University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review


This article follows the Pussy Riot case from the 2012 trial decision to the 2018 challenge before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The case revolved around the “punk prayer” performed by three women in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. While the case, which centered on violation of freedom of expression, may be framed as a matter of political speech vs. religious speech, it has broader implications. Pussy Riot’s performance and subsequent legal cases were about the ability of pluralism and dissent to counter the carefully constructed government narrative of “traditional values” and moral sovereignty. For democracy to develop and endure, pluralism must continually challenge existing power relationships and expose inequality. Thus, accountability is key when it comes to pluralism in the public realm. However, constant accountability is unimaginable without freedom of expression and the voicing of dissenting opinions. Thus, in order to live up to its constitutional commitment to pluralism, it is key for Russia to develop a safe space for public discussion pertaining to government, governmental representatives and broader public policy issues, despite the conflicts that such discussion will generate. Artistic forms of protest alone, such as the one engaged in by Pussy Riot, are not enough, as they currently fail to appeal and be accessible to larger Russian audiences.