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Interview: Freed Pussy Riot Member Says Outside Support Was A 'Miracle'


Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Russian performance-art group Pussy Riot, were released on December 23 under an amnesty introduced last week. In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Tolokonnikova says she now hopes to do something beneficial for the penitentiary system.

RFE/RL: What were your thoughts as you were walking out of the prison today?

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova:
Now that I have an enormous arsenal of options to act, I really want to do a lot. I do hope I'll be able to do something beneficial, including something that would benefit the penitentiary system.

RFE/RL: Will Pussy Riot continue its activities in any form?

Tolokonnikova:
I do not own the Pussy Riot band. Apparently we created the momentum for this band to build its signature style, for girls in balaclavas to pop up in various cities of Russia. Nevertheless, this whole thing does not belong to me. I shouldn't be asked this question as I am not the owner of this band. The idea will go on living, provided there are people interested in it.

RFE/RL: While in prison, did you have a chance to find out about all the activities carried out in support of you? What would be your message to those who worked to help you while you and Maria Alyokhina were in prison?

Tolokonnikova:
According to the Russian Penal Code it would seem that no one can prevent [a convict] from accessing information. However, prison guards do their best to make sure that not only is a prisoner physically isolated but also isolated from news coming from the outside world. The news that did reach me used to work like magic on me. Any support [while one is in prison] is always like a miracle. People whose conscience cannot be bought is probably the most precious thing in this world.

RFE/RL: Your fight for the rights of prisoners, especially in the colony of Mordovia, made a huge impression. Your open letter about slave-like labor conditions of women prisoners [for example]. In your opinion, what is the main problem in today's penitentiary system in Russia?

Tolokonnikova:
It is the attitude towards [convicts] as if they were cattle or slaves [that bothers me most] -- as if they were people who deserve the most inhumane forms of treatment. This sort of attitude has been overcome in a number of regions from what I had a chance to see. I cannot speak about all the penitentiary colonies in the Krasnoyarsk Region, however, in the prisons I was placed in I witnessed a situation that is way better [than some other places]. This helped me a lot. Obviously, this situation calls for a lot of effort, time, support, and a huge amount of work that state employees have to undertake. I would like to see more opportunities for prisoners to be creative.

RFE/RL: Do you think the Russian authorities and President Vladimir Putin in particular managed to improve Russia's image with this prison amnesty and presidential pardon of Mikhail Khodorkovsky on the eve of the Winter Olympics in Sochi? Many experts have suggested this was the main reason and purpose of this amnesty.

Tolokonnikova:
[While in prison hospital] I heard on the radio that some world leaders had refused to attend Putin's Olympics. I was so overwhelmed that I started dancing with joy. This shows that this lame gesture that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] attempted to show to the world did not manage to blind the people who still have some honesty left in them, who cannot be blinded with the oil and gas that Russia can provide.

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