Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Why I have gone on hunger strike
September 23, 2013 5:41 AM   Subscribe

A detailed and shocking open letter.
posted by colie (33 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. So brave.
posted by mediareport at 5:47 AM on September 23, 2013


For dancing in a church.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:06 AM on September 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Horrifying. It sounds like Russia's prisons haven't changed all since the days of Stalin's gulags.

I wonder if she's going suffer retribution for writing this.

cjorgensen: "For dancing in a church."

For being dissidents, really. They vocally spoke out against the Russian government on a variety of issues, including the way women were being treated (they were very outspoken about Russia's restrictive abortion rights policies) and anything that smacked of capitalism or imperialism. They specifically targeted Putin in their songs and public statements -- and kept attacking him as a dictator who needed to be thrown out of office,

I suspect the dancing in the Church was an excuse.
posted by zarq at 6:22 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Jesus F. Christ...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:23 AM on September 23, 2013


> Horrifying.

Yes indeed.

> It sounds like Russia's prisons haven't changed all since the days of Stalin's gulags.

Hardly. Go read about the gulag: you can start with Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, and Evgeniya Ginzburg. Any of them would have considered Tolokonnikova's conditions a walk in the park, just as any victim of the Russian "justice" system since 1917 would consider the conditions in tsarist penal servitude a walk in the park, even though in its day it was held up as a horrible example. Not every bad thing is equivalent to every other bad thing.

Tolokonnikova is incredibly brave, and I'm glad people haven't forgotten about her. Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 6:40 AM on September 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


languagehat: "Hardly. Go read about the gulag: you can start with Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, and Evgeniya Ginzburg. "

Will do. I stand corrected!
posted by zarq at 6:54 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It sounds like Russia's prisons haven't changed all since the days of Stalin's gulags."

Well with the notable exception that due to social media the wider world is now aware of some of its prisoners and their plight. Solzjenitsyn had to smuggle out all of his writings from a Siberian labor camp. He hid handwritten drafts of Gulag Archipelago in the house of an Estonian friend who smuggled them further for publication in the west. Communication was difficult in Stalin's gulags. And that's not the case today. Ms. Tolokonnikova has access to modern social media - this is column in the Guardian - her story and plight have been widely advertised previously - but interestingly so far this access - which in other circumstances can claim credit for enabling revolutions - would seem to have provided her little succor. And I suspect the hunger strike will not be much of a multiplier.

Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about, but indifference when you are being talked about all over the place has to be the worst plight of all. This young woman might see that and see she is fighting her own battle - there are few troops to rally to the cause - and that perhaps killing herself in this manner makes this a game where she looses regardless of what happens.

I am reminded that Bobby Sand's hunger strike and death served NO USEFUL PURPOSE. It only resulted in the death of a brave man and it would be a pity to see it repeated. Moreover, dying for Pussy Riot is not the same thing as dying for the Provisional IRA. A hunger strike is not a proportional response to what has happened to this young woman and I hope she reconsiders.
posted by three blind mice at 6:57 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Moreover, dying for Pussy Riot is not the same thing as dying for the Provisional IRA.

She's makes it very clear she's not going on strike for Pussy Riot (whatever that might mean).

"I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law."
posted by colie at 7:03 AM on September 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Ms. Tolokonnikova has access to modern social media

Really? Is she tweeting?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:40 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there anything in the article or elsewhere about how her open letter was released? I didn't see it but might have just missed it.
posted by not that girl at 7:51 AM on September 23, 2013


Pyotr Verzilov is her husband. He apparently visits her and Maria Alyokhina whenever he is allowed, and has previously given statements about both of them to Moscow radio.

It's possible she gave him the letter.
posted by zarq at 8:10 AM on September 23, 2013


Is there anything in the article or elsewhere about how her open letter was released? I didn't see it but might have just missed it.

She mentions being in contact with her lawyer, so that's my guess.

On that note, a lot of commentators below the Guardian article -- I know, I know -- keep asking, "if it's so bad, how come she's not dead/visibly beaten/able to write this?" or calling this (and the previous protest by Pussy Riot) the act of an attention-seeking celebrity.

Of course, she makes it clear in the latter itself that she knows her celebrity status and the consequent media attention she gets are shielding her from the consequences meted out to anyone she tries to work with in the inmate population.

