Punk against Putin: Feminist Girl Group Pussy Riot’s Dissident Leadership

Last week, two members of Russia’s activist feminist punk group, Pussy Riot, visited Washington, DC to galvanize support to free the two women still imprisoned.And last night, these remarkable, in-your-face activists were profiled in an HBO documentary2012-01-20T130606Z_01_MOS12_RTRIDSP_3_RUSSIA. It’s art as dissidence, leadership as rocking against Putin’s machine.

From the article:

In DC, they discussed such subjects as member Alyokhina’s hunger strike and the denial of Tolokonnikova’s parole.

From the beginning, Shaiba said, members of the band had hoped to exemplify strong feminist values — a tonic to the “macho man image” projected by the Russian culture embodied by Putin.

Many Russians were uninterested in politics until the 2011 Putin-Medvedev maneuver, when they saw an arrogance in Putin that enraged them. As a result, they paid attention to the parliamentary elections the following December, and they didn’t like what they saw. The day after the election, protests against vote-rigging began that soon tapped into anger at the authoritarian system that Putin had been building since his first presidential term began in 2000.

As Pussy Riot attorney Violetta Volkova put it in an interview well after the women had been packed off to labor camps: “The protests set the machinery of the state swinging into action, trying to protect itself from its own citizens.” (Pussy Riot — a collective of about a dozen women active in environmental, feminist, LGBT and other causes — formed just a month before the Putin-Medvedev announcement.)”

It’s not just about rock n’ roll — it’s about a raucous presence to lead unrest and anger among citizens protesting Putin’s intolerance, and the repressive tactics of the Russian Orthodox church.

The documentary, “A Punk Prayer” is not here only to trigger a viewer’s outrage or garner support for the women of Pussy Riot. (There’s plenty of that already.) Instead it also deftly uses the group’s travails to tap into an ugly, zealous fervor that has gripped the Russian Orthodox church and feeds a great deal of nationalistic bigotry. The mob advocating imprisonment and even death for Pussy Riot comes off as a cross between crazed monks, militias and the biker gangs from “Sons of Anarchy,” bullying those who run afoul of their beliefs. The film also recounts the revolutionary era a century ago that led to the destruction of the cathedral in 1931. It was rebuilt after the collapse of the Soviet Union.” (From Hank Steuver’s Post review.)

As Lauren Thatcher Ulrich said, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” And standing up and fighting for rights is rarely about being polite, quiet or conservative. Pussy Riot is confrontational, yes. And they’re getting attention — and paying the price. This is a kind of leadership that might look goofy to some, but packs a punch in the battle for freedom of speech and diversity.

12 comments

  1. sharron · · Reply

    Life in russia is hard and harsh. Keep all people no matter where they live in a strong disciplined rut and rule with an iron fist. That way is nothing more than total control. Remember absolute control,controls absolutely. God gives us the chance of choice,but mankind never displays this action and because of that we have a history of wars, conflicts and such pitting one group against the other. In other words mankind does not lead people as God does. That is why our world is in the shape it is in. Once in power and all that money and power goes to their head,and they don’t care about the lower level people. Thank god there is a God and they will pay some day, just not now.they don’t care and it shows.

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    1. Sharron: You make an interesting point. It does seem that dictatorship and repression come from a hunger for control, and a lack of compassion or caring for others. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that some of the cruelest dictators claim to speak with the voice of God or the institutions praising Him. Choosing to resist is very brave in places like Russia.

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  2. http://www.traitorsdaughter.com, as director of this new feature length film that takes place in the pre-Putin days of Russia, I can say that Pussy riot gals are really lucky they didn’t try this kind of protest back in the bad old days of the USSR. The film is outstanding by the way, having been screened at Hot Docs in Toronto.

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    1. Youʻre ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! What an extraordinary project youʻve created. The story of a Russian soldier, a woman captured and imprisoned in the Nazi camps — itʻs an important angle on the testimonies that remain secret. What a lot of work you went through to unearth the information. I, too, am “addicted to story,” which is why I write so much about leadership stories and the ways we story our identities as leaders and revolutionaries and followers. I will watch for this film when it comes to my area. Thanks so much for offering a link….

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  3. Carol, hope you will become one of my regular readers, as I update the blog every week, and am heading to shoot in siberia in five weeks!

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    1. Good luck in Siberia! I will follow your adventures.

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  4. […] Read my earlier blog essay on Pussy Riot’s dissident leadership. […]

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  5. […] talked about their raucous and irreverent activism as an example of creative followership, challenging the status quo at great personal risk. Whatever we think of their tactics, […]

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  6. […] Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike to protest conditions in the labor camp where she has been imprisoned for “hooliganism” because of a punk rock protest in Russia’s largest c… Her letter published yesterday in the Guardian named inhuman conditions and immediate punishments […]

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  7. […] be a deterrence to dedicated activists like Pussy Riot, the women fighting for free speech through punk music, theatrical interventions and eloquent oratory.  In a move widely interpreted to mollify […]

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  8. […] activist group, Pussy Riot, came to the US  to share their perspective on the Olympics, after getting international attention for their disruptive, disrespectful protests (a.k.a hooliganism, punishable by imprisonment and forced labor in Putin’s Russia). Or, as […]

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  9. […] if the P-word offends you, this V-word music video will get your blood running hot! Pussy Riot, the brilliant feminist activist group that protests for free speech, equal rights, and democracy in …, has responded to Trump’s grab for the P-residency and women’s P-rivates with a video […]

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