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      Down with Putin! Set Pussy Riot Free!

      August 17, 2012

      By Simon Childs, Photos: Henry Langston

      The Russian state made a bid to enter our Cry-Baby of the Week column today, as the three members of punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to jail for singing a nasty song about President Putin in a Russian Orthodox Church.

      Even if you ignore the obviously righteous context of what the band did and pretend it was just random, pointless noise-making in a church, surely the correct reaction would be to make them leave and, IDK, ban them from the church? Sternly chastise them in the parish newsletter?

      But no, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevic were found guilty of “hooliganism” and will spend the next two years doing whatever it is one does to pass the time in a Russian prison – writing political tracts and trying to avoid the toughnuts, I guess.

      We went down to the Russian embassy in London's Notting Hill to test the mood amongst those who had turned up to protest for the devotchkas who'd recently been relieved of their freedom.

      The crowd was pretty mixed.

      From the kinda sinister…

      …to the completely adorable.



      And a guy in a Mexican wrestling mask and a wedding dress. Maybe he always dresses like this.


      Manko, artist, 30.

      VICE: Hi Manko. How are you feeling about the protest today?
      Manko: It’s nice to see such a big turnout for once. The last two demos have had like, 15-20 people.

      So do you think protests like this will make a difference?
      Well, it’s kind of the point of no return now. We’re all Pussy Riot. It doesn’t matter what the verdict is. I wasn’t really political until the Pussy Riot case, but I think this case being a cause célèbre has inspired the world.

      So the point of you being here isn’t to affect the verdict?
      Oh, come on! I don’t think those guys over there in the embassy or Putin are gonna give a shit. Is Putin gonna free Pussy Riot because Madonna told him so? Come on! That’s not the point at all. This is just a gathering spot.

      What do you think this case will mean for Russia, looking forward?
      There is no winning for Russia because even if they do set Pussy Riot free, there are a lot more political prisoners in Russia. Either way, Russians are fucked and Pussy Riot won.



      Having interviewed Manko, we were distracted by the irritating buzzing sound of a police helicopter. Seriously, these things cost thousands of pounds to send up, and the protest looked like this:



      Having mused on our homeland's slide into totalitarianism, or possibly just an insane waste of money, we got back to voxpopping and ended up talking to “Tommy Anarchic”, who seemed more into plugging his band than showing solidarity with Pussy Riot.


      Tommy Anarchic, “officially 26”, electro-punk DJ.

      Why are you here, Tommy?
      Tommy:
      My project, Without My Medicine, do a lot of political material. It’s an atrocity that because somebody is trying to create an art event or espouse some political views that they could face a substantial prison sentence.

      Do you think the Russian authorities overreacted?
      If they hadn’t reacted at all they wouldn’t have brought such attention to themselves. We have the best system in this country where you can say whatever the fuck you want and no one cares. Which is probably not the best system because no one cares. You tell me man, free speech, is it free? Who fuckin’ knows?

      Wise words. You’re a man but I see you’re wearing a skirt. What do you think of Pussy Riot’s gender politics?
      I think the fact that you have women championing free speech is a beautiful thing. Don’t you think it helps, though, that the lead singer’s really fit?


      Anon, anon, Helen McCookerybook, musician, 55 (centre) and Caroline Coon, artist, 67 (right).

      Hi. What brought you out in support of Pussy Riot today?
      Caroline:
      I’ve been a feminist all my life and I think it’s important that we who want democracy have the right to be offensive. Some of the commentators in Russia are saying that Pussy Riot were outrageous. Unless you’re prepared to offend somebody we can never have democracy, freedom or liberation.

      How about you, Helen?
      Helen: Well I used to play bass in a punk band 30 years ago. To see a punk band sticking up for political ideals in another country and see them in prison for that has got me out demonstrating for the first time in 30 years.

