commentary by Patrick H. Moore

There is punk and there is punk and then there is Pussy Riot. And if you are Russian and a member of Pussy Riot — a loosely organized guerrilla music/street theater group consisting of up to 11 members — and if you take freedom seriously — you just might find yourself going to prison and then — because you won’t keep your mouth shut — experiencing a modified Russian version of extraordinary rendition and winding up in a Siberian prison after 21 nightmarish days of “prison transfer” that only you and your jailers remember.

According to Wikipedia, Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk rock protest group based in Moscow. Their ages range from 20 to 33 and they wear brightly colored balaclavas and use only nicknames during interviews. Although they bear some traits in pusscommon with “bands”, they are really guerilla provocateurs who stage unauthorized performances in unusual public locations. They film the performances and turn them into gonzo music videos which they place on the Internet. Reflecting the needs of their homeland, their leftist/progressive themes include feminism, LGBT rights, and opposition to the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not only do they regard Putin as a dictator, but they are particularly distressed by his close relationship with the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church whom they see as oppressors of the people. Other concerns include education, health care, and the de-centralization of power. They support regional autonomy and grass roots organizations.

Although Pussy Riot is deadly serious about its “Politics of Freedom”, they have a keen sense of showmanship that manifests during their street performance and interviews. When talking to the press, they use nicknames such as “Balaclava”, “Cat”, “Seraph”, “Terminator”, and “Blondie”.

Pussy RiotIn an interview with Gazeta.ru, a band member described their two-minute concerts as performance art, saying they create “images of pure protest.” When you view the attached You Tube video of the “song” that led to their arrests, you are treated to the arresting sight of “super heroes in balaclavas and acid bright tights seizing public space in Moscow.” Pussy Riot is an equaql-opportunity employer of women. In the best punk tradition, you don’t have to be a good singer. In fact, it might work against you if you are. A band member who goes by the pseudonym Garadzha told the Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper that the group is open to women recruits with limited musical talents. She said: “You don’t have to sing very well. It’s punk. You just scream a lot.”

But this is screaming with a purpose as five members of the group discovered — and perhaps not to their dismay — on February 21, 2012 — a mere six months after they emerged from the silence of oppression. Five members of the group staged a heartfelt performance on the soleas (elevated platform) of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.  This got the immediate attention of church security officials who — not unexpectedly — insisted that they cut their performance short. By evening, they had turned their abortive performance into a powerful music video entitled “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” Pussy Riot said their protest was directed at the Russiuan Orthodox Church leader’s support for Putin during his election campaign.

(FILES) A file picture taken on July 20,

Ten days later, on March 3, 2012, two group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were arrested and charged with hooliganism.Two weeks after that, a third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was arrested. They were denied bail they were held in custody until their trial began in late July.

On August 17, 2012, the three members were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, and each was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Two other group members, who had escaped arrest after February’s protest performance, reportedly left Russia fearing prosecution. Yekaterina Samutsevich was lucky and on October 10, following an appeal, she was given probation and a suspended sentence.  Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were not nearly so lucky. Their 2-year sentences  were upheld, and in late October 2012, they were separated and sent to prison.

The whole case and most of all the harsh sentences (keep in mind all they were doing was protesting publicly against the President and his connections) attracted considerable criticism, particularly in the West. Human rights groups including Amnesty International, which designated the women prisoners of conscience, got involved. Madonna, Tori Amos, Courtney Love, Sting, and Yoko Ono were among the artists who rallied to their defense.

puss10Public opinion in conservative Russia, however, was much less sympathetic towards the women and, of course, President Putin had nothing good to say. “I was not sorry that they ended up behind bars. I was sorry that they were engaged in such disgraceful behaviour, which in my view was degrading to the dignity of women.” Putin also stated that the band had “undermined the moral foundations” of the nation and “got what they asked for”.

So although Samutsevich successfully appealed her sentence, despite global cries for their release, the other two punk rockers, who are both mothers of young children, remained incarcerated.

Then a somewhat amazing thing happened — the sort of thing we have been waiting for here in this country, it seems, forever. Earlier this week, Russia passed a new amnesty law which, according to The Associated Press, grants amnesty to prisoners “who haven’t committed violent crimes, first-time offenders, minors and women with small children”.

Thus, on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alekhina, 25, were released from prison, three months before their scheduled release.

puss3Although it’s certainly good that the new law — which could be seen as a harbinger for more benevolent and/or rehabilitative treatment in general for small-time criminals in Russia — has allowed Alekhina and Tolokonnikova to go home to their children three months ahead of schedule, it’s important to note that their arrests and convictions notwithstanding, these dedicated “freedom fighters” hardly “sat on their hands” during their time in custody. On the contrary, while incarcerated, Alekhina went on a hunger strike and Tolokonnikova wrote an open letter, protesting the treatment of prisoners.

Although there are apparently no reports suggesting that Alekhina suffered drastic reprisals for refusing to eat, such was not the case with Tolokonnikova. Within days of posting her letter, she vanished for 21 days during a purported “prison transfer”, and when she finally re-surfaced, it was as a patient in a Siberian prison hospital.

*     *     *     *     *

Now that Alekhina and Tolokonnikova are out, I would expect them to lie low for a while. The Russian authorities have proven that they will crack down on dissidents for something as simple and basic as them demanding equal rights for women and sexual minorities, and of course, objecting to the policies of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to Pussy Riot Band Members Released from Prison to Face the Endless Russian Winter

  1. Great article Patric. I was listening to NPR So Cal Radio the other night and despite their release, the young ladies learned how to protest without getting arrested and they were pardoned in a sense because they were basically released but still, according to the Russian Government, they broke the law by staging their street theater.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:


Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.