5 Reasons Pussy Riot Has Already Won (Video)

At the end of this week on August 17, judge Marina Syrova will issue a verdict in the trial of feminist punk band Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Jailed since March, they have been charged with “hooliganism,” of “gross violation of the public order and religious hatred,” for lip-syncing for 40 seconds to a “punk prayer” (“Virgin Mary, Chase Putin Out!”) in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on February 21, following a protest against Russian president Vladimir Putin and charges of fraud in parliamentary elections. The three women could face up to seven years in prison though comments by Putin last week that they not be judged “too severely” suggest they may not receive the full sentence.

The trial of Alyokhina, Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova has become a “certified international cause,” as Michael Idov, editor in chief of GQ Russia, wrote in a New York Times op-ed. Amnesty International has named the three women “prisoners of conscience”; the US government has expressed concerns; Madonna, Bjork and hundreds of artists and performers have voiced support; more than 40,000 Russians have signed a petition protesting their arrest and detention; Russian civic and cultural figures have petitioned the country’s Supreme Court human rights ombudsperson for their release.

Within Russia itself, support for Pussy Riot is mixed. Only 43 percent of Russians polled said that they think a two-to-seven sentence for Alyokhina, Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova is “disproportionate,” writes Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Nation.

Patriarch Kirill I — who has said that the church is under attack — has been recently silent but Russian Orthodox groups have seized on the trial as an opportunity to air “strident, even fundamentalist” views about religion and the role of the church in Russia. The New York Times describes members of one group burning posters of Pussy Riot in an “exorcism.” Witnesses called by the prosecution — people inside the church at the time of the performance or who had watched a viral YouTube video of it — were asked questions including “What does your Orthodox faith mean to you?” and “Was the women’s clothing tight?”. The prosecution has seemed to be seeking to build a “spiritual indictment” against Pussy Riot, accusing the three women of committing “moral harm” and “engaging in “Satanism.”

It’s not just three members of a feminist punk band, sitting in a glass box and looking exhausted, who have been on trial. As Samutsevich said in her closing statement last Friday:

I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we now expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. Now the whole world sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. Once again, Russia looks different in the eyes of the world from the way Putin tries to present it at daily international meetings. All the steps toward a state governed by the rule of law that he promised have obviously not been made. And his statement that the court in our case will be objective and make a fair decision is another deception of the entire country and the international community. That is all. Thank you.

Five reasons that, even if Alyokhina, Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova are judged guilty, Pussy Riot has, in Samutsevich’s words, won.

Photo by Person Behind the Scenes


1. The Whole World Knows About Pussy Riot

A feminist punk collective has become a “sweeping pop success.” Idov tallies just a few ways:

Madonna has performed “Like a Virgin” with “Pussy Riot” etched n her bare back; covers of “Punk Prayer” are multiplying; the collective’s signature headwear is becoming the new Guy Fawkes mask. There’s even a “chapter” of Pussy Riot in Olympia, Wash., the birthplace of Bikini Kill.

2. They’re Feminists

Idov writes that “Russians remain distinctly uncomfortable with activist women,” with even liberals commenting that “They should let these chicks go with a slap on the ass”:

Of course, if the defendants decided to convey over-the-top remorse (by falling to their knees, crying, etc.), then public opinion and even their legal fortunes would almost certainly turn. But Ms. Alyokhina, Ms. Samutsevich and Ms. Tolokonnikova remain cool, smiling and remote — a “Western” and “unfeminine” attitude. When you’re a woman in Russia, nothing but tears will do.

Samutsevich’s closing statement began by noting that, in such circumstances, a “defendant is expected to repent or express regret for her deeds, or to enumerate attenuating circumstances.” But, in her case and that of the other band members, such is (says Samutsevich) “completely unnecessary.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Pussy Riot

3. Pussy Riot’s Performance and Trial Have Revealed a “Stark Divide” in Today’s Russia

The Guardian describes the two sides of that divide: One is “deeply conservative and accepting of a state that uses vague laws and bureaucracy to control its citizens.” The other is liberal “bordering on anarchist and beginning to fight against that state with any means it can.”

Descriptions of the Pussy Riot trial suggest how the cards are stacked against the defense, who was only allowed to call three out of thirteen requested witnesses. Judge Syrova shouted “Question stricken” when the defense attempted to ask its witnesses about their Orthodox faith.

