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THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON: How Vladimir Putin Made Pussy Riot The Only Band That Matters

 

THE GUARDIAN: By the end of the first week of Pussy Riot‘s trial, everyone in the shabby Moscow courthouse was tired. Guards, armed with submachine guns, grabbed journalists and threw them out of the room at will. The judge, perched in front of a shabby Russian flag, refused to look at the defence. And the police dog – a 100lb black Rottweiler – no longer sat in the corner she had occupied since the start of Russia‘s trial of the year, but barked and foamed at the mouth as if she were in search of blood. The trial of the three band members, jailed since March after performing a “punk prayer” against Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral, has been about more than the charges brought against them – formally, hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In five days of testimony, lawyers and witnesses have laid bare the stark divide that has emerged in Russian society: one deeply conservative and accepting of a state that uses vague laws and bureaucracy to control its citizens, the other liberal bordering on anarchist and beginning to fight against that state with any means it can. The court is dominated by a glass cage that holds the three women – Maria Alyokhina, who has emerged as their unofficial spokeswoman; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, whose chiselled features have made her the band’s unofficial face; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who sits in a corner of the cage looking every bit the disgruntled punk. MORE

FOREIGN POLICY: Pussy Riot is — to borrow the Clash’s mantle for a second — the only band that matters.  It almost doesn’t matter what the court says. The three women of Pussy Riot — an explosive, obnoxious cross between a band and an anonymous Russian dissidents’ movement — have, in an important sense, already won their farce of a trial in Moscow. Every day that their trial for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” continues, they call international attention to the paranoid repression of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Pussy Riot has skewered Putin on the horns of a dilemma: Either his government convicts the band and martyrs it even further, or it backs down and concedes that prosecuting the masked trio for a cacophonous musical protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral that called attention to the Russian church’s alliance with the Putin regime was always a mistake. Three of the five band members now face the prospect of seven years in prison, which has prompted an unlikely international outcry. On Thursday, Aug. 2, ahead of a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin indicated he’d prefer to back down.

This is not supposed to happen. Dissidents do not fare well in Putinist Russia, for one; for another, punk rock — rock ‘n’ roll’s snottier, wittier, and more abrasive bastard child — does not typically win. Punk has a long history of aspiring to disrupt corrupt and authoritarian governments, corporations, and other structures of international power. But it does not have a long history of success. Accordingly, punk rock has set more achievable, less globalized political goals: typically, localized protests and raising consciousness. Pussy Riot, obscure just months ago, is now an international phenomenon, with the three band members proclaimed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International and the band the darling of long-suffering Russian intellectuals who have rallied to its defense. And while no one may be talking about the group for its music, a look back at the history of punk rock’s earlier geopolitical achievements shows that Pussy Riot has already surpassed them — and perhaps given punk rock a future as a global force for justice and freedom. MORE

THE NATION: As I’ve described before, members of the group seized the stage of Russia’s iconic Christ the Savior Cathedral just before the country’s March elections, performing (and recording) a musical plea to the Virgin Mary to oust Vladimir Putin. The cadre of Russian artists and activists descended from the performance artists Voina (“War”), who were influenced by the US punk movement Riot grrrl. Its story might have ended there, if not for a truly authoritarian response from the Russian government. Three alleged participants were arrested, threatened with seven years of imprisonment, and placed in a pre-trial detention that’s been extended for months. Now, Pussy Riot is world famous—as is its stunt. The longer they’re in prison, the more attention they get. It’s been gratifying to see the outpouring of support for these women. It’s come from insiders and outsiders alike, in Russia and abroad. Key Putin backers have broken with him on Pussy Riot. More than 400,000 Russians have signed an online petition protesting their arrest and detention. The Washington Post editorialized in defense of the activists. Punk artists around the world have voiced their solidarity. British writer Stephen Fry has called on his more than 4.6 million Twitter followers “to do everything to help Pussy Riot” and “pressure Putin” in connection with the trial. Amnesty International named Pussy Riot prisoners of conscience; its US activists have planned a guerilla art exhibit and a solidarity concert at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC. The crackdown on Pussy Riot is part of a broader attack on dissent in Russia. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the introduction and rapid passage of a quartet of laws that undermine Russia’s democratic ambitions: (Re-)criminalization of “defamation”; a blacklist of “harmful” websites; punitive fines on participants in “unsanctioned” protests; and a mandate that nonprofits declare foreign funding and brand themselves “foreign agents.” MORE




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