I recently watched HBO’s documentary on the Russian agitprop punk band Pussy Riot. (Here’s the link to HBO’s section on them. It includes some clips that are available to non-subscribers.) All I can say is how impressed I am with the courage and audacity of the members of Pussy Riot. They have stood up against a brutal plutocracy and are not backing down in the face of state repression. The people are Punk with a purpose.
Pussy Riot’s performances can either be called dissident art or political action that engages art forms. Either way, our performances are a kind of civic activity amidst the repressions of a corporate political system that directs its power against basic human rights and civil and political liberties.
In Putin’s Russia, such impropriety, could never go unpunished. The leading members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were thrown in a gulag style work camp for their political expression.
After being starved, forced to work like slaves, improperly clothed and housed, and consistently mistreated by the guards for almost two years Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were realeased. They actually condemn their release as political whitewashing and have now vowed to take up the cause of prisoners rights in Russia. Watch their amazing – and pretty funny – Stephen Colbert appearance after their release – part 1, part 2.
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are no longer technically members of the band, but they are still engaging in the kinds of activism that led to their being prisoners of conscience. At the farce of the 2014 Winter Olympics games they were beaten while trying to film a music video. By Cossacks. With whips. The disturbing video – and it’s especially disturbing for the fact that no one cared a whit that the whole thing was being videotaped by the posse of journalists and human rights campaigners that Pussy Riot brought with them- of the incident is here.
Even more disturbing is the populist uprising against them. There is a shrill conservative, nationalist and Russian Orthodox movement going on in Putin’s Russia that finds the notion of feminism to be anathema. While working on prisoner rights campaigns, but not while actively doing anything, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were attacked by men who squirted disinfectant in their faces. This, too, was caught on video – video that the perpetrators were clearly aware of. The air of impunity is as frightening as it is disgusting.
They have since teamed up with the Vioce Project on an initiative called Zona Prava. The idea behind Zona Prava is to give a voice to Russian political prisoners, and all prisoners who are suffering human rights abuses, who are not willing to stand up for their rights. You can donate to support Zona Prava here.