Some people just can't imagine that a person in comparative safety might jeopardize or at least leverage it to try and help the people around them, let alone some larger cause. How sad for them.
posted by kewb at 8:11 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]



(they were very outspoken about Russia's restrictive abortion rights policies)

Eh? Abortion is legal in Russian until the 12th week, making it more liberal than many European countries. In the Soviet era, abortion was so common as to give even ardent pro-choicers pause---most of the women I know who grew up in the Soviet years had between 5 and 15 abortions---and it's still quite common, though declining. As with the comparison to gulags, there's plenty of bad things to talk about without making stuff up.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:29 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Moreover, dying for Pussy Riot is not the same thing as dying for the Provisional IRA.

Being alone and cut off from humanity is the same anywhere regardless of the reason. I can't imagine surviving it, much less having the courage of one's convictions to try to make things better for others via personal sacrifice.
posted by yerfatma at 8:31 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hope her celebrity doesn't become martyrdom. The world needs more people like her, no fewer.
posted by Revvy at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shocking??? I am not shocked. Horrified, yes, but 'shocking' implies surprise. This is S.O.P. and I'm not surprised in the least.
posted by spicynuts at 10:11 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


A hunger strike is not a proportional response to what has happened to this young woman and I hope she reconsiders.

This makes no sense: first, you don't have an obligation to respond "proportionately" to human rights violations. Proportionality is for punishments: she's not punishing the gov't for violating her civil rights, she's engaging in a very serious form of protest. Self-imposed suffering is a kind of protest which challenges the state's sovereignty by claiming its own radical control over life and death. And the state, if sufficiently authoritarian, responds by making us live (force feeding) or letting us die.

Second, it's pretty clear that the human rights violations are hitting other prisoners much worse than her, so she is doing this for them too. The idea that the unique protections of celebrity should prevent her from exercising solidarity is just crazy talk. Whites who marched with the civil rights movement or went to jail for civil disobedience in the US certainly didn't need to suffer as they did, that doesn't mean they acted disproportionately.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:17 AM on September 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: "Eh? Abortion is legal in Russian until the 12th week, making it more liberal than many European countries."

The issue of concern to Pussy Riot is not a "comparison with many European countries." The issue is that the legislation which made abortion illegal after 12 weeks was passed in 2011. This is a new restriction. The law also introduced a mandatory waiting period and now allows doctors to refuse to perform one for any reason. Also new restrictions -- they reduce a woman's bodily autonomy.

The Russian government has been portraying abortion as dangerous due to falling population levels and a declining birthrate for the last few years. Abortion clinics and physicians are now required to devote 10% of their advertising costs to anti-abortion propaganda. In addition, Medvedyev's wife is an outspoken pro-life advocate and has worked on campaigns with the Russian Orthodox Church which basically vilify abortion.

ThatFuzzyBastard: "As with the comparison to gulags, there's plenty of bad things to talk about without making stuff up."

You're right.

I'm not.
posted by zarq at 10:35 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


By the way... one arguably great change since 2011 is an attempt to restrict legal abortion providers to skilled physicians, and the establishment of serious fines/punishments for anyone performing one who doesn't have a medical degree and specialized training. This does have the side-effect of reducing abortion access, but it makes getting one a lot safer.
posted by zarq at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2013


Shocking??? I am not shocked.

I am and I think it's because it's an amazing piece of writing that takes the reader so close to this horrific terrifying experience. Like the snatches of dialogue that crop up:

Prisoners with close ties to the administration began egging on the others to get revenge. "You're forbidden to have tea and food, from taking bathroom breaks, and smoking for a week. Now you're always going to be punished unless you start behaving differently with the newbies and especially with Tolokonnikova. Treat them like the old-timers used to treat you. Were you beaten? Of course you were. Did they rip your mouths? They did. Fuck them up. You won't get punished."
posted by colie at 11:10 AM on September 23, 2013


As with the comparison to gulags, there's plenty of bad things to talk about without making stuff up.

You're right. After all, a diet of stale bread, heavily watered-down milk, exclusively rusted millet and... sacks of slimy, black potatoes is certainly healthy, no doubt supplying adequate caloric intake and nutrition for work. Speaking of which, her description of work -- My brigade in the sewing shop works 16 to 17 hours a day. From 7.30am to 12.30am. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners submit petitions to work on weekends 'out of [their] own desire. In actuality, there is, of course, no desire to speak of. These petitions are written on the orders of the administration and under pressure from the prisoners that help enforce it. -- can only cheer the thoughtful observer in its obvious improvement over gulag conditions.

