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Pussy Riot
February 7, 2014 10:00 PM   Subscribe

What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now? "With all eyes on Russia, two members of the country’s most notorious band of shit-stirrers are free after nearly two years of political imprisonment and enjoying the rock-star treatment during their first trip to the U.S. But the group’s unlikely journey from art-school project to international icons shows just how rotten Russia has become and how much the mission has changed."
posted by homunculus (57 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pussy Riot Members Make First American Television Appearance on The Colbert Report
posted by homunculus at 10:01 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


They probably should be termed, former members of Pussy Riot.
posted by edgeways at 11:08 PM on February 7 [10 favorites]


These amazing girls did their work and did their time... They erected a mirror for all of us to look into and ask ourselves: What are we doing to stop unchecked power and corruption in our world and lifetimes?

“Craziness is contagious, you’ll see. You’ll catch it, and everything will open up to you.” (like)
posted by specialk420 at 11:12 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


It's a little strange that they declared feminism and LGBT rights etc to be equally important in the overall fight to take Putin down, but somehow protesting the prison industrial complex doesn't count. How is advocating for prisoners' rights not a fight against authorianism?

Also - Singapore? With all its censorship issues and the existence of the Internal Security Act?
posted by divabat at 11:46 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Stephen Colbert is a national treasure. I love that man.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:52 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


I think it's very admirable that they stuck with their platform even after experiencing a terrible prison ordeal, and I don't think it's any accident either. Abolitionists don't have the audience or the momentum that feminist/LGBT activists have on this planet. These women are badasses, and I think they know what they're doing.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:56 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


divbat:

I'm not sure the two were kicked out, per se, but (according to the group) they quit talking to members of the group and by default left the group.

From the BBC's link:

It said that although the pair had repeatedly stressed they were no longer members, the public announcement before their speech spoke of "the first legal performance of Pussy Riot".

The letter did praise the former members for their new cause.

"Yes, we lost two friends, two ideological fellow member (sic), but the world has acquired two brave, interesting, controversial human rights defenders - fighters for the rights of the Russian prisoners."

However, it added: "Unfortunately, we cannot congratulate them with this in person, because they refuse to have any contact with us."

posted by el io at 11:58 PM on February 7


divbat:

I'm not sure the two were kicked out, per se, but (according to the group) they quit talking to members of the group and by default left the group.


What is this comment a response to?
posted by jayder at 12:03 AM on February 8


Can we call them women rather than girls please?
posted by k8t at 12:54 AM on February 8 [24 favorites]


"Pussy Riot Members Make First American Television Appearance on The Colbert Report"

The women and their interpreter were on for two segments which is unusual for that show. Colbert is insanely smart - he was so careful to lead himself into being trapped by failed logic without using language differences as a tool. Here is the first time I type this; I wish Pussy Riot well.
posted by vapidave at 2:27 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I also wish Pussy Riot well.
posted by mannequito at 2:41 AM on February 8


wwprd
posted by misteraitch at 3:22 AM on February 8


From the open letter on The Guardian:
Institutionalised advocacy can hardly afford a critique of fundamental norms and rules that underlie modern patriarchal society. Being an institutional part of society, such advocacy cannot go beyond the rules set forth by this society.
This pissed me off. Two members of the collective go to prison while the others sit back and say, "Sorry, but you're working with The Man now." What, working for prison reform isn't punk enough?
posted by RakDaddy at 5:32 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the statement by their former band-mates reeks. Ideological purity at the expense of truth should also be on the list of things they abhor, but alas, appear to embrace.

More power to these two, and isn't there a third still in prison? What about her?
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:42 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Oh, sorry, I see here that the third jailed member was released earlier.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:52 AM on February 8


How is advocating for prisoners' rights not a fight against authorianism?

Yeah, the statement by their former band-mates reeks.


Guys, you could be a little more charitable. I actually admire the purity of the position. You're talking about a band that got imprisoned for playing in a church, ok? Please don't get on your high horse that they don't support concerts that are televised, sell tickets and have corporate sponsors.

Having said that, these women paid some hefty dues. I just don't think Americans are used to processing true anarchy. Pussy Riot have been reduced to international rock star icons. I love it.
posted by phaedon at 6:07 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


Pussy Riot have been reduced to international rock star icons.

Was the “reduced” a deliberate or accidental choice of words?
posted by acb at 6:24 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


You're talking about a band that got imprisoned for playing in a church, ok?

