Protest Music

Meet Pussy Riot, Russia's Punk Protesters


Meet Pussy Riot, Russia's Punk Protesters

Photograph by Denis Sinyakov/Landov

Pussy Riot is the latest sign that the kids, at least the ones in Russia, are not alright. The punk rock collective is fond of turning up in such public places in Moscow as Red Square and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to perform songs about how much they hate Vladimir Putin. Members sport colorful skirts, leggings, and most important, masks—the better to protect their identities. Starting on April 19, a court will decide whether the band keeps rocking out or spends the next seven years in prison.

In February, members of the band, which had been formed in October, were arrested. Three of them, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samusevich, have been charged with “hooliganism” and now face prison. (None has admitted to belonging to Pussy Riot, so it’s possible that the police nabbed the wrong angry, young women.)

Apparently, it was the group’s recent performance at the cathedral that set off the Kremlin, which is closely allied with the Orthodox Church. It couldn’t have helped that Pussy Riot cranked up the volume just a few weeks before the presidential election, which to no one’s surprise was won by Putin. (This will be Putin’s second act at the Kremlin. He was president from 2000 to 2008 and then served as President Dmitry Medvedev’s prime minister. Late last year, the so-called Putin-Medvedev tandem announced, as expected, that in 2012 Medvedev would resign and Putin would run for president.) “Pussy Riot is really very much like Mikhail Khodorkovsky,” Mark Feygin, who serves on the group’s legal team, told Bloomberg Businessweek. Just like the former Yukos chief, who is now serving a seemingly endless prison term for defying the Kremlin, Pussy Riot was inherently destabilizing. “This is a very powerful, political symbol,” Feygin said.

The rise of Pussy Riot is but one of many recent manifestations of public disapproval of the Kremlin. Discontent had been building for more than a year when demonstrations erupted in December after legislative elections whose results the authorities had clearly tampered with; widespread anger spearheaded by Russia’s youth focused on the United Russia party and its leader, Putin. Alexey Navalny, the most prominent opposition leader, is just 35. Among the more visible protest factions is FEMEN—which, like Pussy Riot, is an all-girl group that uses shock value to protest the regime. Unlike the punk-rock ensemble, members of FEMEN are known for taking off their tops and screaming angry, anti-Kremlin chants.

Pussy Riot puts on a solid show, but its music is hardly groundbreaking. The band’s sound has a characteristic Ramones vibe to it. Unlike their British and American forerunners, however, the Russian rockers have something very real to be angry about, starting with their own imprisonment. Punk rock icon Kathleen Hanna, who posted a video online voicing support for Pussy Riot, said: “These are the punk rock feminists that would be our friends if they lived down the corner, up the block, in our neighborhood, around Bushwick—wherever. These would be the cool girls we hung out with.”


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