Update: Pussy Riot activists freed, more dedicated to radical leadership than before prison sentence

Hooliganism may be a criminal offense in Russia, but the prison work camp conditions don’t seem to 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 international human rights movements as Russia prepares to host the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin freed Greenpeace activists as well as the capitalist oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But the Pussy Riot grrls are now moving from their punk prayer to more conventional political activism, fighting for the rights of prisoners in forced labor camps.
Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin

Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin

The Guardian interviewed recently freed activists, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, noting that they  “seemed somewhat subdued, and certainly quieter than the activists in balaclavas whose antics in a Moscow cathedral nearly two years ago briefly threatened to make a laughing stock of Putin.

“But equally they did not look like they had spent years in a prison system in which tuberculosis is rampant and violence a fact of life. Tolokonnikova’s vivid letters from jail focused on the brutal treatment of Russia’s prisoners, and she proudly told journalists that conditions had improved during her sentence.

“The 16-hour working day is now a thing of the past,” she said. But both women appeared to be concerned about fellow prisoners who helped them collect information and testified to human rights observers about conditions in the prison. Alyokhina called on the authorities to release a female inmate she had befriended, who is dying from cirrhosis while being badly mistreated by prison officials. “It’s only a question of whether she dies at home or in jail,” Alyokhina said.

Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at their first press conference since leaving jail. Photograph: Itar-Tass/Barcroft Media

Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at their first press conference since leaving jail. Photograph: Itar-Tass/Barcroft Media

“The women said they were setting up a human rights organisation that would help Russian prisoners. They had briefly considered using the Pussy Riot commercial brand to fund it, but decided against it. “It was a very rapid decision. We are not a part of the commercial world,” Tolokonnikova said.

“The women arrived in Moscow having been reunited in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, where Tolokonnikova served the final stretch of her jail term. Alyokhina was released earlier from Nizhny Novgorod prison, 250 miles outside Moscow. Friday’s press conference – held at the offices of Dozhd TV, an independent channel not afraid of covering the opposition movement – was the pair’s first official appearance since their release. To get there, they had to walk past Jesus Christ the Saviour cathedral, where they staged their daring anti-Putin performance in March 2012, whereupon they were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to two years in jail. The women said that in the near future they would focus on human rights, but – as Alyokhina stressed – they would “use political methods” in their struggle.

“Our attitude to Putin hasn’t changed at all. The message of our action in the cathedral is still valid. By Putin we mean the bureaucratic machine he has built,” Tolokonnikova said. She described the president as a scared man, vulnerable to deception by his entourage, and believing in the mythical threat from the west. “He said wild things about Pussy Riot, but it was evident that he actually believes in what he says. I don’t want to live in his nightmare,” Tolokonnikova said.”

In many ways, the members of Pussy Riot have become legitimate international leaders in the movement towards democracy. What began as a local art movement to mock/challenge Putin, and became an international performance/activist movement, has moved beyond “hooliganism” into a more sober and respectable model of activism. They were always brilliant and strategic — now they have become a force to be reckoned with, representing far more they ever did before Putin punished them for their brazen theatricality.

VaclavHavelThis transformation is characteristic of activists who begin in the arts, and persist to transform their nation. Consider Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright and activist who became the first president of the post-communist Czech Republic. He wrote, ““A state that denies its citizens their basic rights becomes a danger to its neighbors as well: internal arbitrary rule will be reflected in arbitrary external relations. The suppression of public opinion, the abolition of public competition for power and its public exercise opens the way for the state power to arm itself in any way it sees fit. A state that does not hesitate to lie to its own people will not hesitate to lie to other states.”

Art is a doorway that can transform citizens from victims, to witnesses, to participants in democratic activism. Activist art is a form of leadership that often creates so-called “leaderless movements” by empowering a network of leaders speaking truth to power.

I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/v/vaclavhave152341.html#HlkyMg8GK6tkGRmX.99

I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/v/vaclavhave152341.html#HlkyMg8GK6tkGRmX.99

2 comments

  1. […] the bottom of his snowboard, painted with what is clearly an homage to the outlawed punk rock band Pussy Riot, whose knit masks have become a signature of their […]

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  2. […] their activism had shifted to prison reform and freedom for activists still imprisoned in Russia, now that they have been freed to appease Western pressure on Putin. “We’d much rather work on freeing the people who are still in jail for… standing […]

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