No, I'm talking about the members who weren't imprisoned who then threw them under the bus.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:33 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


Which, from my remove, seems chickenshit.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:33 AM on February 8


I highly HIGHLY recommend watching Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (trailer). I was amazed at how much I truly did NOT understand what had gone on with the Pussy Riot story, sitting where I do in the US and reading news reports. There are layers of cultural baggage attached to their situation, and what actually happened to them at trial was shocking. I don't know where it might be available to view other than through HBO, but maybe it's on Netflix or something.

Also, it's a bit odd that Pussy Riot is saying that those two are no longer members of the band, because one of the things made clear in that documentary is that they don't seek to be a band, per se. They more seek to be a movement, and they claim that anyone can be a member. Just put on a mask and make some noise against tyranny.
posted by hippybear at 6:46 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


Really impressed by them on Colbert. They handled him with no problems, through his character, translated to Russian, wittily rejoined, translated back to English. Fun interview.
posted by petebest at 6:57 AM on February 8


I don't think we have enough information to understand the interpersonal dynamics behind this situation. From the links in the fpp and the comments here, it's not clear to me if Nadia and Misha (sheesh, on the gender dynamics front, sure that's how they refer to each other, how their (formerly?) close colleagues in Pussy Riot refer to them, and how their friends and family refer to them; and there are good reasons around denial of (patriarchal) authority structures and the trappings thereof for the rest of us using their first names rather than the more formal Ms. Tolokonnikova and Ms. Alyokhina, but the way this is happening in general media reporting reeks of paternalism) left Pussy Riot, or were forced out in some sense. Possibly the group had some pre-existing agreements in the event that any member's anonymity was compromised. I think we can best show compassion and respect for Nadia and Misha though by not focusing on such personal matters, deliberately paying attention instead to the issues they are trying to raise. That seems to be what the two of them are saying as well: that they'd like the folks feeling concern and upset on their behalf to direct those emotions to the more foundational problems that got them into this situation of lose-lose interpersonal dynamics with the remaining Pussy Riot group in the first place: including the corrupt "justice" system and degrading prison conditions in Russia; prison abolition in general; the cultural factors that set these two women up as "rock stars" despite their obvious reluctance and discomfort in that role, putting them in the position where they really couldn't continue their participation in Pussy Riot without fundamentally changing some of the basic tenets and values that they, themselves, created the group to have.
posted by eviemath at 7:01 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Also, it's a bit odd that Pussy Riot is saying that those two are no longer members of the band, because one of the things made clear in that documentary is that they don't seek to be a band, per se. They more seek to be a movement, and they claim that anyone can be a member. Just put on a mask and make some noise against tyranny.

Well, yes, which is why becoming A Face with A Cause doesn't mesh with the pseudo-anonymous, open collectivity of Pussy Riot. That Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are doing a Western media tour may suggest the way their ordeal and the publicity surrounding it has wrought a transformation in the methods they employ. But those methods may indeed be different, critically different, than those Pussy Riot can or should employ. I don't know that it's all ideological purity; some of it is practical.

Beyond that, where there is some ideological bounding or exclusion going on, I wonder if that's not more the result of the way the media has seized upon old narratives of Russian gulags and institutional reform to frame and reduce the story these two women are telling, and narrow their coverage of the causes they advocate. Some of the statement reads to me like Pussy Riot (the collective group) trying to remind everyone of what the earlier Pussy Riot actions were about. There's something rather insidious about the ease with which a protest about the state-church collusion to oppress people on the basis of gender, sexuality, and democracy in Russia has been deftly made into a story about cruel prison conditions. But the latter is much easier and more comfortable for the media -- both Western and non-Western -- to discuss.
posted by kewb at 7:16 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


Isn't one of the women married and has a child? Perhaps she feels the need to limit the amount of times she might be sent to prison again. This "tamer" approach to expressing herself probably doesn't jive with the Pussy Riot level of anarchy anymore. And in doing so, maybe she feels it would be disingenuous to call herself a true member of Pussy Riot.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:55 AM on February 8


I believe they are both married with children.
posted by hippybear at 8:04 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


> I wonder if that's not more the result of the way the media has seized upon old narratives of Russian gulags and institutional reform to frame and reduce the story these two women are telling

I'm no fonder of the media's reductionist tendencies than anyone else, but this is not a very convincing complaint; you might as well say the media seizes upon old narratives of American racism to frame and reduce the story of Trayvon Martin. The way Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were treated is absolutely continuous with the history of the gulags and other uses of the "justice" system to punish political opponents, and to pretend otherwise would be to play into the hands of those who want you to forget the whole Soviet thing and treat it as an aberration.

> There's something rather insidious about the ease with which a protest about the state-church collusion to oppress people on the basis of gender, sexuality, and democracy in Russia has been deftly made into a story about cruel prison conditions.