Photo of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova taken on July 4, 2012, by ostromentsky via Flickr

4.  Pussy Riot Has Left Unforgettable Images of Protest In Our Heads

Alyokhina, Samusevich and Tolokonnikova have exposed the moral hypocrisy in Putin’s Russia via indelible images, viewed around the world, of masked women in neon outfits performing amid the gold and grandeur of an Orthodox church. Noting that national Russian TV channels air “hours-long live broadcasts” containing “morally and ethically edifying news stories” (i.e., propaganda) including speeches by the Patriarch (some to help “the faithful make the right political choice during the election campaign”), Samutsevich points out how Pussy Riot’s December performance disrupted that image via a “media raid”:

Our sudden musical appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with the song “Mother of God, Drive Putin Out” violated the integrity of this media image, generated and maintained by the authorities for so long, and revealed its falsity. In our performance we dared, without the Patriarch’s blessing, to combine the visual image of Orthodox culture and protest culture, suggesting to smart people that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch and Putin, that it might also take the side of civic rebellion and protest in Russia.

5. They’ve Done This Using Art

The performance and trial of Pussy Riot have given Putin his “biggest political headache,” says  in the Guardian, as they are

A story about art versus power. Of civil society versus church and state. Or as one film-maker who’s documenting it says, “punks versus Putin”. (He goes on to say, “It’s Crime and Punishment, basically, but there’s also a band in jail so it’s a bit like The Monkees. Or a really warped Beatles film.”)

The Monkees? The reference to that madcap 60s made-for-TV-band describes the tools with which Pussy Riot has taken on the “great might of the Russian state”: neon-bright “cartoonish” clothes and actions (jumping up and down), funny lyrics, loud songs, those balaclavas and “that brilliant, witty, killer name.”

To quote Samutsevich’s words once more:

In the end, considering all the irreversible political and symbolic losses caused by our innocent creativity, the authorities decided to protect the public from us and our nonconformist thinking. Thus ended our complicated punk adventure in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

The adventure in the Cathedral is over but the story of Pussy Riot vs. Putin is not, not at all.

Free Pussy Riot

Related Care2 Coverage

Madonna Speaks Up for Gay Rights and Pussy Riot in Russia

Summer of the Balaclava-Wearing Women

Pussy Riot Member Speaks Out

 

Photo by Zygia via Flickr

68 comments

Igor Fedorov
Igor Fedorov3 years ago

Keep it riot.

Donna Burgess
Donna B.3 years ago

They just got a two year prison sentence!! Shameful.

Donna Burgess
Donna B.3 years ago

Pussy Riot has been found guilty. Just read about it on Yahoo! news. They will be sentenced later on today. Sad sad day. But we all know how Russia AND Putin are, right?!!

Allan Yorkowitz
.3 years ago

I am on the fence whether viewing this group is as being a positive or negative in relation to Russia's acceptance of human rights.
Of course, the government hate these girls. As much as I support their cause, I can also understand Russia in controlling them.

Arlene M. Baladi

Praying for the safety and release of all these women!

dave W.
David W.3 years ago

Stupid Women !

devon leonard
Devon Leonard3 years ago

Aug 17 is only a few days away. I will send powerful thoughts and prayers that Putin does want to be liked by the world and not lose face, so that he will want to appear benevolent and therefore will be leaning towards greatly reduced sentence... Better yet, release them!!
This heavy duty fundamentalism is a scary thing. Not limited to Russia.
I love Art, so i am very very sad that this happened to these young women activist Artists. I pray for their well being.

wchi wink
.3 years ago

Pussy Riot Rules!!!

EightBags O.
Vivi Stalhane3 years ago

As I'm very well familiar with Russia and I've spent a lot of time there as an exchange student I feel very bad about the declining human rights situation in Russia at the moment. The jailing and trial process performed by the Russian authorities towards Pussy Riot just pinpoint that Russia is moving in the wrong direction: Away from human rights and a free speech towards a much more totalitarian regime.
While in Russia, I lived in a host family (a mother and her 20 year old daughter) and we talked a lot about the situation in todays Russia. This was aprox. 4-5 years ago. The mother stated that she missed the Soviet union because at that time they had food on the table, free health care, free schooling etc and they didn't have to pretend that they had free speech. They knew what to expect. This woman told me that "today you never know, because the documents say one thing but the reality is something completely different".
The Pussy Riot process is just the story we get to know here, but believe me, this is just one of all the tragedies appearing all over Putin's Russia.
FREE PUSSY RIOT NOW!

Edgar Zuim
Edgar Zuim3 years ago

Thanks.