At the core of much of the media fever over Pussy Riot lies a fundamental misunderstanding of what these Russian dissidents are about. Some outlets have portrayed the case as a quest for freedom of expression and other ground rules of liberal democracy. Yet the very phrase “freedom of expression,” with its connotations of genteel protest as a civic way to blow off some steam while life goes on, is alien to Russian radical thought. The members of Pussy Riot are not liberals looking for self-expression. They are self-confessed descendants of the surrealists and the Russian futurists, determined to radically, even violently, change society.

Anyone who has bothered to see them beyond their relevance as anti-Kremlin proxies will know that these young people are as contemptuous of capitalism as they are of Putinism. They are targeting not just Russian authoritarianism, but, in Tolokonnikova’s words, the entire “corporate state system.” And that applies to the West as much as to Russia itself. It includes many of the fawning foreign media conglomerates covering the trial, like Murdoch’s News Corp., and even such darlings of the anti-Putin “liberal opposition” establishment as the businessman and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny.

NYT op-ed from Russian journalist Vadim Nikitin, who asks: “Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, are dissident intellectuals once again in danger of becoming pawns in the West’s anti-Russian narrative?”
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