      What do you think the verdict will be today?
      They will be imprisoned but it throws into relief the behaviour of Putin and his cronies, which is what Pussy Riot wanted to do in the first place.
      Caroline: Also, talking about Putin, that patriarchal masculinity is as dead as a dinosaur. Imprisoning the Pussy Riot girls is an indication of how fragile that masculinity is, rather than it being a strength.

      So do you think the treatment of Pussy Riot proves their point in the first place?
      Both: Yes!
      Helen: Although Putin’s a dictator, he’s actually being manipulated, which is quite funny really.

      Yes, it's like the taming of the Pu.


      Oliver, 30, works for a human rights organisation called Article 19 that campaigns for freedom of expression.

      As a human rights activist, what do you think should have happened to Pussy Riot?
      Oliver:
      Even if they were disrupting the church, the worst they should've faced was an administrative fine in the same way you might get a fine for parking your car on a yellow line, it's that level of offence.

      So you think it’s an overreaction?
      Oh God, yeah!

      Does it indicate an erosion of democracy in Russia in a broader sense?
      Well, our position is that the media in Russia is no longer free, the right to assembly has been completely undermined in Russia, freedom of expression is also being rapidly undermined.



      By now, the numbers at the protest were swelling and the chanting was getting pretty raucous. All of which caused this man to peer through the window of the Guyanese Embassy and wish it wasn’t situated opposite the embassy of an international pariah.



      Or maybe he had noticed that Anonymous had turned up, looking threatening as ever and shitting all over the otherwise well-observed dress code with those bloody masks again.

      At about 12.30PM, news started to filter through that the inevitable had happened: Pussy Riot had been found guilty. We looked for a reaction from one of punk’s elder statesman, Bruno Wizard of The Homosexuals.


      Bruno Wizard of The Homosexuals.

      Hi Bruno, we’re from the press, can we talk to you?
      Bruno: Are you a Russian agent? You don't have any radioactive material on you? Nah, you're alright.

      The guilty verdict was just given.
      This is the first I've heard of it, it's outrageous. It was outrageous from the very beginning when they were arrested. If this had happened in the UK and the US, they might have been arrested but they'd soon be out on bail playing squat parties.

      What do you think of Pussy Riot’s actions?
      I was there at the so-called birth of punk in Britain and that wasn't punk. Punk is about being an outsider and being prepared to die for what you believe in and these girls in Pussy Riot have put the punk movements in the UK and US to shame. You show me one person in the UK or US who has done the equivalent of what these girls have done. Putin is, in a way, doing the world a favour because he's setting himself up as a tyrant, to be shot at by all freedom-loving people all over the world.


      Dorothy, 20, student (right).

      So the guilty verdict has been passed. Some people here are seeing it as a victory – Pussy Riot have proved their point about free speech. What do you make of that?
      Dorothy: They’re not going to win much liberty. Two out of three of them have children. In the short term, it’s a bit fucked for them. It’s great that it’s become such an international protest but it’s not exactly glorious that they’re going to prison. But I do think that it’ll spur the collective on.

      The protest died down and it was time to head for home. I, for one, hope that Dorothy’s last prediction was correct and that Pussy Riot continues to grab the headlines with ever-more daring stunts in the face of the Putinist junta – if only so that we can all enjoy watching staid news anchors trying not to look embarrassed as they say "Pussy Riot" in their crisp, enunciated tones.

      Maybe we should send James Bond (or his real-life equivalent) to smuggle the gals into the British Embassy in Moscow and grant them asylum. After all, they only performed a punk song in a church – it's not like they exposed the machinations of our foreign policy to the public or anything.

      Follow Simon: @simonchilds13 and Henry: @henry_langston on Twitter.

      Previously:

      Pussy Riot Have Been Found Guilty

      Meeting Pussy Riot

      Free Pussy Riot

      We Went To A Pussy Riot Protest Contest

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      Topics: Pussy Riot, protest, London, Russian Embassy, Vladimir Putin, punk rock, gulags

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