Regular readers of the ~Streetlamp~ will doubtless know that among our main concerns and passions are; Riot Grrrl bands, freedom of speech, and political activism. So in tonight's Blog I'm going to address all three, as we look at the rather murky events surrounding a Russian politico-feminist band and the severe and distressing predicament they have found themselves in for daring to speak out against the re-election of Vladimir Putin....
Pussy Riot are a Moscow-based all-girl band who combine the radical feminist stance of bands like Bikini Kill with the more hardcore Punk thump of British bands like the Angelic Upstarts or the Cockney Rejects. It's probably fairer to describe them as a collective, rather than a band as there are at least 10 performers backed up by around 15 others who help out with the background details like videos, artwork, posters etc. The band are instantly recognisable by their Luchadoras style masks. The masks, and the pseudonyms they hide behind, are essential in Russia where outspoken political dissension is still heavily frowned upon (to put it lightly!).
Despite the band's musical bluster, there is a deep intellectualism at the core of the band's ideology, citing as influences Simone De Bouvoir, Michel Foucault, Jewish feminists Eve Sedgwick and Shulamith Firestone, Australian feminist Elizabeth Grosz, American cultural pranksters The Yes Men, and the Russian Mi Movement amongst many others. The group's tactics have seen them appear as if out of the blue, to play impromptu sets decrying the current state of Russia under Putin's regime. Despite a seemingly unthreatening stance, this all turned rather sinister in February of this year....
During Putin's clearly-not-rigged-in-the-slightest re-election campaign, Pussy Riot turned up at Moscow's Russian Orthodox church The Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour and performed an incendiary and obscenity filled song in which they pleaded with the Virgin Mary to drive out evil Putin from power and from Russia. Eleven days later two members of the band, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested by Russian authorities and charged with 'hooliganism', a charge which carries a penalty of SEVEN years imprisonment! Two weeks later another woman, Irina Loktina, who had earlier been questioned as a witness in this case, was similarly arrested and charged.
According to the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, all three women are charged with hooliganism according to article 213/2 of the Russian Criminal Code, without any evidence for incriminating such charges, which makes both pre-trial arrest and the charges illegal. The Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners has recognised all three women as political prisoners, and Amnesty International have also stepped in, declaring the women 'prisoners of conscience' due to the ludicrous over-reaction by the Russian authorities.
The arrested women have staged hunger strikes since their incarceration, and several Free Pussy Riot campaigns have sprung up almost immediately.(See end of Blog for information on how you can help with these).
The arrest of the three women, and the insanely draconian punishment they face has created quite a split in opinion, not just in Russia, but on message boards and chat rooms throughout the internet. Some Russian Orthodox Christians believe the band deserve all they get, and have not helped by claiming the band ' deliberately flashed their genitals' during the performance. Below is the only existing footage of the performance....clearly no genitals (nor breasts as it was later mistakenly claimed) are shown in any way, no matter how fleeting.
However, some of the Russian Orthodoxy's hierarchy, and indeed some radical Muslim clerics, have thrown their support behind the prisoners, slamming Putin's henchmen of drastic over-reaction, and claiming that even if the women are found guilty, far minor punishments like community service would be more apt.
As things stand at the moment, the three women are still in prison, but the campaigns to free them are on the increase. Below is a list sites where you can follow the progress of the case, or where you can voice your own outrage, or help with any donations should you feel that way inclined:
The Official Free Pussy Riot site is here
A Facebook site can be found here
And a Twitter site can be found here
Whether you agree with the band's stance or ideology or not, the incarceration of political activists is a reminder that behind Glasnost, the dark shadow of Government-ordered secret police still looms!
Free Pussy Riot!!
(Thanks to Neon Cupcake who suggested we cover this!!)