The Pussy Riot girls delivered their last plea at the Khamovnichesky Court on Wednesday. The verdict will be declared on August 17. Dr Massimo Introvigne, an internationally well-known sociologist and religion expert, tells in his interview with Interfax-Religion about reaction of the Western media to the Pussy Riot case and how the action would have been regarded in Western countries. In 2011, he was the Representative of OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) for combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions.
- Dr Introvigne, what is your impression on the media reaction to the case?
- "Although I do not know all the details of the case, what impresses me is the completely distorted image that many Western media, possibly simply cutting and pasting from certain Russian sources, are giving of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church is portrayed as a Medieval and bigoted institution, which simply wants to protect its power. This image is completely false, and ignores the efforts of the Moscow Patriarchate to promote reconciliation and dialogue both at the national and international level. The Russian Orthodox Church's contribution to social dialogue and inter-religious dialogue is widely acknowledged. The portrait of the Church that we see in many media is simply false".
- What would have been the reaction to similar occurrences in the West?
- "Assuming that what I read about the case correctly describes it, and that the group entered the cathedral in Moscow and performed a song including obscene words aimed at the Church, the Patriarch and religion - not only at political Russian figures, as some Western media have incorrectly reported - this would have been regarded as a crime under the law of any Western country. Freedom of expression does not include the right to enter a cathedral and shout insults at religion, just as it does not include the right to enter a synagogue and insulting Judaism, or a mosque and insulting islam - or even a restaurant, uttering profanities at the owner and the clients. If, again, what I read is correct, words such as 'bitch' and 'shit' were used in the song. This would be illegal under American, Italian, or European Union law".
- What about the argument that freedom of expression should prevail?
- "Freedom of expression is a very important right. I understand concerns about it. However, there is a mistaken idea in some circles that freedom of expression should have no limits. Of course, freedom of expression has limits. If someone offended by the singer Madonna and her usual treatment, or rather mistreatment, of religion would react by singing a song implying that she is a pedophile, Madonna would rightly act in court against such false accusations. She would not accept that calling her a pedophile, or simply insulting her, is something humorous or part of the freedom of expression. There is however a curious phenomenon. What is obvious about offenses to pop stars, other public figures, or even other religions suddenly becomes less obvious when Christianity and Christian institutions are offended. They seem to be fair game, and every conceivable offense and provocation against Christianity or the Church is regarded as a legitimate manifestation of the freedom of expression. We have seen it in the West in the cases of alleged works of art insulting the Church, the Pope, or even Jesus Christ. And this is part of a growing Christianophobia".
- Do you share the idea that these are "just girls" and should be treated with indulgence?
- "I think that there is an important distinction to be made. There are two steps. The first is to recognize that Christians have a right to protect the sacrality of their places of worship, and that singing in a cathedral songs with insults and obscenities is, from the objective point of view, a crime. Once we agree with this general principle, we can perhaps show some indulgence when assessing individual responsibilities. Perhaps these girls are themselves victims of a larger culture of profanity and provocation. However the two steps should follow one another, in this order. It would not be acceptable to glorify the act in itself, and to present the girls as the heroes and the Church as the villain in this story. This may sound very liberal, but ultimately sacrifices the right of the Christians on the altar of what is fashionable and politically correct".