2011 in Russia saw both an intensification of state authoritarianism and anti-Putin protests. A key actor in theprotest movement was the punk group Pussy Riot which staged a series of ‘guerrilla performances’ aimed atdrawing attention to the reinvigoration of patriarchal authority, expressed in the close alliance between the statebureaucracy and the church. On 21 February 2012 five members of the group staged a performance in Moscow’sCathedral of Christ the Saviour directed against the Orthodox Church leader's support for Putin during hiselection campaign. In March three of the group members were arrested and charged with hooliganism. On 17August all three were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred", and sentenced to two yearsimprisonment.
The Pussy Riot trial became a public spectacle in which the protestors’ lawyers’ expertise rested primarily ontheir capacity to make their clients famous and in so doing, construct their own celebrity. In this paper I willargue that these features of both the lawyers and trial illuminate several (inter-connected) developments withinthe justice system and wider society in Russia. I will also argue that it is possible to draw comparisons withrecent developments in the West; specifically, that we can see a similar transformation of the legal profession andlaw, and that the removal of access to justice has stripped the law of its potential to be a site of public dialogue,reducing it to a technology of domination, while the growing democratic deficit requires its manipulation (inviolation of procedural regulations and legal norms) to produce political quiescence.
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