If you haven't been living in an Internet-free zone, you already know a few things about the Russian Punk band called Pussy Riot. They were arrested in March, and charged with hooliganism after a February performance in Moscow's main cathedral where they belted out a "Punk prayer" pleading with the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin. They protested, musically, in a church, for under a minute.If they were going to be charged with anything, it should've been trespassing, but hooliganism? This is archaic legal nonsense, even coming from a totalitarian society.
Vladimir Putin, like many other backwards-thinking world leaders of the 21st century, is ridiculously rooted in the dynamics of the early 20th century. Simple repressive tactics can no longer work in a modern Russia, when so many of its citizens have tasted freedom of expression, and the global cultural advances. Thousands marched in the streets to protest his controversial return to the presidency, knowing the election results were preordained. Popular cultural figures (over half of Russians polled said the two-year prison sentence for the three members of Pussy Riot behind bars was too severe) jailed for freedom of speech can only serve to mobilize the underground community, ready to bring Russia into the digital age, kicking and screaming if need be.
The iconic photo of band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 handcuffed in a glass cage has already generated the type of attention that has reignited the idea of freedom from oppressive regimes the world over, and it has very likely begun creating the next generation of hooligans intent on overthrow the current corrupt rulers of Russia. The official term "hooliganism" invokes a bygone era, and the stodgy government officials appear as bewildered bureaucrats living in the past, unaware of the changes going on in an accelerated free-thinking world. And Pussy Riot doesn't seem to be going away. Even behind bars, they are creating an international movement. This isn't just a bunch of scruffy punksters looking to get a record deal out of instant fame. They are a band of composed young women with a message, an attitude, and a savvy plan to change the course of history for their country. How do you bring down a tyrant? The same way it was always done, with music and theater and a sense of humor. If you want to defeat your enemy, make fun of him.
It's a mystery how Russia can act as if we live in a world where the Internet doesn't exist. Putin is trying to block Russia's cultural reinvention, oblivious to how history will regard him. And he's most likely behind the strategy at work with the sentencing of the members of Pussy Riot, and how long the Russian court wants to imprison them. If Pussy Riot can successfully petition for an early release while keeping a strong online presence, there's the potential for a world tour and international stardom. A two-year prison sentence seems like a superbly calculated maneuver. It's just long enough to make them yesterday's news and short enough to avoid violent outrage today. Putin is betting on the media and the Russian population to have short memories. Maybe someone in his inner circle should pose this key question to him: How long a memory does the Internet have, Vladimir?