Apparently emboldened by the stiff prison sentences members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot received this month for performing a profane anthem inside a Moscow cathedral, a handful of conservative, Russian Orthodox activists staged a series of audacious attacks on liberal Muscovites this week, all of them amply documented online.
As the news site Gazeta.ru reported the young culture warriors barged into a sex museum in the Russian capital late Tuesday night and left a brick and a threatening message for the staff. Alexander Donskoy, the director of The G-Spot Museum of Erotic Art, said that he had identified the activists “through their accounts on social networks” and by viewing online video of the self-styled defenders of the Russian Orthodox faith harassing supporters of Pussy Riot in recent weeks.
One of the Christians, Dmitry Tsorionov, posted a link to security camera footage of himself and six others, including a camera crew from state television, inside the G-Spot museum on the social network VKontakte, a Russian replica of Facebook, where he blogs as Dimitry Enteo.
In another post on the same social network, a second activist, Andrey Kaplin, drew attention to the report on the incident produced by the crew from state television which had accompanied the protesters.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the sex museum’s director, Mr. Donskoy, is a former politician who “announced the creation of his Party of Love” this year “by holding a demonstration in support of Pussy Riot in which party activists swam in a fountain at the GUM shopping center next to Red Square.”
In a comment on the museum raid posted on his VKontakte page, along with an image of the activists wielding a bible before a giant statue of a penis, Mr. Donskoy wrote: Nobody has the right to impose their will, threatening people’s lives. Today Orthodox militants punish us for supporting Pussy Riot, threatening our lives and tearing clothes off simple passers-by, and tomorrow they’ll go raid churches of other confessions and stab atheists. It is pure extremism.”
The night before that stunt, Mr. Tsorionov and Mr. Kaplin had stormed into a Moscow theater during the performance of a “documentary” play about the Pussy Riot trial, shouting “Repent!” and “Why do you hate the Russian people?” at the band’s lawyers, supporters and family who were gathered on stage. State television journalists, who arrived at the theater with the Orthodox activists, cameras blazing, captured Mr. Tsorionov turning toward the lens at the start of their video report.
The event took place at Moscow’s Teatr.doc, which aims to produce “an intersection of art and actual social analysis concerning topical issues,” by crafting performances “based on authentic texts, interviews and the lives of real people.” The theater’s artistic director, Mikhail Ugarov, suggested on his blog shortly after the protesters burst in that the whole event had been staged by the television crew which arrived with the Christians. “That is,” Mr. Ugarov wrote, “the TV people carry with them the group of extras and shoot the conflict.”
Even without a crew from the state broadcaster, however, Mr. Tsorionov and his fellow activists are quite capable of documenting their own stunts. One video clip posted online this week shows Mr. Tsorionov running up to a man at a Moscow trains station and ripping a Pussy Riot T-shirt off his back.
Mr. Tsorionov also stars in another, longer clip of a confrontation with Pussy Riot supporters which took place this month on the day that three members of the band were jailed for staging a protest inside a Moscow cathedral on the eve of Russia’s presidential election in February. In that video, the Orthodox vigilantes can be seen demanding that a supporter of the band remove a T-shirt that quoted a lyric of the band’s song, “Mother of God, drive Putin out!”
Although the members of Pussy Riot insisted at their trial that the song they performed in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior — an obscenity-laced plea for the Virgin Mary to free Russia from Vladimir Putin’s grip — was a political stunt, not an attack on believers, they were convicted this month of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Supporters of the group have accused the Russian government of portraying the protest as an anti-religious stunt both to dilute the content of the anti-Putin message and turn Orthodox Christians against the protest movement.
Responding late last week to widespread condemnation of the verdict against the three women as an assault on free speech, a Russian diplomat in Britain insisted that the cathedral performance was a “provocation against religion,” and even compared the stunt to the destruction of the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001.
After the Orthodox activists were given so much time to vent their rage on state television this week, Russia’s federal investigative committee, which answers directly to Mr. Putin, announced on Thursday that a murderer in a Russian province had killed two women and painted the slogan “Free Pussy Riot” on a wall in the victims’ blood. While supporters of the band condemned that crime, state media reports gave the gruesome image a lot of attention and the Russian news agency Interfax asked Mr. Tsorionov, the Orthodox activist, for his response. “The infernal force that drives them hates God, believers and humankind in general,” he said. “These people are capable of committing any crime, and nothing but force and law can stop them.” A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church chimed in, saying, “This blood is on the conscience of the so-called public, which supported the participants in the action in Christ the Savior Cathedral.”
The story changed dramatically on Friday, when the police in Kazan, the regional capital where the grisly crime was committed, revealed that the killer had confessed to writing the slogan on the wall only “to draw suspicion away from himself and portray it as a ritual killing.”
Following the initial report of the murders in Kazan, the author of the official @pussy_riot Twitter feed accused the Kremlin of playing with fire by whipping religious activists into a frenzy. Referring to the fact that a senior Kremlin adviser, Vladislav Surkov, was just put in charge of the state’s religious affairs office, the Pussy Riot blogger wrote: “Putin ignites the fires of revolution, and Vladislav Surkov starts religious wars.”