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With friends like these, does Pussy Riot need enemies?


 

The verdict in Russia’s trial of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is expected this morning; it will probably have been announced by the time you read this. The group was arrested after staging a brief impromptu performance at the famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, rebuilt in 2000 after being demolished to make way for the never-built Palace of the Soviets in 1931. The performers have been formally charged with khuliganstvo (“hooliganism”), the old catchall term that meant in Soviet days, and means now, that one has done something not otherwise criminal of which the Organs do not approve.

The trial is rightly regarded as an outrage. There’s no indication or suggestion that Pussy Riot did any physical damage to the church; their appearance lasted mere seconds before they were escorted out. And Russian Orthodoxy’s grovelling support for Putinism has certainly made it a valid target of protest. Pussy Riot are nothing less than old-fashioned political prisoners, and they deserve the exterior moral support that Russian political prisoners have always received from Europe and the West—whether a Tsar, a Central Committee, or an outdoorsy populist President is running the show.

It has come to the attention of Canadians that Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova may be a permanent resident of Canada. Indeed, Lisa Kirbie, who seems to have been first in Canada to notice the possibility, is waxing wroth about being bigfooted on the story by the Toronto Star. (No, reporting the same facts as somebody else isn’t plagiarism, by any definition. But it’s certainly poor form.) “Is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova a Canadian?” Kirbie asks. “Why won’t the Harper government step up and help her?”

Lisa Kirbie can have the glory if she wants it, but I don’t know that I’d be so eager, under the same circumstances, to be seen as a catspaw of Putin’s government. Nadezhda T.’s alleged permanent-resident card was shown in this Russian state news broadcast. If you watch, you’ll see it’s a 60 Minutes-style “gotcha” story, clearly arranged with the help of the local prosecutor: Tolokonnikova tells the reporter specifically that she did not get a Canadian residency permit, and there’s a quick cut to the office of one of Putin’s heavies, who lets the camera linger lovingly over Tolokonnikova’s Canadian residency documents.

Now, if a Russian prosecutor from absolutely any era of history informed me that I have two testicles, I’d reach down and give them a real quick count. But Tolokonnikova’s husband has apparently confirmed that the docs are legit. It is still curious that it’s the friends of Pussy Riot who are hyping her status—in the name of trying to establish that Tolokonnikova might be a “Canadian”, even though it is precisely the point of “permanent resident” status that holders are not Canadian citizens and have no claim on Canadian consular assistance in their home countries. In exchange for that dubious benefit, they’ve helped Putin’s regime trap Tolokonnikova in a televised fib and made her look, to xenophobic Russians, like a troublemaking tourist who got in over her head. Heckuva job, guys!

The Canadian government should advocate for Tolokonnikova—and for the other members of her group, too: not because of some connection to Canada, but in the name of ushering thoughtcrime and classic authoritarianism off the stage of history. A rally for Pussy Riot is planned for Toronto and other world cities today. I trust none of the attendees will be Canadians who have availed themselves in the past of the cheap sensual delights of Cuba.


 

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