Pussy Riot!: A Punk Prayer For Freedom

Pussy Riot!: A Punk Prayer For Freedom

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by Pussy Riot
     
 

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On February 21, 2012, five members of a Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot staged a performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Dressed in brightly colored tights and balaclavas, they performed their “Punk Prayer” asking the Virgin Mary to drive out Russian president Vladimir Putin from the church. After just forty seconds, they

Overview

On February 21, 2012, five members of a Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot staged a performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Dressed in brightly colored tights and balaclavas, they performed their “Punk Prayer” asking the Virgin Mary to drive out Russian president Vladimir Putin from the church. After just forty seconds, they were chased out by security. Once a retooled video of the events circulated on YouTube (edited to seem much longer than the actual performance), the state was riled into action. Three members of the collective, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, known as Masha, Nadya, and Katya, were arrested and charged with felony hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, an offense carrying a sentence of up to seven years.

As their trial unfolded, these young women became global feminist icons, garnering the attention and support of activists and artists around the world, including Madonna, Paul McCartney, and Sting, as well as contributors to this book: Yoko Ono, Johanna Fateman, Karen Finley, Justin Vivian Bond, Eileen Myles, and JD Samson. The Internet exploded with petitions, music videos, and calls to action, and as the guilty verdict was anticipated, Pussy Riot responded with articulate, unwavering courtroom statements, calling for freedom of expression, an end to economic and gender oppression, and a separation of church and state. They were sentenced to two years in prison, and inspired a global movement. Collected here are the words that roused the world.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In 2012, three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk band, were arrested and imprisoned for the group’s impromptu performance of “Virgin Mary—Put Putin Away” in a priests-only area of a Moscow cathedral. Dressed in colorful clothing and masks (balaclavas), the group offered their “punk prayer”: an impassioned plea for Putin’s removal from power for his corruption, violation of human rights, and use of the church for political ends. Here, the letters, poems, and courtroom declarations of group members Masha, Nadya, and Katya eloquently detail the message they sought to convey through their art; defense attorney statements as well as excerpts from court transcripts not only further illuminate their case but also attest to the harsh repercussions that they suffered. Their situation brought outcries of support from around the world, with admiration for their courageous stand for freedom and justice. Tributes written by a number of individuals—Yoko Ono and Bianca Jagger, among them—are included in this succinct yet powerful and thought-provoking book.

Verdict Essential reading for feminists, human rights advocates, and artists within the activist sphere. Anyone interested in contemporary politics and protest in a complex international governmental/cultural milieu will also find this of interest.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781558618336
Publisher:
Feminist Press at CUNY, The
Publication date:
09/25/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
144
Sales rank:
1,053,432
File size:
301 KB

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Preface
This compilation of texts has been put together by the Feminist Press within the month following the verdict delivered on August 17, 2012, in which three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a penal colony for felony hooliganism. The event that led to the conviction was a forty second performance by five women in a priests-only section of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They call their song a punk prayer. It asks the Virgin Mary to become a feminist and “put Putin away.”
In the course of their detention, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich (known as Masha, Nadya, and Katya) have been writing letters, preparing court statements, and making their poems and songs available to a wide audience. We at the Feminist Press, along with millions of people around the world, have been reading. These declarations are stunningly articulate about the plight of civil rights in Russia, and about the corruption at the core of the government there, which is in strategic alliance with a powerful religious institution. These texts are also brilliantly expansive about broader social issues of gender equality and human rights.
There’s a word that makes many people uncomfortable to say. It’s often used as a euphemism for something that should be taken more seriously than it is. The euphemizing is usually a response based in fear or ignorance by people who just don’t want to think about something as messy and possibly out of control in the human story. This word has been embraced by an increasingly populous subculture that wants to expand the demographics of who gets seen and heard. This appropriation of a term understood to be negative or diminutive is a sign of solidarity with those at the bottom of the world’s power structure. Of course, the word I’m thinking of is riot. Call an uprising a riot, and you question the values of those in pursuit of change, without ever saying so. Through their performance, writings, and actions, Pussy Riot has accomplished something very important. In risking their own status as citizens, they have called into question the values and moral authority of those who have for so long abused power and dominance—what feminists have referred to as the patriarchy.
I’ve been thinking about why this performance stirred such
harshly punitive reaction from a government that must surely now regret the attention they have bestowed upon the band. And why we outside of Russia feel such affinity with the band. Pussy Riot’s punk prayer creates a challenging juxtaposition. Is it possible for a punk to pray? Can a renegade, someone who believes in insurrection, also believe in a higher power? Isn’t that what prayer is—a belief that something exists beyond the visible or material world, to which or to whom we can appeal for justice or relief? I have always believed in the transformative power of music. When punk came along, it felt like the (im)perfect mix of my desire for pop music’s hit of energy with a radically declarative form of expressing opposition. Opposition to what? Where to begin . . . It’s the clarity and distillation of Pussy Riot’s message and style of delivering that message which awes me and my colleagues at the Feminist Press and riot grrrls and rock stars and activists and journalists everywhere. Pussy Riot’s message is articulated in the texts contained in this book. It’s also expressed by their status now as political prisoners. We have thousands of people incarcerated in the US alone, simply for their oppositional views. If Pussy Riot draws attention to the plight of the world’s unjustly incarcerated populations, their contribution will be immeasurable. Prayers might even be answered.
It’s exciting to imagine this: five masked women performing in a priests-only section of an Orthodox church, which has historically and systemically denied women equal rights and proselytized against homosexuality. This radical display of dissent, and the punitive response to it, has galvanized us to speak out for freedom—for Pussy Riot, and for everyone who suffers at the hands of corruption and a morally bankrupt system. Feminist Press wishes to amplify this message; we offer this book as a historical document as well as a call to action. As we publish, freepussyriot.org is taking donations for Pussy Riot. Proceeds from the sale of this book will support this fund.
Almost immediately after Masha, Nadya, and Katya were arrested, their letters and statements started to appear online in English. Many of those translations were the basis for the texts in this book. I want to thank all the translators and editors of these translations, those who we know of and list here, and all of those who have helped but whose names we do not know. With graditude: Maria Corrigan, Elena Glazov-Corrigan, Marijeta Bozovic, Maksim Hanukai, Sasha Senderovich, Liora Halperin, Katharine Holt, Vera Koshkina, Ainsley Morse, Rebecca Pyatkevich, Bela Shayevich, Chto Delat News, Christian MilNeil, Gila Primak, Alisa Obraztsova, Margarita Shalina, Sarah Valdez, Angelica Sgouros, and Jeanann Pannasch. I apologize to anyone who has worked on these texts and who is not acknowledged here. Any omission is unintentional.
I would also like to acknowledge the websites, online magazines, and blogs that have published Pussy Riot texts, and continue to offer important documents, news, and updates on this case. n+1’s website has been a lead source of these texts, and we thank them for continuing to enrich the literary landscape. We also could not have gotten this book together without the support of Christian MilNeil, Robert Lieber, JD Samson, Yoko Ono, Johanna Fateman, Justin Vivian Bond, Eileen Myles, Karen Finley, and Alisa Obraztsova in Moscow, without whose solidarity this project would not have happened.
When I say “we” at the Feminist Press, I mean the most dedicated and inspiring group of coworkers I could possibly imagine. We are Gloria Jacobs, Jeanann Pannasch, Drew Stevens, Maryann Jacob Macias, Cary Webb, Elizabeth Koke, Angelica Sgouros, and Amy Scholder.
Finally, thank you, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and the Pussy Riot collective. You are speaking out, and we are listening. I am reminded of Karen Finley’s refrain: “Life is more important than art. But life is meaningless without art.” We support your courage and provocation, and encourage everyone, in their own ways, to fight the power with you.
Amy Scholder
New York
September 2012
_______________

