I don’t speak Russian, but that doesn’t keep me from being able to hear the anger and the passion in songs like “Kill the Sexist” and “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland”. It also doesn’t require fluent Russian to see that something is wrong in a country when 6 protestors get beat by the whips of paramilitary police for a brief, silly demonstration.
Of course, I’m talking about Pussy Riot, the punk collective/political and social rights activists focused on defending the rights of the marginalized Russian people (especially but not limited to woman, prisoners and homosexuals) from the [President] Vladimir Putin led government, a regime they accuse of being a dictatorship rather than a presidency. Pussy Riot members have been in and out of jail for various protests and demonstrations, the most notable incident coming after Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina were imprisoned for 2 years following a demonstration music video shot in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
But Pussy Riot is relentless. Right after being released from prison early in a show of “mercy” from President Putin ahead of the Sochi Olympics, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were again imprisoned for supporting 8 Russian protestors that participated in the 2011-2013 Russian protests (commonly referred to as the “Snow Revolution”) in a demonstration outside of the courtroom. Those arrests came after the aforementioned whippings in Sochi.
There are punk bands, and then there are punk bands with balls. The Russian government isn’t an institution that many people choose to mess with, and President Vladimir Putin isn’t somebody you win an argument with. But Pussy Riot doesn’t care. How punk is that? Whether or not they’re being whipped, mocked, kicked, or arrested, they don’t stop. They just do not care. Punk.
“This is my country, understand?” says the male Russian Cossack (paramilitary police officer) that beat Pussy Riot with whips. The Russian “Old World” is clashing with the “New World”, and it’s tough to determine who’s winning. While Pussy Riot and other demonstrators make waves in New Media, it’s still the old world mentality that dominates politics and the social mentality in today’s Russia. And it’s the same old world forces (*Ahem* Vladimir Putin) that decided to invade Crimea, Ukraine. Yes that’s right, as I type away on my MacBook in the middle of class, the Russian military is currently occupying the southernmost island of Ukraine, and threatening to assault the rest of the country if the situation doesn’t stabilize.
It is a volatile situation in the Eastern world. Four years removed from the Georgian invasion, and in the wake of various Ukrainian uprisings and revolts, Russia has deployed and positioned troops in the pro-Russian, yet still Ukrainian region of Crimea, and has also set in motion a massive training exercise across the northern Ukraine-Russia border, priming their forces for an invasion. Uncertain times like these invariably mean change…
Re-enter Pussy Riot.
Change requires strong voices. To me, it is apparent that change is required when whippings are accepted punishment for free speech, and invasion is the answer to a revolution. Pussy Riot is a voice to be listened to, a small yet growing crowd of voices screaming out for equality and the end of oppression. Russia and Ukraine now stand at a crossroads that is relevant for the entirety of the eastern world, and the rest of the world at large. We should all be paying attention, especially because Pussy Riot won’t stop screaming out until we do. (And I hope they don’t.)
– Nick Vogt