Uh, it's Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina who are focusing on cruel prison conditions; do you want the media to ignore that?

> Well, yes, which is why becoming A Face with A Cause doesn't mesh with the pseudo-anonymous, open collectivity of Pussy Riot.

While this is true, the statement by their former band-mates still reeks of resentment and the usual leftist-collective circular firing squad. "Impure! Impure!" I can approve of their ideals without approving of their failings.
posted by languagehat at 8:12 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]


I just love how their name is so perfectly calibrated to cause maximum distress to conservative-ish broadcasters. It's exactly at the line where if it were any "worse," broadcasters could bleep out the word and replace it with P***y Riot in text and not look like total wimps... but it doesn't cross it. And it's also just silly and, well, friendly enough in its connotations to puncture their newscaster persona. It's hard to sit there all seriouslike with an I ARE SERIOUS PERSON face while you're saying "pussy."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:51 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


While this is true, the statement by their former band-mates still reeks of resentment and the usual leftist-collective circular firing squad. "Impure! Impure!" I can approve of their ideals without approving of their failings.

And this is why you're a fan of Pussy Riot in the first place, right?
posted by phaedon at 8:52 AM on February 8


"Punk Says Punk Not Punk Enough" - the title of basically any history of punk.

Punk punk punk. There. Now it doesn't even sound like a word anymore.
posted by Etrigan at 9:16 AM on February 8 [8 favorites]


Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot's prison letters to Slavoj Žižek
Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is currently in a prison hospital in Siberia; here she and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek meet in an extraordinary exchange of letters

posted by Golden Eternity at 9:26 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


While this is true, the statement by their former band-mates still reeks of resentment and the usual leftist-collective circular firing squad. "Impure! Impure!" I can approve of their ideals without approving of their failings.

We do have to balance revolutionary political work with personal work on ourselves and in leftist-activist organizations. But this is not a topic that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are talking about, and there's a very strong cultural trend of dismissing women's ideas and contributions by building up (true or false or somewhere in between) and focusing instead on narratives of inter-personal conflict between women. If we do in fact care about these women and the values they have and continue to espouse, probably letting ourselves get sucked into this dynamic is counterproductive, in this particular instance.

That is, how we treat each other in leftist-activist circles should absolutely not be a taboo topic for broader public discussion. But it's a difficult topic; to be done well, it's a discussion that needs to be brought up and directed by people harmed by the (unfortunately to some degree unavoidable) carrying over of broader negative social dynamics into progressive spaces; but that's not what's happening here.

If we are concerned about the emotional well-being of Nadia and Misha, educating ourselves about Russian prison colony conditions and advocating to ensure that the two of them, as well as all of their fellow former or current prisoners, have access to adequate and appropriate mental and other health supports for dealing with the aftermath of what sounds like a pretty bad situation is probably orders of magnitude more important than worrying about Pussy Riot's open letter.

Or, to summarize, as Pussy Riot's open letter impored us, vis-a-vis Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, "Hear them finally!"
posted by eviemath at 9:34 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


I like that the article in the fpp focused (in part, at least) on the changing political climate in Russia. In some ways, it feels to me, from afar in both cases, as though the show trial of the three Pussy Riot members is to Russia and the nascent movement for greater democracy that they were (broadly speaking) a part of is like the Tianenman Square massacre was to China's growing pro-democracy movement in the late 1980s. Especially with both being somewhat atypical cases amongst a worldwide wave of progressive/democratic movements. Is this an accurate comparison? Tianenmen Square predicted a stifling of such movements as global neoliberalism really took off in the early 1990s. How does the backlash against progressivism currently happening in Russia interact with broader global trends in the current decade, though?
posted by eviemath at 9:43 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I honestly don't get how prison conditions can't be part of Pussy Riot's overarching work. If the prisons aren't shitty, then oppression becomes a lot harder: "Straighten up or I'll send you to a nicely appointed ward with vocational training, regular contact with the outside world, a system set up to encourage rehabilitation rather than punishment... but you'll share a bathroom!" isn't quite so much the threat as "Straighten up or I'll send you to a deep, dark hole staffed by sadists!"
posted by Etrigan at 9:45 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


From Wikipedia:
In September that year Verzilov (Tolokonnikova's husband) accepted the LennonOno grant for peace from Yoko Ono, on behalf of Pussy Riot, at a ceremony in New York.[14]

However, in October 2012 the jailed Pussy Riot members published a letter via their lawyer disowning Verzilov as their spokesman. They said he had "seized representation and decision-making of Pussy Riot" and had misrepresented their views. "The only person who can legitimately represent the group is a girl in a balaclava," they stated. Verzilov's actions were "treacherous to punk."[5]
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:55 AM on February 8


