Monthly Archives: October 2013

Transformation of the Culture of Justice in Russia: The Pussy Riot Case

By Kirill Prudnikov

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a jailed member of the punk band Pussy Riot, has launched a hunger strike to protest against dehumanizing living conditions in the prison where she is serving her two-year sentence. It has been a year since Tolokonnikova was convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for Pussy Riot’s performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February of last year. The group, wearing balaclavas, sang a song calling on the Virgin Mary to “kick out Putin,” and three of them were arrested and later convicted. The conviction of Pussy Riot raises a question of the current state and understanding of justice in Russia.

In order to understand the transformation of the notion of justice in Russian society we need to introduce the concept of culture of justice, that overcomes the dichotomy between Rawls’ “Threefold Reflective Equilibrium of Justice,” and Hayek’s critique formulated as “The ‘Mirage’ of Social Justice.” The culture of justice is a complex of facts, which formulates a set of factors by which a specific community formulates the idea of ​​justice, or better how a community makes meaning of justice. This combination of factors allows us to say that there is no universal principle of justice, and that the notion of justice is always instantiated in certain cultural communities. Among these factors we can list literature, religion, philosophy and science: These are all symbolic systems in which members of the cultural community form their notions of justice and considerations of fairness. However, it does not mean that these cultures exist separately; they are permeable to each other.

So how we can formulate the current culture of justice in Russian society? For the first time in history Russians constitute a majority of the country in which they live. This ethnic domination caused the reinterpretation of the historical role of Russians, and as a result it led to a nationalization of Russian society, and returning to the “traditional cultural values.” These traditional values are highly based on the synergy of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Government. This synergy leads to a creation of a new quasi culture of justice that combines religious justice with criminal justice. Here we have to say that an Orthodox concept of justice is different from a Catholic and a Protestant one. For Catholicism, and to a greater extent for the Protestant, a concept of justice emerges as the concept of a fair penalty for certain sins. The concept of justice has a clear legal context. The Orthodox theology’s idea of sin and deliverance from sin is rather similar to the notion of recovery, or a process of healing and overcoming the disease; it is not a punishment, not a legal case. Therefore the synergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Government created a culture of justice where a sin is equal to a crime, and it can be punished through legal structures.

We can see this synergic culture of justice in the case of Pussy Riot. The case of Tolokonnikova has nothing to do with a legal justice; it is rather a recovery through suffering and self-cleaning. The question is what kind of sin have they committed (it is obvious that the “punk prayer” is not a crime, but a sin)? The answer lies in the symbolic meaning of the “punk prayer.” The girl’s band entered a metaphysical, sacred space dominated by men. Lionel Tiger in his Men in Groups (1969) said that social inequality and social injustice lies in men’s nature to create secret societies, and exercise power through them by monopolizing the information. Thus, Pussy Riot’s sin is that they challenged the culture of social inequality and social injustice dominated by the synergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Government. They committed a sin-crime against the information monopoly of the Church-Government, and were punished by men both on the legal and religious levels.

The Pussy Riot example illustrates a new trend in the culture of justice in Russia that combines both religious and criminal justice, and equalizes a sin and a crime on metaphysical, religious, and cultural levels.