Culture in the crucible : Pussy Riot and the politics of art in contemporary Russia
Johnston, Rebecca Adeline
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There is a consistent thread throughout Russian history of governmental management of culture. Tsars and Communist bureaucrats alike have sought to variously promote, censor, or exploit writers, filmmakers, and musicians to control and define the country's cultural content. Often, these measures were intended not necessarily to cultivate Russia's aesthetic spirit, but to accomplish specific policy goals. The promotion of a State ideology and other efforts to stave of social unrest were chief among them. With the fall of Soviet power and the loss of an official ideology promoted by the state, the concept of cultural politics fell to the wayside. It has remained largely ignored ever since. Despite numerous high-profile incidents of persecution of the creative class, analysts have not linked them together as part of an overarching cultural policy. However, the Russian government under Vladimir Putin has faced consistent policy challenges since the beginning of the 2000s that could be mitigated through the implementation of such a policy. In some ways, the breadth and character of State involvement in the cultural sphere follows the pattern of the country’s autocratic past. In others, it demonstrates that it has adapted these policies to function in the hybrid regime that Putin has created, as opposed to the totalitarian ones that preceded it. A recent case that exemplifies this new breed of cultural policy is the persecution of the radical feminist punk band Pussy Riot. While largely unknown to many Russian citizens, the group’s overt opposition to the patriarchal model of rule established by Putin with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church was met by the most comprehensive crackdown within the cultural sphere since perestroika. Examining this case in detail can reveal the extent to which the Russian government is concerned about its ability to maintain popular legitimacy. The fact that it has continued to try to manage the cultural sphere may indicate the level of democracy that has or has not been established in Russia so far today.