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Pussy Riot Trial ’Reminds Me of the Inquisition’
2012-08-22 0:00

Alexei Navalny | Spiegel.de

The prominent blogger and lawyer Alexi Navalny is one of the leaders of Russia’s opposition. In a SPIEGEL interview, Navalny talks about the verdict in the Pussy Riot case, the role of women in anti-Putin protests and why he is not afraid of going to jail.

Alexi Navalny’s office is located in a courtyard in downtown Moscow. In one corner of the room, next to a Russian flag, hangs a large photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in an extremely friendly manner. This comical image belies the fact that the Russian opposition is deadly serious: It intends to bring down Putin.

Last Thursday, Alexei Navalny, a 36-year-old lawyer and blogger, met with SPIEGEL for an interview. Only a few minutes earlier, the chairs in front of his desk had been occupied by two officials from the Investigative Committee, a government agency that is directly subordinate to Putin. They were questioning him on corruption charges.

On Friday afternoon, he rushed to Moscow’s Khamovniki district court to hear the verdict in the trial against the punk band Pussy Riot. When he left the courtroom that evening, he supplemented his earlier remarks with further comments to SPIEGEL. Navalny says he is now convinced that "Putin has decided to put all his opponents behind bars." He himself could be next.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Navalny, the women from Pussy Riot have each received a two-year sentence in a labor camp. What does this trial’s outcome mean for Russia?

Navalny: It was clearly a political show trial. As an Orthodox Christian, I can only see this as a repugnant, downright heathen act of revenge. It is carried out in the name of Christianity, but the girls did not desecrate any icons and they did not destroy anything. It reminds me of the Inquisition during the Middle Ages.

SPIEGEL: Many Russians don’t consider a church to be the right place to hold a political demonstration. What is your position on this?

Navalny: I find the action itself despicable. I would be outraged if my daughter, who is 11, were to take part in something like this in a few years’ time. Indeed, that’s why I also said that the girls did something stupid. But stupidity is not a crime.

SPIEGEL: So why are you standing up for Pussy Riot?

Navalny: I cannot do otherwise, even if it incurs the ire of many of my supporters. I’m concerned with protecting the legal system. The girls have merely committed a minor offense, not a crime. They present no danger to society.

SPIEGEL: Putin apparently sees the women as a threat.

Navalny: He has miscalculated. Pussy Riot only became a threat thanks to him. It was initially only a moderately successful performance that received far less of a response than the brilliant action on Red Square in January. At the time, Pussy Riot called Putin a coward. Then, two of the three activists were arrested shortly before the presidential election (in March).

SPIEGEL: Is it a coincidence that it was women who carried out these actions?

Navalny: When men are arrested without any legal basis and for political reasons, it’s merely a routine, everyday occurrence in Russia, and hardly anyone has any sympathy. But until recently, everyone deluded themselves into thinking that the Kremlin wouldn’t dare put women behind bars. The women from Pussy Riot have become symbols partly because this cliché has been shattered.

SPIEGEL: How do you see the role of women in the protest movement?

Navalny: Politics is traditionally a male domain in Russia. Until now, women have only been accessories. Now, female protest groups are emerging -- not because men came up with the idea, but through their own efforts. That’s something new for Russia.

SPIEGEL: What did Putin expect to achieve with this trial?

Navalny: The Kremlin used the performance in the church to take revenge for the appearance on Red Square. Furthermore, it succeeded in taking the conflict between the government and the opposition movement and obscuring it behind the confrontation between the Church and the opposition. The idea was for the patriarch to stand in the crossfire, not Putin. That’s why photos also appeared in the press of the patriarch wearing an expensive watch, instead of pictures of Putin’s palaces.


Read the full article at: spiegel.de

Former world chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov was among those detained in protests outside the court building in Moscow on Friday. "You can’t fight Putin with elections because he controls them," Navalny told SPIEGEL. "That’s why demonstrations are the most effective approach."

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