Atheist Children and Fundamentalist Adults

A new law is being prepared, in response to Pussy Riot. Any offense to religious feelings, insult to religious objets, or disruption to religious rituals could lead to a charge of US$ 10,000 or 3 years in jail. This is not a completely new law, neither it would be the last one that has something to do with “religion.”

But I want to write about something else here. How it feels to see this happen in a country where I was born and raised as an atheist.


I had a pen-pal from Poland when I was about 10. Once she sent me a photograph of herself in a special Catholic coming-of-age dress and paraphernalia. I think it was something like being a “Christ’s bride” (I am bad at it, as you can see, forgive my ignorance.) I was just shocked when I saw the picture. I could not relate to any of the objects, to decoration, and especially to the symbolism of her being dressed that way. It seemed to me to be from a child bride paintings by Russian artists of the 19th century, who were trying to raise consciousness about the treatment of poor girls in Russia. I thanked my lucky stars. Of course, I did not write any of that in my reply to her. After 1980 anti-socialist events in Poland, her letters stated to come to me already opened on the border, then less frequently, and finally they stopped altogether.

Ten years later, during Perestroika, I became religious myself (it did not last long, but that’s another story). That period made me understand how people become religious from being atheist, so when I see my family, friends and colleagues, and the country becoming more and more religious, I can relate to that. I know how it feels, where it comes from. It is a process, a decision, a kind of going to school again and learning how to be religious. There are people who will teach you and help you. Just like parents and institutions do in other countries. There is nothing “natural” about that. How one’s religious belief becomes the source of punishing others (religious or not) is also not a natural progression of moving from atheism to fundamentalism. Though I hear otherwise, – that they are two sides of the same coin – they are far from being the same element with a different charge. I am still thinking about it, and will add more in the next post, about mechanisms that are enabling a nation that has been looking for love and peace in Christ, for something better, than they had in the USSR, start sending each other again to Gulags, destroying livelihoods, careers, lives and families.

I should probably be worried that my words could offend, and next time I visit my family in Moscow I could be fined or go to jail. I already warned them, when they cheered at the prison term for Pussy Riot: be careful, I am also a Russian feminist. It happened many times before: family sends family away, in the name of love and peace.

Femen Group Chants F*** Putin

During the Russian president’s state visit to Germany, members of the Ukranian performance group Femen chanted “F*** Putin.” As usual in their practice, they were topless and with painted signs on their torsos “F*** the Dictator” in English and “Putin, Go F** Yourself,” in Russian. Putin and German Chancellor Merkel were there, witnessing the chants, signs, and breasts. Here there is a video and photographs (text in German):

This would be one of their most successful actions to date, comparable to their other protests in solidarity with the Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk group, two members of which are now in Russian jails. In their use of Russian, English and other languages and strategies that are on top of being topless, Femen is developing its own style. But a more exciting question for me here is the relation between theory and practice, whatever one might call these. The work by Hito Steyerl, “Adorno’s Grey,” explores his last semester of teaching in California, when a group of women students flashed him during his lecture, and showered him with flower petals. Adorno, a well-known theorist of art, culture, and politics, who had to flee Nazi Germany to the US, returned that semester to Switzerland (and died shortly thereafter), after many of his lectures were disrupted by ‘unruly’ students whom he clearly could not connect with. (Nabokov left for Switzerland around the same time, citing students protests as one reason also.) You can read about Steyeri’s video installation here:

I would just say that it’s great to have this Femen group of women doing it, even if (or, because of?) the fact that they were allowed in to do their action.