I think a completely abolishionist stance toward prisons would be more in keeping with what I understand Pussy Riot's ideals to be. But, (shrug), they don't seem to be unsupportive of prison reform; more so, they seem to have a different focus in their work. There are enough giant social and political problems to go around; territorially promoting one as absolutely the worst is generally unhelpful given their interconnectedness, but it's often helpful for (especially smaller) groups to have a particular focus in terms of what they work on as a group. (Individual members might additionally get involved in other causes outside the group, as Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have done.)
posted by eviemath at 9:55 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Reading between the lines, it seems that the split really is motivated by a more personal matter - one of the members being released first, a broken friendship, non-communication - and the political angle is an excuse.
posted by divabat at 10:31 AM on February 8


> there's a very strong cultural trend of dismissing women's ideas and contributions by building up (true or false or somewhere in between) and focusing instead on narratives of inter-personal conflict between women. If we do in fact care about these women and the values they have and continue to espouse, probably letting ourselves get sucked into this dynamic is counterproductive, in this particular instance.

I sure hope that's not addressed to me. I neither said nor implied anything about "inter-personal conflict between women," and it's a surprise to me that that's even an issue here (how do you know all the members of the collective are women?). I'm talking about leftists and their dysfunctional dynamics, and having suffered from that myself I'm not about to just let it go because talking about it in public might somehow hurt the Cause.

> If we are concerned about the emotional well-being of Nadia and Misha

I think it's a given that we all are. I also think it's vanishingly unlikely that anything we say here will in any way impinge on their emotional well-being.
posted by languagehat at 11:11 AM on February 8


eviemath, I agree that the abolitionist stance is consistent with their ideals. I think they're playing the realpolitik game now that they have everyone's attention.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:25 AM on February 8


languagehat, are you perhaps thinking of Voina, a similar political performance art group that two of the (publicly identified) members of Pussy Riot have also participated in? You can check eg. the wikipedia page for Pussy Riot or their description of themselves in the open letter linked to upthread - it, itself, is explicitly a female-only group (more specifically, a "female separatist collective").
posted by eviemath at 12:43 PM on February 8


I think the question of what sort of activism Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina can engage in with their current celebrity, given (or assuming, based on their Pussy Riot membership) that they oppose the ideas of authority and hierarchy that in some ways underpin the structure of celebrity, is a really interesting discussion point as well. Something similar comes up in a lot of anti-capitalist and similar progressive work as well.

Suppose, for example, that as a woman opposed to patriarchal structures I nevertheless end up with some degree of institutional power, through mechanics involving exceptionalism and such. Obviously changing my values and spouting the "oh, well I made it here despite the obstacles, so the rest of you ought to quit whining and pull yourselves up by your bootstraps following my lead" line would be bad. But how much am I actyally able to use the power I've attained in order to help others less fortunate? Part of why various oppressions are still around, despite some gains in individual understanding and tolerance, is that many of our formal institutions structurally reinforce oppressions, and are also structured so as to be resistant to change - they structurally favor the status quo. For example, state/provincial and local governments may be prohibited from considering non-monetary factors such as worker's rights or environmental impact when assigning contracts and making purchasing decisions. As well, there's the issue of whether one can ever use authority to dismantle authority - that bringing democracy at the barrel of a gun is a fundamentally flawed and doomed approach; or, as Audre Lord famously put it, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."
posted by eviemath at 1:11 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


> languagehat, are you perhaps thinking of Voina, a similar political performance art group that two of the (publicly identified) members of Pussy Riot have also participated in?

Ah, yes, I may have been—sorry for the confusion!

> I think the question of what sort of activism Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina can engage in with their current celebrity, given (or assuming, based on their Pussy Riot membership) that they oppose the ideas of authority and hierarchy that in some ways underpin the structure of celebrity, is a really interesting discussion point as well.

Absolutely.

> bringing democracy at the barrel of a gun is a fundamentally flawed and doomed approach

Damn tootin'!
posted by languagehat at 1:57 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


...the statement by their former band-mates still reeks of resentment and the usual leftist-collective circular firing squad

One thing that occurred to me is that perhaps Nadia and Misha were kicked out in order to allow the anonymous members of Pussy Riot to continue their activities without endangering them. As long as Nadia and Misha are known members of Pussy Riot, they're liable to be taken in for questioning (or worse) whenever the anonymous members of Pussy Riot do anything that displeases the authorities. But if they've been publicly kicked out, they can plausibly deny any connection with Pussy Riot activities. That would also explain why the statement from Pussy Riot mentioned that the other members of Pussy Riot haven't even heard from Nadia and Misha. So kicking them out allows the anonymous members of Pussy Riot to resume their performances, leaving Nadia and Misha to concentrate on the prisoners' right issues that they've been addressing recently.

