was aimed at Putin's re-election and the Orthodox Church which continuously supported the Russian president. At the trial, Judge Marina Syrova reasoned the high sentence of two years in penal camp by elaborating how thoroughly the group planned their crime and how they activated internet bloggers to distribute their protest online. The church quickly branded the group members sinners and Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Church's department for relations with society, accused the members of representing a campaign of 'satanic rage'. While such statements might cause laughter in many European countries, the Orthodox Church has a solid and influential role in Russian society.
The recent protests, and especially those of the Occupy movements in numerous American and European cities, have gained a vast presence in the media and in many cases popularised radical alternatives to the current democratic system. This process brought back situationist initiatives such as the 90's "Reclaim the Streets" that were envisioned as a model for the contemporary manifestations. Along with the protesters' demands came symbols of civil disobedience, such as Guy Fawkes masks, a human microphone, tents in a cityscape, or the calls simply to "occupy everything." The last of these didn't just remain in the symbolic sphere. Patterns of communication and cooperation that were adopted in the occupied spaces effectively appealed to the public imagination and thus formed a "poetics of protest."
Tapping into the feel of these movements, Jay-Z and Kanye West released a video for their song "No Church In The Wild" last May. The video was directed by a young Greek, Romain Gavras, who is known for his violent yet elegant aesthetics, a coldly tinted imagery and daring narrative themes. This time, Gavras had a go at the spectacle of a riot scene.
The video quite clearly strikes the viewer as glamorous. When a protester lights up a Molotov cocktail in the opening sequence, it is difficult to resist an association with French New Wave cinema chic. On a fiercer note, for Salon's Natasha Lennard the video is unmistakably "riot porn," "capturing particularly dramatic riot scenes - the sort with fire, tear gas, charging police horses, careening masked crowds and, often, a hardcore backing track." "Riot porn" might also earn its name because it shows scenes of passion staged especially for the camera. Indeed, the video's striking beauty is disturbing and alarming when we realise the familiarity of the images and our consent to watching them paired with some rather decadent rap.
UPDATE: This story reflects the situation in Romania on Friday, 6th July 2012. President Basescu has now been suspended by Parliament and will face a referendum on the 29th of July. PNL party leader Crin Antonescu is now the president of Romania, at least temporararily. European and American leaders have expressed clear concerns about the political situation in Romania, all of which have been firmly, even rudely, dismissed by prime minister Victor Ponta. Traian Basescu started his election campaign with the theme "Threats to the justice system" and turned to the people, whom he "never lied to" (ahem..), not even when the goin' got tough. Yeah, we're still a weird country...
It may not come as a big surprise that Romania is a pretty weird country. We have more stray dogs and cats than illegal taxis, we don't like to invest in tourism despite its huge potential, and it takes about ten years to complete a highway which then needs repairs after four months. However, after recent political turmoil, Romania may become famous for something much deeper than any of this - the savagery and stupidity of its political class, the trashing of its own Constitution, and, as much of the international media has already noticed, the breach of every democratic principle out there.
In the last two months we have witnessed the impossible becoming possible. Romanians have always believed their country was a place of all possibilities, but Victor Ponta's government and the centre-left wing ruling coalition (along with every other party and politician) took this belief to the next level.
Mr Ponta, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), was bound not to get along smoothly with President Traian Basescu, who is supported by the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). President Traian Băsescu had designated Ponta as Prime Minister after the previous incumbant had fallen to a motion of no confidence, but the members of the PSD were hungry - they hadn't been in power since 2004 and President Basescu has done nothing but criticise their wrongdoings, while the justice system (allegedly under orders from the president) has taken many of them to court for corruption. Political vendettas, they say. On the other hand, anyone who remembers the pre-2004 period, when the PSD was in power, refers to it as the "golden age" of corruption, of threats to the freedom of the press, of total control over the justice system. This is why it's almost impossible to visualise a healthy collaboration between the two parties and this is why Romanians can't choose sides today.