CLOSING COURTROOM STATEMENT BY KATYA

In the closing statement, the defendant is expected to repent, express regret for her deeds, or enumerate attenuating circumstances. In my case, as in the case of my colleagues in this group, this is completely unnecessary. Instead, I want to voice some thoughts about what has happened to us.
That the Cathedral of Christ the Savior has become a significant symbol in the political strategy of authorities was clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyaev took over as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior began to be used openly as a flashy backdrop for the politics of the security forces, which are the main source of political power in Russia.
Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic? After all, he could have employed his own, far more secular tools of power—for example, the state-controlled corporations, or his menacing police system, or his obedient judicial system. It may be that the harsh, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, the bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder whether it was high time to resign; that otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more persuasive, transcendent guarantees of his long tenure at the pinnacle of power. It was then that it became necessary to make use of the aesthetic of the Orthodox religion, which is historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.
How did Putin succeed in this? After all, we still have a secular state, and any intersection of the religious and political spheres should be dealt with severely by our vigilant and critically minded society. Right? Here apparently, the authorities took advantage of a certain absence of the Orthodox aesthetic in Soviet times, an era when the Orthodox religion had an aura of lost history, of something that had been crushed and damaged by the Soviet totalitarian regime, and was thus representative of an opposition culture. The current authorities decided to appropriate this historical effect of loss,and present a new political project to restore Russia’s lost spiritual values, a project that has little to do with a genuine concern for the preservation of Russian Orthodoxy’s history and culture.
It was also fairly logical that the Russian Orthodox Church, given its long mystical ties to power, emerged as the project’s principal proponent in the media. It was decided that, unlike in the Soviet era when the church opposed, above all, the brutality of the authorities toward history itself, the Russian Orthodox Church should now confront all pernicious manifestations of contemporary mass culture and its concepts of diversity and tolerance.
Implementing this thoroughly interesting political project has required considerable quantities of professional lighting and video equipment, airtime on national television for hours-long live broadcasts, and numerous background shoots for morally and ethically edifying news stories, during which the patriarch’s well-constructed speeches would in fact, be presented, thus helping the faithful to make the correct political choice during a difficult time for Putin preceding the election. Moreover, the filming must be continuous. The necessary images must be burned into popular memory and constantly updated; they must create the impression of something natural, constant, and compulsory.
Our sudden musical appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with the song “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” violated the integrity of the media image that the authorities had spent such a long time generating and maintaining, and revealed its falsity. In our performance we dared, without seeking the patriarch’s blessing, to unite the visual imagery of Orthodox culture with that of protest culture, thus suggesting that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the patriarch, and Putin, but that it could also ally itself with civic rebellion and the spirit of protest in Russia.
Perhaps the unpleasant, far-reaching effect of our media intrusion into the cathedral was even a surprise to the authorities themselves. At first, they tried to present our performance as a prank pulled by heartless, militant atheists. This was a serious blunder on their part, because by then we were already known as an anti-Putin feminist punk band that carried out its media assaults on the country’s major political symbols.
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.
I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and

Meet the Author

Pussy Riot: PUSSY RIOT is a feminist punk performance collective based in Moscow. Founded in 2011, they perform public artistic responses to Russian politics. In February of 2012, three members of the group were arrested and charged with felony hooliganism after performing in the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in prison.

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