The Letter written by N. Tolokonnikova in which she outlines the problematics of Gender Equality and other fundamental freedoms in frames of ethical consensus monopolized by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian State, absent the plurality of the people of Russia and incarceration of Pussy Riot, as its main actors.
“The non-inoculated perspectivist understanding of truth, the notion of its dependence on the chosen frame of reference as well as on the language in which this truth is established and formulated lends itself toward such characteristic perceptions as sexism, ageism, xenophobia, and the lack of respect for non-classical practices and non-standard values as well as for the stylistic peculiarities of the lives of certain groups in society.
Those who judge the activists of the punk-group Pussy Riot (P.R.) assess their activity from the height of a non-critical understanding of truth whereby they assume that there exists only one truth and that only they who are bringing judgment to bear have the right to establish this truth. I call such truth patriarchal, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, traditionalist, and fundamentalist. By rejecting all other perspectives and ways of thinking, those who side with the fundamentalist theory of a single truth move the ethical, legal, and other social norms, as well as the permissible limits of deviation from the normative models of behavior into the ranks of customs and traditions, i.e. things that are nonpolitical, that do not depend on the results of social discussion.
Thus the ideal pluralistic model for social order, which assumed constant political competition between different systems of norms, as well as the constant contention between alternative views of the world, influencing the decision making process on national and other levels, as created by the difficult 20th century is hereby repudiated. Instead of competitive pluralism what we have is the consecutive naturalization of one of the possible pictures of the world. It is that picture to which adhere members of past and present law enforcement agencies, which make up the current political elite of Russia. This elite includes the Holy Patriarch Kirill.
The representatives of the Orthodox Church of Russia (OCR), as we have discussed amongst ourselves, within Pussy Riot, even before our arrest, are by no means stupid. They are not ignorant. But unfortunately they prefer that most Russians remain ignorant. They enjoy being part of the elite, not only in the political sense but in the intellectual as well. The vocalists of P.R. have noted that in Russia there are two types of groups that are concerned with gender equality. The first one, which is totally predictable, are the activists of feminist groups, the activists of the LGBT+K organizations, and the research scientists who work with gender issues. The second, and this is indeed a paradox, are the speakers for the ROC. These include Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the Archpriest Dmitriy Smirnov, and now the Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia Kirill.
During a roundtable discussion at the University of the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs that took place recently, on 28 March, the Patriarch characterized gender from the position of social constructivism. “Gender is a social phenomenon, a person can construct his own gender,” thereby elegantly, in the artful manner of a chekist [KGB agent], reducing constructivism to the absurd. His Holiness plays on the fact that the meaning of “person” can be interpreted from the individualist, personalist as well as systemic, structuralist, and collectivist positions. The religious philosophy to which the cloth of the speaker refers to, induces us to interpret the meaning of “person” from a personalistic position. Social constructivism expresses itself in a totally different language.
And the Patriarch pretends to not understand this. Undoubtedly to assume that a person can willfully change gender, as though changing gloves, is ultimate foolishness. The Patriarch is aiming for an aggressive reaction on the part of Russians toward the idea of gender equality, slyly not noticing that social constructivism speaks of persons not in the personalistic sense, but in the Feuerbach, Marxist sense. A person is s/he who has acquired his/her identity through the replication of social practices. The practices, including those of constructing gender, can be changed, but that is not a question of individual will power, rather that of serious and lengthy political work that can be compared with the revolutionary goals for the transformation of the world in the “Theses on Feuerbach” and “The Manifesto of the Communist Party.”
This is precisely the kind of work that is being done in Europe by those who are in favor of gender equality. They are honestly engaging in a political struggle with the right, conservative forces over gender laws. Whereas the Patriarch is trying to convince Russians that “gender laws” are not based on “the ethical consensus of society,” but are passed by force – through “the pressure of television, public opinion, the internet, twisting of hands, intimidation.” But even here his Holiness is sly. Television, just like the internet, are the instruments of the struggle of representatives of different frames of reference and attitudes, which exist in the context of a healthy political environment, of which Europe can be proud, whereas Russia – not, neither among its right or left forces, nor its conservatives or libertarians.
One cannot say that the traditionalists and conservatives in contemporary Europe have their rights, liberties, or access to media and participation in government infringed upon. Intimidation and the twisting of hands are methods that are most often used by the right political elite. For example Sarkozy, recently, in an attempt to raise his rating in the presidential race, hectically began to arrest, beat up, and disembowel suspected extremists. In Russia, the FSB burst into the apartment of Geydar Dzhemal. To apply the devices learned in the school of law enforcement is one of the favorite political gestures of our national leader, for whom the Patriarch actively campaigned.
And the last and most outrageous statement made by His Holiness at the round table at the University of the Ministry of the Interior: according to Kirill, the “pressure” of public opinion interferes with ethical consensus. How can one even compare “ethical consensus in society” with public opinion? Apparently, in the corridors of the Lubyanka, they teach that peace is war, freedom is slavery, and consensus is arrived at in society without the participation of public opinion.
Although the Orthodox Church is concerned with gender issues, it is doing everything possible to limit the influence of the philosophy and politics of gender equality on the Russian public. Even this is not a crime. Let the OCR continue to postulate, to its heart’s content, its gender and ethics assumptions. But for an ethical consensus in society, it is not enough to have just one point of view. It is not possible to speak of consensus while the other side, which supports the idea of gender equality, is devoid of access to television channels and the paper media, to representatives in the higher echelons of power, when they are openly discriminated against by the repeatedly scandalous, sexist statements made by Premier Putin, and when they are intimidated by the demonstrative jailing of the feminist activists (P.R.).
I can’t disagree with the Patriarch that it is specifically “out of ethical consensus that the general legislative system will grow, including the protection of human rights.” However it is impossible to speak about the existence of consensus in Russia while the initiators of the public discussion in which His Holiness is currently actively taking part in are serving time in pre-trial detention centre №6. Only Jesus consoles us: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). We want to participate in the discussion that we started. We are ready to meet, discuss, and argue as equals. We are now locked behind 10 iron doors. As we are in prison, we cannot give fully adequate replies to the attacks by representatives of those concepts of sex and gender that we are opposed to. I don’t mean to accuse anyone, but this manner of putting your opponent behind bars with the threat of 7 years of minimum security colony and then, standing next to the cell, speaking about ethical consensus – doesn’t this just smack of cowardice?”
Nadia Tolokno, pre-trial detention centre №6, 5 April 2012
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