Pussy Riot and the Presidency of Russia

October 8, 2012

Pussy Riot, a three-member all-female punk rock band in Russia, recently performed a political protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. They now face up to seven years in jail

by Vikas Patnaik

The case has divided Russia for the last five months, ever since the women were put behind bars without bail [in March 2012]. There are those who feel the women have been treated too harshly and those who consider their act to be “blasphemous” to the Orthodox Church, which has seen a revival in Russian society since the collapse of the atheistic USSR. The EU has also grown concerned, particularly over the basis and method of pre-trial detention of the band members.


The women were charged with “hooliganism” for dancing in colourful balaclavas near the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and “singing to the Virgin Mary” to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin. In their own defense, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich stated that their performance was intended to be a protest at Patriarch Kirill’s open support for Putin in the build-up to the March Presidential election, and not to offend adherents of the Orthodox faith. They added that this was “not a trial over Pussy Riot but of the entire Russian political system”.

Mixed Messages from Political Leaders

Western pop icons such as Madonna and Yoko Ono have come out in support of the Pussy Riot cause. A St. Petersburg government official reacted strongly to this, calling it an “imposition of Western values” that should not be allowed. Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, went on record tweeting that Madonna was in no position herself to engage in “moral lecturing”.

Interestingly, Vladimir Putin relayed a message of leniency towards the Pussy Riot members, on his recent visit to London for the Olympic Games [but has been more neutral in his comments since: Ed].

Leading Russia out of Resentment

It will be very interesting to see the outcome of this trial, the verdict of which is due 17th August. This may reflect on Putin’s leadership style, given his power and influence, but by virtue of doing so, it could expose what many in Russia are growing concerned over and Putin may be trying to conceal – the alleged links between government, law enforcement and the church. At the same time, Putin must dispel fears that the trial is part of a crackdown on dissent since his return to the Kremlin following the biggest anti-government protests in recent Russian history. Clearly a leadership dilemma of multiple dimensions.

While Putin’s style does not fit classic (mythological) charismatic leadership (Potts 2009), the recent pop hit “A Man Like Putin” notwithstanding, he has been given credit for much of the economic transformation of Russian society (McFaul and Stoner-Weiss 2010). This has not, however, qualified him as a transformational leader of the stature of Gorbachev, and (re)building trust is a priority for him. The complexity of the situation is thus likely to call for strategic – even ethical leadership as espoused by New Leadership theories (Rickards 2012) – rather than a transactional or situational one derived from the dominant rational model (Hersey and Blanchard 1988).

Putin may look to distance himself from the Orthodox Church and support the release of the Pussy Riot members, in an attempt to shake off the long-standing stigma of association between church and state going back to the days of the Tsars and Stalin. Whether moral or Machiavellian, it will attempt to address the best interests of Putin, Pussy Riot and, most importantly, the people of Russia.


Summary of story [accessed 11 August 2012].
Hersey, P., and Blanchard, K. (1988). Management of organizational behavior. 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
McFaul, M. and Stoner-Weiss, K. (2010). Elections and voters. In: White, S., ed. Developments in Russian politics 7. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 72. ISBN 9780230224490.
Potts, J. (2009). A history of charisma. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rickards, T. (2012). Dilemmas of leadership. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

The author

The author of the post, Vikas Patnaik, is Global Modeling & Analysis Leader at Ingersoll Rand. Apart from applying thermodynamics to the real world, Vik enjoys music, social commentary, philosophy and writing.

Update to follow

The realities of power catch the Liberal Democrats unprepared

December 10, 2010

The realities of power have caught the U.K.’s Liberal Democrats unprepared. Their treatment of the students loan issue demonstrates how not to deal with a critical leadership issue

In May 2010 Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, became head of a minority party in coalition government in the United Kingdom. Six months later, his party found itself under extreme pressure dealing with accusations of abandoning election pledges in order to gain power. A critical issue has resulted in a series of demonstrations amongst student groups, formerly among the party’s strongest supporters and activists. These became more violent as the debate took place [Dec 9th 2010].

Higher education policies and problems

Agreeing a policy on higher education was always going to be difficult for the new coalition. The parties had realised the financial problems of funding tertiary (University level) education and had signalled the need for changes during election campaigning, offering different approaches. When the result of the election was inconclusive, a deal with the Conservatives was established as the better option for the Liberal Democrats. Mr Clegg’s party found itself sharing power for the first time in living memory.

The arrangement was always seen as potentially dangerous. Actions to deal with the tough steps towards economic recovery were going to lead to unpopularity for the coalition. In particular, the minority party was vulnerable to accusations that they had acted out of ambition for power. Clegg maintained from the outset that the actions placed the interests of the country first. The coalition government under conservative David Cameron has lost some popular ground but the opinion polls are signalling strongly that opposition (Labour) gains have been at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

With the benefits of hindsight [1]

In hindsight, the dilemmas Nick Clegg faced were never clearly addressed. Vince Cable, another political asset was equally vulnerable, having to make a U-turn on his advocated financial policies. Their duties remained as leaders of their party and to work in its best interests. But they also now had undertaken to work towards a common policy with one-time political opponents, having recently campaigned as vigorously as was possible to establish the fundamental differences of policy between the parties.

Wriggle room

Even in the hasty negotiations as the deal was being set up post-election, the need for wriggle room was recognised. Liberal Democrat MPs would be permitted freedom to vote where new policies were believed to cut across election pledges. This freedom was not extended to ministers of the new Government.

