Free Pussy Riot!

It's not about perverts, but anti-Putin punks.

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25 April 2012, 7:30am

Last Thursday, the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot appeared in court after carrying out an anti-Putin "Punk Prayer" protest in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The church branded Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich "sinners" for the performance, and they were arrested for "hooliganism". If found guilty, the charge carries a seven-year maximum sentence, but it seems to have little to do with what actually happened given that nothing in the church got broken and no one got hurt (Putin and his feelings aside, perhaps).

A number of supporters showed up at last week's trial in solidarity, and 30 of them were arrested by Russian police. The stunt has managed to rally conservative Russians around the Orthodox Church at the same time that it's hinted at just how closely linked state and church are in Russia (if the fact that the church is immune to taxes and prosecution wasn't already enough of a clue).

On Monday evening, I went down to Notting Hill to see who'd brave the rain for a solidarity protest outside London's Russian embassy.


left-right: Angela, Mineka and Jason Atomic

VICE: Hey guys, why are you here today?
Mineka:
Personally, I'm here because I'm fed up with the Russian bullshit that seems to come up in the news all the time lately, like the legislation against gay people. It's just not acceptable in this day and age. I hate Russia with a passion. I'm from a post-Soviet country myself and my great-grandmother was sent to the gulag by those fuckers. They're my historical enemies and I'm not going to give them an easy ride.

What about you two? Did they put your relatives in the gulag, too?
Jason: I'm just here to express solidarity for my punk rock sisters.
Angela: I'm here because I'm against censorship, especially when it's to do with religion, sex and violence. There should be freedom of speech. 

What message of support would you like to send to the members of Pussy Riot?
Mineka:
Don't fucking stop, whatever happens. They're going to get out of jail soon anyway, and hopefully in 2012 there aren't going to be life sentences coming out of this. Russian kids really need to come out onto the streets with balaclavas. Don't let the fuckers shut you up!
Angela: Just don't tone it down!
Jason: The world's watching and we're on their side! Fuck Putin!

Is this trial the end of Pussy Riot?
Mineka:
This is just the beginning. Everyone is going to be keeping a balaclava in their closet from now on. It's going to be part of a fashion revolution, you'll see Galliano wearing one of these balaclavas on the catwalk soon.
Jason: They're like Hydras; You cut one head off, two more spring up. All it takes is for one person to cut a hole in their bobble hat and there's another Pussy Riot on the streets.

Do you think the balaclavas are a good fashion statement then? You can't seem to wear one without making some kind of political statement any more, which is a bit of a shame, because when I was a kid they were just another valuable and innocuous ally in the battle against the elements.
Mineka:
Yeah, I think the neon balaclavas are a great symbol, much better than the V for Vendetta masks. That's been so overdone, we need a new uniform. 

After about 30 mins of furious chanting, which inadvertently attracted curious stares from passers-by (a good percentage of whom assumed someone was handing out "Free Pussy"), a producer named Mike Lerner turned up fresh from Moscow, where he'd been filming the trial.

What was it like at the courthouse, Mike?
Mike Lerner:
Before the trial, about 30 Pussy Riot supporters were arrested, along with a few Christian protesters who'd thrown eggs at one of the girls' husbands. No one had a chance to shout or dance about before being swooped upon, it was pretty shocking to see. People who were just standing outside of the court with a balloon were snatched. I've never been in a Russian court before but it's so brutal, there's just a cage in the middle of the room and the defendants are brought in surrounded by eight armed guards. It's like they were bringing in Osama bin Laden – complete overkill. 


A few days after the court appearance, Mike and his crew filmed a pro-Christianity rally at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral where the band played their Punk Prayer. Roughly 10,000 people turned up to listen to Patriarch Kirill talk about the "broad attack on the church". 

What did Patriach Kirrill say at the rally?
Mike:
He didn't talk directly about Pussy Riot, but he referred to recent disturbances and the tainting of the church. And some people brought in damaged icons from other churches as if they were somehow linked. It's true that a number of churches have been vandalised in recent weeks, but ten churches are probably vandalised every week, anyway, it's just that now people are paying more attention. They tried to make is look as if the church is under some wider attack, but I'm not sure that it is.

Pussy Riot weren't charged at this recent court appearance. When are they next in front of the judge?
They're next in court in June, where they could get their sentence or be made to wait another two months – this could go on for years. Their legal team is fairly pessimistic; the judge has talked about the band inciting religious hatred, which is one of the reasons they're not letting them go on bail. Plus, it turns out the judge is one of Putin's favourites.

But you'll go on fighting?
Of course!

For updates on the trial visit: freepussyriot.org

Follow Henry on twitter: @henry_langston

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