Mixed Feelings in Russia Over Pussy Riot Trial

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Marco Werman: The Pussy Riot trial has sparked an international outcry. Many in the West say it shows the lack of freedom of speech under President Vladimir Putin. But, many Russians have mixed feelings about the case. Natalia Antonova is Deputy Editor of the Moscow News; she is in the Crimea. Now, we just heard from the guardians Miriam Elder that this verdict seems to represent a radicalization from both the opposition and the Kremlin. What's your take?

Natalia Antonova: Well, I think that's probably true, I think that's probably exactly what's happening because you know I think that if you're going to go to a country like Russia, I think the biggest trick is kind of letting people heal, and after this event happened, there has been no healing, there has just been more and more tension and I think it's reached a breaking point today and I think that this is bad for everyone involved.

Werman: So how much of a turning point is this for Russia?

Antonova: I think that this will certainly impact how the criminal justice system is viewed, how the church is viewed, how art is viewed — I think this is going to have some long-reaching circumstances, you know, people will be writing dissertations about this event and how it came to shape Russian society and I don't think that it will shape society in positive ways, unfortunately.

Werman: Right, well fine-tune that a bit for us, Natalia, because the actual charge against Pussy Riot is "committing hooliganism motivated by religious hatred". What is the role of the church here, and how much do Russians really care about the church today in 2012?

Antonova: You know, it's interesting because I think the church has a lot of symbolic meaning, you know, a very small percent of Russians actually regularly attend services but I think a lot of people have a kind of symbolic attachment to the church. I think people are not particularly moral to the church in any real sense, and yet they're deeply offended by the punk prayer and by the statements of the Pussy Riot girls, and they're very angry, and their response is not constructive — you know what I mean?

Werman: Let me just ask you this — do you feel today's verdict represents a limit to freedom of speech in Russia?

Antonova: I actually have not heard many ordinary people or even Russian journalists taking the free-speech angle on this, because to them it's an event that's obviously indicative of the kind of clamping down on just — not free speech per say — but just the fact that sure you can protest, and you can have a different political view, but don't make fun of the church, don't make fun of the Kremlin. If you make fun of the Kremlin and the Church, there's a very high price to pay.

Werman: Natalia, we should point out, you're not just a journalist, you're also a playwright, so I'm curious to hear from you whether this verdict will have a kind of inhibiting effect for artists, you know, using culture to express dissent. Is there still a role for art, in dissent in Russia?

Antonova: Well I think actually it won't have an inhibiting effect. I think more and more people, feeling more and more desperate, are going to protest through their art, and the form that this protest will take will be really interesting to study and to see and my real worry is that you know, a lot of artists are religious, a lot of the religious are trying to find their place in the art world, and the fact that when these verdicts are carried out, then they create these artificial positions which are really bad for everyone in the long run. You know, I'm Orthodox myself, you know I consider myself a regular, old Orthodox person. I'm also a playwright, and the fact that I also now have to worry about, you know, what if I, you know, I have a play about a priest, a very short, early play of mine, that I wrote and was performed in Moscow which gave a positive portrayal in the end — you know, gosh, what if someone wanders in, sees that, and decided that they are offended because the play was not performed in a cathedral, but you know, who knows, where the line is drawn. I don't know if the authorities know where to draw that line, and that's what's scary.

Werman: Well, thanks for sharing all that with us, Natalia Antinova — Deputy Editor of the Moscow News. Thanks very much.

Antonova: Take care.

Werman: You can see how the case of Pussy Riot has made its way into political cartoons around the globe at www.theworld.org