©2016 VICE Media LLC

    The VICE Channels

      Watch the Premiere of Pussy Riot's New Video 'CHAIKA'

      By Dory Carr-Harris

      Managing Editor

      February 2, 2016

      It's been almost four years to the day since Pussy Riot, the Russian anarcho-punk, feminist band, performed its legendary protest/set "Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!" on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in Moscow.

      Since then, the group has been arrested for its anti-government sentiments, put on trial, imprisoned, and finally—after the intervention of human rights groups and international media—freed. Yet, none of that has stopped the band from continuing to release a constant stream of songs, videos and articles, all with the goal of fighting the rampant corruption in the Putin's regime

      Today, Pussy Riot is releasing its latest music video, "CHAIKA," named after Russia's current prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika.

      Chaika was in the international press recently, when anti-Putin activist Alexei Navalny posted a film he made online that alleges the family and business associates—most specifically the son—of the prosecutor general have direct ties to the Russian mob, and that Chaika himself is mired in corruption. Since the release of this film the Russian government has denied the allegations and refused to discuss or cover the video on state-controlled media platforms. The Kremlin has also passed multiple laws that increase its control over what content can be posted online, and that may even allow them to block outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

      We spoke to Pussy Riot front-woman Nadya Tolokonnikova about why the band chose to make Chaika the subject of its latest video, and why it thinks the situation in Russia has gotten worse since the revolution in 2012.

      Photo by Denis Sinyakov

      VICE: What is your latest video about?
      Nadya Tolokonnikova: "CHAIKA" is a message from a top Putinist official to his sons and followers. It's a tutorial on how to pinch out money, raid enterprises, send competitors to prison or physically eliminate them. And also what to do in order to not only escape imprisonment for yourself, but to prosper.

      Why is it important for the public to learn about Yuri Chaika?
      Chaika is the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. Since he acceded to office in 2006 he has not completed any major investigations. Chaika is something more than a talentless, mediocre official. He personifies a typical modern protagonist—a normal representative of Russian contemporary state mafia.

      Mikhail Zygar, former editor in chief of Rain—the only independent TV channel in Russia—discussed the role of the prosecutor's office in his book All Kremlin Warrior Host. He writes, "The General Prosecutor's office became an example of political voluntarism. It executed the political will of the Kremlin in the most rough and brusque way, often not taking into consideration the intricacies of human rights. In the run-up to any regional elections the prosecutor's office flawlessly laid accusations against undesirable candidates and did everything not to let them reach election day. The General Prosecutor's office turned into a perfectly established and smoothly running repressive machine."

      Quite a paradoxical system of employee selection has been applied in Russian military and judicial authorities since the 2000s, i.e. since Vladimir Putin became the president. Honest prosecutors, policemen and judges are not profitable or convenient in the current law enforcement system. On the contrary, those who know how to obey and how to start a criminal trial against someone who got in the way, are in hight demand. I shared a prison ward with a former investigator. She had become an investigator out of a misplaced desire to do good that came from watching too many movies about good policemen in her childhood. She was sent to prison by her ex-husband, who was an actual cop.

      In the 1990s she had been solving cases to help save people from bad cops and malicious prosecution, and that made her happy. In 2003, she left law enforcement because the work was not interesting for her anymore. No one needed to be investigated anymore and only obedience and hardcore loyalty to superiors were highly prized—including being ready to violate the law if ordered.

      How have the people in Russia been reacting to this scandal? Are they even hearing about it?
      According to recent polls, the 38 percent of Russians who are aware of the existence of the film Chaika consider the corruption schemes and connections to criminal groups demonstrated in the documentary to be typical phenomena essential to helping modern Russian authorities maintain order.

      People often say: "But who's not mafia nowadays? Only corruption is in full bloom in our country. Mafia and corruption... and state authorities are the ones keeping everything under control. What can we do?"

      Photo by Denis Sinyakov

      How widespread is the corruption in the Russian government today?
      The system of state authorities is not just infected with corruption—it is actually firmly based on it. If a judge acquits someone nowadays, his or her colleagues immediately start suspecting them of having been bribed. Most likely, after a series of such sentences such a judge will be fired because his or her superiors would be astonished that he or she could have accepted a bribe and not shared it with them. This is why the rate of acquittals in Russia is just 0.4 percent.

      What needs to happen in order to counter this corruption—both from within Russia and from the international community?
      1) The refusal to participate in corruption
      2) The unveiling of evidence that proves the existence of many different kinds of corruption
      3) A bottle of vodka

      This video is highly stylized. Tell us about the creative process that you went through to come up with the aesthetic that we see in the video.
      Russian authorities cannot even define their own aesthetic, so we had to help them. This video represents three aesthetic elements generally promoted by the state that truly disgust me:
      1) Gilding everything to conceal the putrid core underneath—seen in the golden loaf of bread, and all the "Khokhloma" designs
      2) "Zone"—represented by the prison camp where all the prisoners are tortured
      3) Fascist populist nationalistic aesthetics—represented by the two-headed sea gull, the staging and choreography of the lady prosecutors, and the dances performed in the North Korean style.

      First I was a bit anxious as to how those three elements were going to mesh together in the framework of one video, but I calmed down eventually. I realized that if everything failed to make sense together, it's wasn't our fault, because the video is supposed to be about the hideous aesthetic choices of our government officials.

      Photo by Aleksandr Sofeev

      What is the specific significance of some of the images and themes we see like gluttony, the golden bread, the iron, etc.?
      Gluttony symbolizes the core values of the Russian governmental mafia. It is a quintessence of pococurantism, emptiness, surfeit, endless attempts at satiation with material possessions and utter hypocrisy—evidenced in the attempt to promote high moral values to its citizens. When we went to buy prosecutor's uniforms, the smallest size available was six sizes bigger than any of us could wear.

      The gilded bread represents that famous ugly golden loaf found in Yanukovich's residence when he fled the country after the Ukrainian revolution in 2014. It appears in the video as a reminder to Putin of that nothing lasts forever. The iron, ropes, whip and handcuffs are classic torture tools, natural attributes of Russian state authority.

      In this video, you've switched over to rap rather than your traditional punk rock vibe. Was this intentional? Why rap?
      Just by accident! When we make music together, or with someone else, the goal is always to create something weird as hell. In as much as rap was something very weird and unusual for Pussy Riot, we achieved our mission here.

      Photo by Aleksandr Sofeev

      It's been almost exactly four years since your performance/protest at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Do you feel that the situation in Russia today is worse, better or unchanged since then?
      Russia has turned into a different country since 2012. The most dreadful discovery took place at the end of February 2015, when we learned that you can not only be imprisoned but also shot dead in the center of Moscow because of your political activity. Many people still cannot believe that Boris Nemtsov, the Russian politician, is dead.

      What do you hope this video will do for the people of Russia and the world?
      Pussy Riot demands an immediate investigation into Prosecutor General Chaika and his family, as well as an investigation into all the top officials in his office. We hope that the video will help to convince people that we cannot live in a country where its top law enforcement official is the brightest symbol of corruption and murder. Pussy Riot hopes that people around the world will help us voice our outrage and turn Russia into a country where people like Chaika can no longer exist.

      What's next for Pussy Riot?
      FSB [the security agency that's the successor to the KGB] knows.

      This interview has been edited for clarity.

      Follow Dory Carr-Harris on Twitter.

      Topics: Pussy Riot, CHAIKA, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Putin

      Comments

      Top Stories