Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot

Part of a series on 2011 Russian Protests. [View Related Entries]

Updated Feb 08, 2014 at 05:22PM EST by Brad.  

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About

Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk rock/riot grrrl band best known for staging and filming unauthorized guerrilla performances in public locations and sharing the footage online in protest against the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shortly after emerging to international fame during the 2011-12 Russian protests, three of the band members were arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison terms on charges of hooliganism for their unauthorized performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February 2012.

History

The band was formed in August 2011 by Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the latter two of whom had been members of the Russian absurdist, protest artist collective Voina. According to an interview with Vice[3], they decided to form a “militant, punk-feminist, street band” as a way to mobilize public energy during the onset of the protests against Vladimir Putin. Since its debut, the band has released seven songs and five music videos, which are freely available for download on the Internet[5] as a bundle titled Ubey seksista (“Kill the sexist”). As of 2013, Pussy Riot consists of 12 all-female performers and 15 technicians who provide support in filming and production.



Release the Cobblestones

On November 6th, 2011, YouTuber Гараджа Матвеева uploaded a video of Pussy Riot members masked in colorful balaclavas performing “Osvobodi Bruschatku” (“Release the Cobblestones”) on top of a makeshift scaffold in a Moscow subway station and trolley buses. The song, which features extensive sampling from the Angelic Upstarts’ 1978 recording “Police Oppression,” urged protesters to throw cobblestones in rejection of the Russian parliamentary elections.



Death To Prison, Freedom To Protests

On December 14th, Pussy Riot performed “Smert tyurme, svobodu protestu” (“Death To Prison, Freedom To Protests”) on top of a garage next to a Moscow prison where several political activists and bloggers Alexey Navalny and Ilya Yashin were being held after their arrest at a mass protest against the 2011 State Duma elections.



Putin Has Pissed Himself

On January 20th, 2012, the band performed “Putin Zassal” (“Putin Has Pissed Himself”), a protest anthem inspired by the events of the anti-Putin rallies, at the Lobnoye Mesto in Red Square. Dubbed by the Associated Press as the group’s “breakthrough performance,” the song called for a revolt against the Russian government and an occupation of Red Square, though the set ended abruptly when they set off a smoke bomb, leading to the arrest of two members on administrative charges.



Mother of God, Drive Putin Away

On February 21st, 2012, five masked members of the band entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow to play a set on the steps of the altar, which lasted just about five minutes with performances of “Holy Shit” and “Madonna, Drive Putin Away" before guards came to escort them away from the scene. The footage of the set was used for the music video “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away” uploaded to YouTube that same day.



The song, which opens with a melody and refrain from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo, Raduisya” (Ave Maria), features lyrics openly criticizing the patriarchic state and church, drawing allusions to close ties between the church and the state while urging the Virgin Mary to get rid of Vladimir Putin and to “become a feminist.” Following the incident, the Orthodox Church called on the government to criminalize blasphemy.

Arrest and Trial

On February 26th, the Russian authorities opened a criminal case against the band members who had participated in the event and on March 3rd, the eve of the Russian presidential election, two alleged Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested on charges of hooliganism, which is defined as “a gross violation of public order, showing a disrespect for society.” On March 16th, Yekaterina Samutsevich, a third suspect who had evaded suspicion by using a false name during a previous questioning, was arrested and held without bail on the same charge. On July 30th, the trial of the three women began in Moscow amidst a high level of media attention. On August 17th, the three defendants were delivered a verdict of two years in prison camp.



Free Pussy Riot Campaign

The arrest of the band members quickly drew attention from the local activists, foreign press and human rights advocacy groups, as well as offers of support and collaboration from dozens of international artists and musicians.



On October 10th, 2012, Samutsevich was released on a suspended sentence issued by a Moscow appeals judge after her attorney contested that she had been stopped by guards before she could get her guitar out of its case.

Release From Prison

On December 19th, 2013, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were pardoned and released as part of the state Duma’s general amnesty program. Upon being freed, they were instantly met with international attention. In interviews, they were quoted as saying:

“We didn’t ask for any pardon. I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don’t need mercy from Putin.”

“I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics -- particularly for the Western Europeans. But I don’t consider this humane or merciful. This is a lie.”

“Whether one likes it or not, going to the Olympics in Russia is an acceptance of the internal political situation in Russia, an acceptance of the course taken by a person who is interested in the Olympics above all else -- Vladimir Putin.”

Amnesty International Concert

On February 4th, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina arrived in the United States to make an appearance at the Amnesty International’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert, during which the two made a series of media appearances, beginning with a memorable appearance on The Colbert Report, meeting with the editorial board of The New York Time and on-stage appearance at an Amnesty International concert with Madonna at Barclays Center.



Pussy Riot’s Open Letter

Then on February 6th, hours of before their appearance at Barclays, the still-anonymous members of Pussy Riot revealed to the group’s supporters via LiveJournal[7] and e-mail newsletter that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have grown out of touch with the the band’s agendas. Soon afterwards, an English translation of the letter was posted on The Guardian’s website.[10]

“Unfortunately for us, they are being so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons, that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group – feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult, all of which, as a matter of fact, was the cause for their unjust punishment.”

The letter also criticized them for making an appearance in commercial-venture media events:

Moreover, instead of the names of Nadia and Masha, the poster of the [Amnesty International] event showed a man in a balaclava with electric guitar, under the name of Pussy Riot, while the organizers smartly called for people to buy expensive tickets. All this is an extreme contradiction to the very principles of Pussy Riot collective: We are all-female separatist collective--no man can represent us either on a poster or in reality. We belong to leftist anti-capitalist ideology--we charge no fees for viewing our art-work, all our videos are distributed freely on the web, the spectators to our performances are always spontaneous passers by, and we never sell tickets to our ‘shows’.

Our performances are always ‘illegal’, staged only in unpredictable locations and public places not designed for traditional entertainment. The distribution of our clips is always through free and unrestricted media channels. We are anonymous, because we act against any personality cult, against hierarchies implied by appearance, age and other visible social attributes. We cover our heads, because we oppose the very idea of using female face as a trademark for promoting any sort of goods or services.
The mixing of the rebel feminist punk image with the image of institutionalised defenders of prisoners’ rights, is harmful for us as collective, as well as it is harmful for the new role that Nadia and Masha have taken on.


Despite their apparent ideological differences, the anonymous letter concluded with good wishes and congratulation to their newfound cause.

“Yes, we lost two friends, two ideological fellow member, but the world has acquired two brave, interesting, controversial human rights defenders,” the letter reads. “We appreciate their choice and sincerely wish them well in their new career.”

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