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Friday, Aug 17, 2012, 1:01 pm

Pussy Riot Sentenced to Two Years for Dissent

By Bhaskar Sunkara

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“Blasphemy,” a sin against the law of God, is apparently punishable by the law of Putin, as well. Sometimes in Russia it's hard to tell the difference between the two.

Earlier today a court there found three from the punk group Pussy Riot–Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30–guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. They'll serve two years in prison, one less than state attorneys wanted.

In February, the group, clad in neon ski masks and tights, entered a Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior to perform an anti-Putin song. The church is accused of having strong ties to the president's administration. In her statement, the presiding judge, Marina Syrova, said that Pussy Riot had broached “a grave violation of public order, showing obvious disrespect for society.”

Her verdict will be unpopular internationally, where the group's imprisonment has attracted a grassroots campaign for their release, as well as celebratory endorsements from the likes of Paul McCartney and Madonna. Protests of the verdict are popping up today in several U.S. and European cities.

All this international support isn't helping matters within the country. A survey on Friday from the Levada agency showed that only 6 percent of Russians had sympathy for the women.

Pussy Riot has emerged as a part of an alternative culture of resistance to Putin's United Russia party. That party commands near-political hegemony, challenged only by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, a group that blends nostalgia for Stalinism with questionable nationalistic rhetoric.

Putin is credited with restoring some semblance of stability–both political and macroeconomic–to Russia after the post-Soviet chaos in the 1990s, which saw extreme disorder amid a neoliberal shock therapy campaign that attempted to turn the country overnight from a state socialist planned economy to one of the most deregulated in the world.

Putin's administration, however, has clamped down on dissent, appealing to conservative religious tendencies within Russian society. Just today the Supreme Court in Moscow upheld a sanction on gay pride marches in the city for the next century.

It's no wonder that the disproportionate sentence levied against Pussy Riot has been taken by many to be a symptom of a far more endemic problem.

Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.

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