This is, of course, all just speculation on my part. But it doesn't seem totally implausible.
posted by klausness at 3:49 PM on February 8 [14 favorites]


Agreed Klausness! They've possibly been ousted because they've been outed. Seems logical.
posted by Coaticass at 5:02 PM on February 8


+1 to what klausness said; I was nodding my head thinking, hrm, surely this is a basic precept of leftist-activist security culture? Plausible deniability, and all, if a member of the group is outed in any way? It's been a while since I've seen A Punk Prayer, but I vaguely remember them actually discussing this midway through the documentary.

I wasn't aware of the letters between Nadia and Žižek, Golden Eternity. Thanks for linking to those.
posted by cardinality at 10:45 PM on February 8


> One thing that occurred to me is that perhaps Nadia and Misha were kicked out in order to allow the anonymous members of Pussy Riot to continue their activities without endangering them.

That makes a lot of sense, and I'm glad you thought of it; I feel better about the whole situation now!
posted by languagehat at 10:36 AM on February 9


Not sure why people keep saying that they were ousted. They quit.

“Unfortunately, we can not congratulate them with this in person, because they refuse to have any contact with us. But we appreciate their choice and sincerely wish them well in their new career.”
posted by I-baLL at 12:38 AM on February 11


Well, if you take that anonymous statement as gospel truth, then sure.
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on February 11


"Well, if you take that anonymous statement as gospel truth, then sure."

What anonymous statement? Have you read the article?

From the article:

"The letter was signed by six masked members of Pussy Riot, leading with one named Garadzha. It was the name Katya Samutsevich sometimes used."

and

"I called Katya a few weeks after Masha and Nadya got out of prison.

“Honestly, we’re not really in touch,” she said through the crackle of a Skype call reaching from Moscow to New York. “They’re totally involved in their new project and it’s really hard to talk to them. I saw Masha once, Nadya not at all. We haven’t found time. It’s difficult.”"
posted by I-baLL at 11:53 AM on February 11


Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina claim they didn't quit.
posted by Etrigan at 12:05 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


> What anonymous statement? Have you read the article?

Oh, sorry, I meant pseudonymous. Anyway, it's irrelevant, I don't know why you expect us to believe them. And:

> Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina claim they didn't quit.
posted by languagehat at 1:06 PM on February 11


To the Penal Colony
The penal colony was hidden behind a tall gray fence, with only a couple of structures reaching above it: a sizable church — Orthodox churches were erected in all the colonies here in the 1990s — and one of the colony’s standard gray concrete buildings with a wall-size poster of a young girl on it. Petya told me the caption, obscured by the fence, said your family is waiting for you. We entered a two-room structure for visitors. It had been built recently, most likely because Nadya was expected to draw media attention here, and it even included a carpeted playroom with a crib, a set of toddler-appropriate Legos, and a rocking donkey. Gera and Andrei took off their shoes and started making a Lego prison from which a rubber duck was going to help her friend the princess escape by means of a fire truck with a telescoping ladder.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:28 PM on February 13


Pussy Riot members among group of activists arrested in Sochi
posted by homunculus at 1:55 PM on February 18


The PR group is at it again! Has anyone ever heard their music, by the way? I'm sure I'm not the only westerner getting tired of them.
posted by ReeMonster at 5:25 PM on February 18


> I'm sure I'm not the only westerner getting tired of them.

No, I'm sure you're not; lots of people care more about constant novelty than about injustice and the people who fight it at tremendous risk to their lives and freedom.
posted by languagehat at 6:04 AM on February 19 [10 favorites]


Pussy Riot whipped by Cossack militia in Sochi during performance attempt
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:47 AM on February 19


I would say they are the punkest of punk bands. For fuck's sake how many other groups can Americans name that publicaly vocally and consistently challenge Mr KGB Putin on the streets? More power to them, Russia, and the word, needs more PR, not less.
All other punk groups are possers by comparison.
posted by edgeways at 8:19 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


> You can check eg. the wikipedia page for Pussy Riot or their description of themselves in the open letter linked to upthread - it, itself, is explicitly a female-only group (more specifically, a "female separatist collective").

"Pussy Riot attacked with whips by Cossack militia at Sochi Olympics": "The incident lasted only a few minutes and one Pussy Riot member was left with blood on his face, saying he had been pushed to the ground." [Emphasis added.]
posted by languagehat at 6:38 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


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