Pussy Riot not a big hit with Russian pop stars

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 16, 2012 12:57 PM
Pussy Riot not a big hit with Russian pop stars

By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - From Madonna to ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, pop singers worldwide have demanded the release of three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot during their trial over an anti-Kremlin protest on a church altar.

But the response from top musicians inside Russia has been muted. When asked about the case, many Russian performers seem puzzled by the support from abroad.

"What is so great about Pussy Riot that all these international stars support them?" asked veteran Russian singer Valeria on her personal website. "They must be saying this because someone ordered them to."

Music insiders say Russia's biggest stars may be wary of falling out with President Vladimir Putin for fear of jeopardizing their main source of income - high-paying private concerts for the super-rich.

Others may be concerned that taking a stand against Kremlin could cut their time on state television, they said.

Russia's mainstream performers also have little reason to feel solidarity with Pussy Riot - a protest collective more interested in making political statements than polished music.

"For many of these people, their principle work is performing at corporate parties for large oil companies or even sometimes for the country's top officials," said rock singer Yevgeny Fyodorov.

"They are part of Putin's system and scared to leave it," said Vasily Shumov, who compiled an online collection of songs this year in support of Putin's opponents, including Pussy Riot.

RISKY BUSINESS

Some performers have been prepared to make a stand. More than 100 Russian artists, writers, actors and musicians signed a letter demanding the release of the Pussy Riot trio, who burst into Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral and thrashed out a song deriding Putin's close ties to the clergy.

But that list included almost none of the best-known singers, many of whom have been silent on the plight of the three women, who return to court on Friday to hear the judge's verdict on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.

That contrasts with the international stars who have backed Pussy Riot, including Peter Gabriel, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bjork, Pete Townshend, Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys.

While most top Russian stars have kept quiet, some have gone as far as speaking out against the three Pussy Riot women and calling for them to be jailed.

"I'll personally drink to the health of the judge who will slap them in jail for a while," ballad singer Yelena Vaenga wrote on her website.

Speaking out in Russia remains a risky business. Yuri Shevchuk, lead singer for the rock band DDT, accused local officials in April of cancelling concerts in several Siberian cities because of his outspoken criticism of the Kremlin.

It also risks alienating fans in a country where there is perceived to be a widespread aversion to politics.

"Even those who go to protests as citizens are very cautious about public support in their musical capacity," said Alexander Gorbachev, deputy editor of Afisha, an arts, culture and entertainment magazine.

Dima Bilan, who won the Eurovision Song Contest - an annual pan-Europe competition with a huge television audience - told Afisha asking singers to comment was a delicate matter.

"Musicians have a huge influence, but everyone's opinion is very personal," said Bilan. "This is the same as asking someone 'Who did you vote for?'"

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Heavens)