Today is Constitution Day in Russia. The constitution is kind of a cool document, guaranteeing things like human dignity, privacy, and even the equality of men and women. Like many other constitutions, including the (amended) constitution of the United States, Russia’s promises rights of free speech, political expression, and peaceable assembly. It also goes further, protecting citizens against capital punishment and forced participation in medical experiments, promising a right to use of one’s native language, and even the right to an education. It’s the kind of document that immediately gets you thinking about what experiences and circumstances caused the authors to explicate all those specific rights and protections.
Earlier tonight, I attended an event that was part of a “Worldwide Reading in Support of Pussy Riot”. Similar events were hosted in several major cities around the world–many European countries, the US, Turkey, Australia. Women donned colorful balaclavas and read from the final court statements of the three members of Pussy Riot who earlier this year were convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.’ Supporters of the group, as well as a lot of Western observers, have viewed this as (among other things) a free speech issue. As I’ve heard many people argue: perhaps trespassing and performing without permission in the cathedral earned them an administrative fine, maybe even a couple of days in jail. But the disproportionate harshness of the punishment makes it clear that the suit was politically-motivated repression of ideas that appeared threatening to those in power.
Given the themes the case raises, it seemed somehow fitting to listen to this performance today in particular, in a cafe just a few minutes’ walk from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where the (in)famous performance happened.