20 years under Putin: a timeline

In late June, rock musician Marilyn Manson, known for his flamboyant onstage persona, was supposed to take part in a rock festival in Moscow. The concert, however, was canceled due to an alleged bomb threat. His second scheduled concert in Novosibirsk was canceled at the demand of Orthodox Christian activists. IMR advisor Ekaterina Mishina and Skyline High School (Ann Arbor, MI) junior Alice Nikitinskaya draw parallels between this incident and the Pussy Riot case.

 

According to media reports, Marylin Manson's show in Novosibirsk was canceled due to fears that his performance would insult Orthodox believers and promote sadomasochism. Photo: virginmedia.com

 

God is dead, Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882
Nietzsche is dead, God, 1900

 

There is always a risk that Marilyn Manson’s performance will be accompanied by a scandal. Manson is flamboyant, and his lyrics are often truly rude (hardly any of his songs can be sung without gross obscenities or at least a humble “shit”). Civil law gives everyone the right to dislike whatever they choose. However, the manner in which this “dislike” can be translated into action is quite a different story, and the reaction of activists from the “God’s Will” Orthodox Christian movement toward Manson’s band cannot be called appropriate.

On June 27, 2014, Marilyn Manson’s performance, which was part of the Park Live Festival in Moscow, was scuttled in response to an alleged bomb threat. The day before, Orthodox Christian activists attacked Manson’s band, pelting them with eggs and sprinkling them with holy water. The leader of this movement, Dmitry Enteo, had decided to teach the foreign “malefactor, blasphemer and Satanist” a lesson, as he wrote in his blog. However, the activists’ choice of epithets was inconsistent.

By accusing Manson of depravity and deviltry, the activists demonstrated that they knew nothing about either Manson’s work or the concept of Satanism in general. These activists could learn a thing or two from Manson, who has publicly expressed his respect for religious people even while he himself denies religion. Manson does not reprove Christianity, while the Orthodox Christian activists reprove him and his work.

Think, for instance, of the fact that no matter how many times Russian, American, and European activists threw eggs at him, Manson did not attack them in return, although he had both the means and the opportunity to do so. Despite the “warm welcome” the musician received in Moscow, he promised his fans that he would be back.

What is it about Manson that the Orthodox Christian activists do not like? They claim that he arouses in “innocent children an express desire to slaughter chickens, kitties and little girls,” since he worships Satan. Let us consider the primary source for this claim: Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, which does not directly call for bloodshed and violence. The concept of Satanism is generally opposed to that of Christianity. Whereas Christianity is based on compassion and the need to help one’s fellow creatures, Satanism is directed at self-development and claims that every human being is in fact God. It is the idea of a human being as God that correlates with the original image of Satan, since Lucifer was cast out of heaven for his desire to be equal with God. Although Satanists can of course be murderers or perverts, murderers and perverts can be found among followers of any religion, as well as among convinced atheists.

What does Manson himself say? “I never really hated one true god / But the god of the people I hated,” he sings in his “Disposable Teens” single. These lines alone explain much about Manson’s beliefs. Even more revealing is his interview with Hybrid.ru magazine, in which he says that the only thing he does not like about religion is the “way people make others believe in God.”

It is worth mentioning that when a scandal broke out in 2006 involving Diana Semenukha, a Satanist from Odessa, Orthodox Christian activists’ response was more restrained than their response to Manson’s planned concert—despite the fact that Semenukha had forcibly detained several homeless children in her apartment, where she drugged them, drew their blood, and drank it. She obviously is a bigger threat to children than Manson, who merely jumps around a stage. However, she only received a two-year suspended sentence. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the indignation of Orthodox Christian activists is for show more than it is an expression of believers’ hurt feelings.

The Pussy Riot drama and the misfortunes of Marilyn Manson suggest a number of things about the state of Russia’s public and legal environment. In Manson’s case, the aggression directed at “freaks” is masked as righteous indignation over believers’ hurt feelings. In the Pussy Riot case, we are simply dealing with double standards.

There are no parallels between the Manson incident and the Pussy Riot incident—another conflict involving believers and musicians. For organizing a so-called “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012, Pussy Riot members were arrested and later sentenced to two years in prison.

Many might dislike the idea of holding a punk prayer in a church, or a synagogue, or a mosque, or a Buddhist temple, or in any other place where believers come to worship. However, despite individual tastes and attitudes toward the band’s performance, Pussy Riot members should not have been subjected to such harsh legal penalties or such heavy-handed treatment by law enforcement.

If their actions had been assessed appropriately rather than according to the best traditions of the Russian law, Pussy Riot members would have been fined 1,000 rubles at most, and this would have been the end of it. Part 2 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO), which was in effect at the time of the violation, established the sanction that should have been applied in such a case for “offense of religious feelings of believers and/or desecration of items, signs and emblems of religious reverence.” This is exactly the violation committed by Pussy Riot in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, and it had nothing to do with “disorderly behavior,” the violation for which the participants were sentenced. In other words, the “punk prayer” was an administrative offense, that is, an unlawful, guilty act that is characterized by a considerably lower degree of public threat than a crime.

But in this particular case, who did it and how it was done was more important than what was done, and the Russian judicial machine reacted strictly according to Article 24 of the infamous 1922 Soviet Criminal Code, which stipulates that “when determining the punitive measure, the degree and the character of the threat the offender poses as well as the degree and the danger of the crime he committed are examined. In pursuing these aims the circumstances of the crime are examined, the identity of the criminal is established because it manifested itself in the crime the offender committed and in his motives, and because it can be established based on his way of living and his past. Also, the extent to which the crime itself violates the principles of public safety at a given time and under the given circumstances is determined.”

This was the incorrect, one-sided, biased approach to evidence that was adopted by Judge Marina Syrova, who said that the behavior of the accused in the courtroom should be considered as yet another proof of their guilt—an interpretation that ensured the required result: the members of Pussy Riot were not found guilty of what they actually did, but, according to the best traditions of early Soviet criminal justice, were sentenced on the basis of their identification as socially dangerous individuals.

We should now return to Manson’s case and the subject of offending believers’ feelings—the criminal offense that the God’s Will activists were trying to protect. The problem here is that the activists’ actions with regard to the musicians constitute the crime established by Article 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and defined as “hooliganism.” However, none of the God’s Will members who threw eggs at Manson and his band was either convicted of a criminal offense or held administratively liable under Article 20.1 (disorderly conduct) of the CAO.

The abovementioned cases—the Pussy Riot drama, the misfortunes of Marilyn Manson, and Diana Semenukha’s case—suggest a number of things about the state of Russia’s public and legal environment. In Manson’s case, the aggression directed at “freaks” is masked as righteous indignation over believers’ hurt feelings. The lack of reaction by Orthodox Christian activists in the case of the Odessa Satanist proves this point. In the Pussy Riot case, we are simply dealing with double standards.

Not only Russian law enforcement has become selective in their interpretation of the law, but so have some Orthodox Christian activists. According to Part 2 of Article 14 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, religious associations are considered separate from the state; consequently, they should not be using Soviet methods of harassing “freaks” just because they are “different from us.” Such an approach is somehow not Christian-like.

Russia under Putin

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