Why, there's even time for leisure activities:
"If you weren't Tolokonnikova, you would have had the shit kicked out of you a long time ago," say fellow prisoners with close ties to the administration. It's true: others are beaten up. For not being able to keep up. They hit them in the kidneys, in the face. Prisoners themselves deliver these beatings and not a single one of them is done without the approval and full knowledge of the administration. A year ago, before I came here, a gypsy woman in the third unit was beaten to death (the third is the pressure unit where they put prisoners that need to undergo daily beatings). She died in the medical unit of PC-14. The administration was able to cover it up: the official cause of death was a stroke. In another unit, new seamstresses who couldn't keep up were undressed and forced to sew naked. No one dares complain to the administration because all they will do is smile and send the prisoner back into the unit, where the "snitch" will be beaten on the orders of that same administration.
And just proving that her conditions bear no resemblance to the bad old days, she quips: It's both funny and frightening when a 40-year-old woman tells you: "Looks like we're being punished today! I wonder whether we're going to be punished tomorrow, too." She can't leave the sewing workshop to pee or get a piece of candy from her purse. It's forbidden.

Look, she says herself that "it's funny"! They even have candy!
posted by scody at 11:12 AM on September 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


three blind mice: " A hunger strike is not a proportional response to what has happened to this young woman and I hope she reconsiders."

You're not entitled to dictate to her the worth of her life, nor her cause.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:45 AM on September 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


scody, do you not actually know what conditions were like in the Stalin years? That is the only conclusion I can draw from your comment, which seems to be "Conditions in Russian prisons are very bad, therefore they are just like conditions in Stalin's gulags."

There's not a lot of point in splitting hairs over how bad it is, but as languagehat has noted elsewhere, when you make comparisons that are obviously false, you make everything else you say seem dubious.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:13 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Margaret Thatcher was coldblooded enough to let hunger strikers starve to death, then I don't foresee Putin being any better.
posted by jonp72 at 12:18 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Amnesty International is selling Free Pussy Riot T-shirts designed by David Shrigley.
posted by colie at 1:00 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Margaret Thatcher was coldblooded enough to let hunger strikers starve to death, then I don't foresee Putin being any better.

He may not want that particular piece of bad publicity before the Olympics, though. My guess is they're going to force feed her, for now.

Fuck, what a horrible situation.
posted by homunculus at 1:47 PM on September 23, 2013


Just a heads up: a significant contingent of the American right idolizes Putin and thinks this girl is getting her just desserts.
posted by clarknova at 2:41 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


My guess is they're going to force feed her, for now.

Didn't Alyokhina go on a hunger strike earlier this year? What happened there?
posted by zarq at 3:04 PM on September 23, 2013


do you not actually know what conditions were like in the Stalin years?

What conditions then are we allowed to complain about, are we allowed to protest?

This is not a zero sum game.
posted by jammy at 4:15 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


No one's claiming it is, jammy. But the point is: saying " Russia's prisons haven't changed all since the days of Stalin's gulags" is hyperbole.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:27 AM on September 24, 2013


IAmBroom: "No one's claiming it is, jammy. But the point is: saying " Russia's prisons haven't changed all since the days of Stalin's gulags" is hyperbole."

FWIW, it was an uninformed opinion (mine.) I wasn't trying to exaggerate for effect.
posted by zarq at 10:46 AM on September 24, 2013


Also, apparently Alyokhina's hunger strike ended after 11 days.
Prison wardens have now reportedly eased some of their regulations, prompting Alyokhina to end her fast. "It seems the public reaction [to Maria's strike] was so big that there was a political decision," Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of fellow Pussy Riot convict Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told Reuters. "They organised an 'excursion' for Maria today, where she was shown that all her demands, like removing metal locks from doors and easing 24-hour surveillance on certain inmates, were met."

posted by zarq at 10:47 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be going as well for Tolokonnikova, it appears she is now in solitary confinement and authorities have denied her claims are true. I hope there will be more meaningful change than this.
posted by xarnop at 4:26 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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