The first hostage to fortune

The first hostage to fortune was the Lib Dem pledge over higher education. The Government has accepted the main thrust of a report commissioned under Lord Browne by its predecessors. The outcome was an extension of the policy initiated by that administration of charging students admission fees payable up-front. In effect these were nominal payments leaving students to pay of the charges under longer term financial arrangements. The parties largely agreed on the need to deal with a funding gap for University education, but not with the means of dealing with it.

By December [2010] the issue had become a near crisis for the Liberal Democrats . The political problem stems from their election pledge to oppose the conservative plans for the student fee approach, favouring a graduate tax instead.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that, for about half of graduates, the plan is essentially a 9% graduate tax for 30 years, because they will not finish paying off the debt by the 30-year cut-off point…[and that] about 10% of graduates will pay back, in total, more than they borrowed.

With the benefits of hindsight [2]

How might the issue have been treated differently? Perhaps by examination of how ‘tough to resolve’ dilemmas call for creative leadership.
The broad principle is to explore whether issues have been too quickly reduced to to one of two unpalatable ‘either-or’ options. In this case, it seems to me, the ambiguities inherent in the conditions emerging after the election. In particular the Lib Dems had made it a core election pledge (one of four) to oppose the very education policy they accepted once in power. This required considerable effort at communicating their continued commentment to, and concern for their affected and disenchanted stakeholders, while working and negotiating with their coalition partner to meet broader economic goals within a financial crisis. The situation is one which politically astute individuals are distinguished from the less able. Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown turned up on a phone-in yesterday [Dec 8th 2010]. Herather effortlessly demonstrated the required skills. Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg in contrast continue to wriggle on public exposure. Cruelly, at the moment, their wriggle-room seems to be that of worms impaled on hooks.


The issue was highlighted by the unrest and violence around Parliament as the tuition fee vote was passed through.

Dilemmas of Leadership: Idealism versus Pragmatism at Manchester United

February 5, 2010

One of the dilemmas of leadership is that of idealism versus pragmatism. It can be examined in the struggles for control at Manchester United Football Club

Malcolm Glazer, owner of Tampa Bay buccaneers and Manchester United is unpopular with the fans. A protest movement at Manchester has grown in strength in recent months [January 2010] Banners are displayed at home games. And one particularly creative idea has taken off. The protesters have appropriated the colours of the original team. The irony is that supporters wearing the shirts have stopped the financing of the club’s mega-store merchandising. But even this gesture illustrates a dilemma for the protesters. Do they attempt to weaken the club they love, to bring down its owners whom they detest?

It’s been a good two weeks for the team

According to the Guardian

Sir Alex Ferguson may consider this his most satisfactory week and a half since May 1999, when Manchester United staged a smash-and-grab raid to capture the Premier League, the FA Cup and the European Cup in the space of three matches. Now, at a time when his squad and his stewardship have been facing criticism, United have put together a mini-sequence of results that launches them towards the latter stages of the [2009-10] season with their morale at a peak.

First came the 4-0 demolition of Hull City, the occasion for a demonstration of Wayne Rooney’s wonderful vein of goal-scoring form. Next, came the Carling Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City, to shatter their neighbours’ vaulting optimism. And today a convincing victory over Arsenal, the team whose current ambitions most closely resemble their own.

The triumph of a symbolic leadership act

As The Daily Mail put it:

As protests go, it’s a stroke of genius. They’ve managed to solve the conundrum [dilemma?] that has plagued football supporters of every disgruntled club in the land: how to stage a protest and still celebrate a victory. When I saw the focus of the ‘Love United, Hate Glazer’ campaign it struck me as a decidedly limp and passive way to rail against the owners.
Harking back to the origins of Manchester United as Newton Heath was sentimental and attractively nostalgic, but waving a different colour scarf? That’s not going to bring down a corporate empire, is it? Green for naïve; gold for yellow-bellied, I thought. How wrong I was. I saw the effect at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. The mass protest works brilliantly; probably better than anyone imagined.

Why the angry protests?

The episode may be seen as a battle of ideas. According to the protest group, the club has been hi-jacked by a group on American entrepreneurs, loading it with debt and only interested in personal financial gain. The protests were strengthened recently with news that the owners were refinancing the club. The offer document looked as if the finances were in worse state than even the protesters had been claiming.

The Club’s response

Not so, according to the club. Its iconic coach Sir Alex Ferguson has made public appeals that supporters avoid anything that might distract from their main role – giving full-hearted support, and certainly not distracting from this in any way. Chairman David Gill also appealed to the fans to get behind the team.

Gill backed the supporters’ protests before the Glazer takeover but has been loyal since the Americans took control. He denies that United will have to sell their most valuable player, Wayne Rooney, because of debts which stood at £716.5m in June last year [2009]. The Glazers have floated the possibility that United might sell and then lease back their Carrington training ground but Gill said he was “100% convinced” that would not happen.

The Dilemma of idealism versus pragmatism

Leaders have to deal with dilemmas or problems for which there are no simple answers. One such dilemma here is that of the two competing belief systems, of idealism (the protesters) and pragmatism (David Gill, Sir Alex Ferguson, the American owners). The protesters work in the world of symbolic and visionary actions. This is akin to the world of charismatic leaders, one of whom arguably is Alex Ferguson. But Sir Alex, as much as David Gill, has to work in the world of rationality and pragmatism. For one thing, they have a wider set of interests in mind when they make a public statement. Students of leadership are advised to explore the actions of the various stakeholders taking this dilemma into account.