Pussy Riot Whipped by Cossacks

I thought Cossacks vanished along with Russia’s czars. But today brought news that Cossacks whipped members of the punk collective Pussy Riot as they attempted to stage a protest at the Sochi Olympics. I immediately pictured bearded Cossacks swinging bullwhips from horseback as they trampled the brightly dressed punks underfoot (underhoof?), but the reality is a bit more mundane:

Perhaps what is most surprising to westerners is that the government takes a handful of screaming punks so seriously. U.S. punk bands wish they could cause as much uproar as Pussy Riot. The feminist collective became an international cause célèbre (though they seem to be viewed more negatively by average Russian citizens) after three of its members were sentenced to two years in prison for a 2012 protest in a Russian Orthodox cathedral. One of the three women was released relatively early on after an appeal revealed she had been arrested before she was actually able to participate in the crime for which she had been found guilty. The other two were pardoned shortly before their sentences were complete, just when the Olympics started bringing increased negative attention to many of Russian President Putin’s strict social policies.

It can hardly be surprising that those two, along with other Pussy Rioters, showed up to stage a protest at the Olympics, emphasis on staged. The event was clearly enacted to be posted online; as the many videos make very clear, there were more people with cameras than there were members of Pussy Riot or witnesses.

For their part, Russian authorities seem to have realized that draconian punishments just bring these pranksters more attention. The Cossacks and security stopped the performance very quickly, but no charges were filed. There was a bit of pushing and shoving back and forth, and yes, some whipping (while I am sure the short horse whip hurt like hell, is it really that different from the billy club or baton a western cop would have swung in a similar situation?). The whole event seemed like a rehearsed ritual by both sides — the punks were even allowed to retrieve a guitar that had been stuffed in a trash can.

Of course, the government probably would have preferred the event had not happen at all. Could that be why two members of Pussy Riot, the same two who were notoriously jailed, were detained for several hours the previous day, allegedly due to a theft in their hotel? Surely that was a coincidence, right? No charges were filed in that case either.

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