Punk band arrest at heart of Russia church row

People: Arrest pitted supporters of church against those who think it is in collusion with Kremlin

Written by Associated Press | Moscow | Published: May 14, 2012 1:01 am

The skinny dissident is thrown headfirst into a police van by camouflage-clad officers. Nearby,a dozen bearded men bearing Russian Orthodox crosses and wearing skull-and-crossbones T-shirts cheer on the cops.

It’s the latest flare-up in a growing feud pitting supporters of the influential church,which sees itself as the nation’s spiritual guide,against opponents who say the church has sold out to Vladimir Putin,becoming an arm of his regime more interested in gold than souls.

Members of female punk rock band Pussy Riot were jailed in early March for belting out an anti-Putin “punk prayer’’ in front of the church’s gilded altar. The church’s leader,Patriarch Kirill,cried blasphemy. Critics claimed church-state collusion was keeping the women locked up. Many say Putin,who returned to the presidency last week,has used the church as a potent tool in his command structure,allowing it to amass vast riches in return for unquestioning support of his policies.

The church’s backing for the Kremlin has become so fawning that it consecrated new nuclear missiles as “Russia’s guardian angels’’ and urged young Russians to volunteer for military service in Chechnya.

The band said it performed its “punk prayer’’ inside the cathedral on February 21 to protest Putin’s return to the Kremlin. Three members were charged with hooliganism and face up to seven years in jail. Protesters see Kirill’s influence in the harsh treatment. The patriarch in a recent sermon described the punk performance as “devilish mockery’’ and part of a broader assault by “enemy forces’’ on the church.

Meanwhile,on Sunday,prominent novelists and poets led a street protest against Putin comprising over 10,000 people in Moscow without obtaining the required permit. The demonstrators skirted the law by remaining silent.

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