Accessibility links

What A Bio Putin Is Creating For Pussy Riot


Members of female punk band "Pussy Riot," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), Maria Alyokhina (right), and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit behind bars before a court hearing in Moscow on July 20.

Members of female punk band "Pussy Riot," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), Maria Alyokhina (right), and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit behind bars before a court hearing in Moscow on July 20.

Six months or so ago, few people in Russia -- and even fewer abroad -- had even heard of Pussy Riot. Now they're not only an international cause celebre, but well on their way to becoming a global brand.

And all it took was a little Kremlin-sponsored repression.

Sting is the latest artist to publicly express support for three members of the band -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- who are languishing in pretrial detention and face stiff prison terms for their infamous unauthorized performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
It’s appalling that the musicians from Pussy Riot could face prison sentences of up to seven years in jail. Dissent is a legitimate and essential right in any democracy and modern politicians must accept this fact with tolerance. A sense of proportion – and a sense of humor – is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Surely the Russian authorities will completely drop these spurious charges and allow the women, these artists, to get back to their lives and to their children.

Sting's comments, made prior to his July 25 concert at Moscow's Olympic Stadium, follow onstage gestures in support of the imprisoned punk rockers by Faith No More, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Franz Ferdinand during shows in the Russian capital.

And "The Moscow Times" reports that Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis is trying to enlist Madonna and Bono into the ranks of artists supporting the women, who have already been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Back in 1964, when a Soviet court in Leningrad sentenced the writer and future Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky to five years of hard labor for "social parasitism," the poet Anna Akhmatova was among the first to see the upside.

“What a biography they've created for our little redhead," Akhmatova said. "You’d think he'd hired them.”

And while comparing Pussy Riot to Brodsky, one of world's great writers, is more than a stretch, it is fair to say that the Kremlin has indeed created a quite a biography for these women.

Once an obscure performance art act, they are now global stars with the dignity that comes with being oppressed.

Their trademark bright pastel ski masks have become a fashion statement as well as a political statement. A popular website (in English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian), a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page chronicles every development in their case.

On any given day -- from Miami to Prague to Helsinki -- you can find events like house parties, concerts, and social media events in their support.

And then there are the charges against them, the crime they are accused of committing, and the reasons for their controversial action at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

The group's performance in the cathedral on February 21 -- shortly before Vladimir Putin's reelection as president -- was an attempt to draw attention to the close ties between the Kremlin leader and the Russian Orthodox Church and to protest what they consider Russian Patriarch Kirill's inappropriate support for Putin in the election.

Contrary to most reports, the women apparently didn't actually play a concert in the church. According to a video released by their lawyers...

WATCH: Pussy Riot mime their performance in the church


...they stood in front of the altar and mimed their performance there and later spliced in the music and lyrics of their anti-Putin "punk prayer" -- "Mother of God, Banish Putin" -- to produce the now-famous final clip.

In the days after the clip was posted on YouTube it was only watched by several hundred people. After they were detained and charged following an outcry by Orthodox officials, it shot up to over a million (and counting). It went viral, in other words, thanks largely to the authorities.

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and Samutsevich have been formally charged with hooliganism. But the indictment also levies a series of other allegations against them including "debasing the feelings and beliefs" of Orthodox Christians, "diminishing the spiritual foundations of the state," and "blasphemy."

The language of the indictment, which reflected statements by Orthodox officials -- including Patriarch Kirill -- before the three were charged, starkly illustrated the issue the women were protesting to begin with.

The issue of the church's undue influence over the Putin regime is now front and center in Russian politics.

What a biography indeed.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

Subscribe

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG