Putin had long appealed to the church for legitimacy. Lacking any ideology of his own, Orthodoxy filled the void. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the church dogged by rumors that he had been a KGB agent in Soviet times, took up the appeal and issued grand statements. He likened anti-government protests to blasphemy. He called the Putin era a “miracle of God.” Putin repaid him in kind, with funds and property and lots of attention.
A host of new laws followed Pussy Riot’s arrest. On one day in June, the Russian parliament passed a law banning “gay propaganda” and hours later passed a law banning “insults to religious believers.”
I had begun to think of Pussy Riot as “holy fools,” a term that has existed in Russia since the 15th century. They are people who take on the affectations of madness or extreme behavior with the explicit purpose of shoving a mirror into the face of society and showing how mad it has become. For the past five centuries, they have dressed in rags and carried props, shouted from the rooftops or pretended they couldn’t speak, hung around churches and city squares. Various Russian rulers have treated them with a mix of awe and horror, harbingers of truth and dangerous outliers. Pussy Riot, with their bright clothes and crude lyrics, seemed to fit the mold. That they were arrested after a performance in a cathedral while hoping to highlight the all too close relationship between the church and state only reinforced the idea.