The word ‘provocation’ has a much lighter, more playful feel than provokatsia. In English, it’s hard to imagine who would seriously condemn others for staging a ‘provocation’; such a person would have to be wearing a handlebar mustache and carrying a pocket-watch, and threatening to call in the Pinkertons. In Russian, however, provokatsia still has much of the scary edge it had in the Soviet years. To call a demonstration a provokatsia is to imply it has been instigated by shadowy, usually foreign, powers, with the aim of discrediting the government, the church, the Russian people, and all that is holy and good. The charge Pussy Riot faces, that of ‘hooliganism’, has a similarly Soviet sound, and carries a heavy penalty: up to seven years in prison. These penalties proceed from a social imagination that views the act of denouncing the authorities as a crime, an attempt to destroy the social order, and that sees government, the church or ‘the nation’ as having a collective right to defend themselves by imprisoning the offending individuals.
“Pussy Riot and New York Graffiti Art.” The Economist. 26 July 2012.
A lot of people in the US and the UK have been writing about the absurdist tone that the term “hooliganism” carries in English. I was so glad to see someone address the unavoidable Soviet tenor of these terms. It’s incredibly easy in the West to feel like Putin’s presidency represents, if nothing else, a regime change from the Soviet era. This is not quite the case,