But in addition to protesting Putin's re-election, they were
also known for their feminist messages.
And they were, of course, easily recognizable by their trademark
costumes: bright balaclavas and neon tights.
Amnesty International has deemed
the three members to be "prisoners of conscience" for their now months-long
detention. An open-letter campaign for their release is drawing the somewhat
unanticipated support of prominent Russian figures and cultural
Critics of Putin and his
increasingly restrictive government might see the legal charge as incidental to
his crackdown on dissent. Whether or not they're right, what does "hooliganism"
This legal term first emerged in
Russia at the start of the 20th century, though at first with a number of
meanings. In his essay, "Rural Crime in Tsarist Russia: The Question of
Hooliganism, 1905-1914," author Neil B. Weissman comments:
some, [hooliganism] was synonymous with crime itself, applicable to all illegal
acts. For others, it connoted a particular attitude with which certain crimes
were committed, such as extreme cruelty. And there were those for whom
hooliganism represented a state of mind, a psychological condition of 'moral
insanity' or 'moral nihilism.
Whatever the definition,
hooliganism was still clearly linked to illegality and self-incriminating
behavior. More specifically, though, Weismann proposed that hooliganism applied
to crimes committed specifically in rural areas and by persons of the peasantry
class. It was generally impromptu and spontaneous in nature, but authorities
mostly saw it as lacking a clear direction or an end goal -- "maliciousness" or
simply the desire to do evil was considered sufficient motive. Acts of
hooliganism were usually committed toward "cultured and propertied" people and
the Orthodox hierarchy. And this last part might be the most important.
At its core, hooliganism was --
and continues to be -- a rejection of and defiance to authority, according to Weismann.
A few years after police began charging members of the lower class with
"hooliganism" for just about any disruptive crime against the elite, the same
class of Russian poor committed its greatest hooliganist act of all,
overthrowing the tsarist upper class itself in 1917. In this sense, the
disruptive acts by the lower class against the aristocracy, as well as the church,
were part of the same social turmoil that may have played a role in the
rebellion and subsequent turn to communism.
Today's rejection of authority is
different in many ways, especially in scale, but once again the church and the
civilian government have come together against dissent. As Kirill Razlogov, the
director of the Russian Institute for Cultural Research, noted in an
interview with The Voice of Russia, "criticizing [the Church] becomes a
political gesture." Still, it's odd to see this almost absurdly antiquated
charge once again used against a very different class of agitators.