Yesterday outside the court where Pussy Riot members were being sentenced a student called Pavel came up to me. He handed me a bunch of flowers suggesting that when the convoy with the Pussy Riot three comes out of the building we could throw these flowers at them. It will be ‘красиво’ (a beautiful gesture). We waited for a couple of hours and then realized that no they weren’t going to be driven through the crowd… their convoy was obviously going out of another hidden exit. Beautiful romantic, symbolic gestures in today’s Russia have become a utopian luxury. After realizing this Pavel said to me ‘Лет через пять подарим’ (‘We’ll give them the flowers in five year time’). I had to utter a bitter chuckle. It was an allusion to one of my favourite films, Мимино (Mimino). In this 1977 film a Georgian Don Quijote and an Armenian Sancho Panza come to Moscow and through typical Russian blat they end up staying at a large Moscow hotel as would-be endocrynologists there for a conference. Nonetheless they are ‘found out’. So at one point the Armenian and Georgian end up trying to sell car tyres. They find a Georgian number plate and decide to call at the fellow Georgians flat, maybe they can sell a tyre to a friendly fellow national. Unfortunately, this fellow national is someone who has seduced the other Georgian’s sister leaving her pregnant and abandoning her. The Georgian played by Vakhtang Kikabidze takes his revenge destroying a chandelier in the house at the time. This comes to court. The Kikabidze character refuses to tell his lawyer about the reason why he was so violent to the ‘victim’ and outside the court the Armenian played by Frunzik Mkrt’chian is desperately trying to find someone to give evidence as a witness. He goes up to two people sitting on a bench – he explains the situation but they are the defence lawyers father and husband who are waiting outside the courtroom anxious to hear how the lawyer has coped on her very first assignment. After that the Mkrt’chian character walks towards the court and sees someone else standing there. He tells him ‘you look like someone with an honest face, please come and be a witness for my friend’. The character smiles and the camera reveals that he is handcuffed and being led away to a police van. He shouts as he is being lead away ‘Лет через пять помогу’ (I’ll help you out in five years’ time). Going home I reflected on all the irony of this: we, who wanted to help to throw our flowers, were the ‘free’ ones who couldn’t help. Yes, it all seems clear now-it was not really irony, yesterday when Maria Alyekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years imprisonment – it was Russian society being imprisoned. in a way we were the ones shunted into that prison truck unable to help and barely able to bear witness, and even unable to send any gestures of solidarity with the three whose seemingly quixotic action in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February lead to a paroxysm of rage and hysteria among the country’s corrupt, infuriated and hate-filled political and religious hierarchy, unable even to symbolically offer them a bunch of flowers. Russians have been collectively bundled into that prison van and it’s time they planned their escape. It seems that the mrakobesy will make sure that they’ll be no room even for symbolic gestures and that it looks increasingly probable that we’ll only be able to hand out our roses after a revolution – лет через пять?
PS the lines in the title are from a song by Javier Krahe Marieta – if you look up the name Javier Krahe on Google you might be let in on a further secret – what’s happening in Russia seems to have a depressing universality to it – though the lengths to which it’s being taken are pretty extreme.