Pussy Riot: Understand it in 2 minutes.

by VICTORIA BIRCH

The music contained in the following clip may not be your thing.   You may not appreciate apoplectic guitars or vocals spat out like bullets.   It doesn’t matter.

The music may not interest you but the fate of the women in this video matters to each and every one of us.

The women in the acid bright balaclavas form the feminist punk band Pussy Riot.   Over the last few weeks the band has dominated global news cycles as three of its members stood trial in Russia for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility”.

On February 21 this year, Pussy Riot staged an unauthorised performance of their anarchist song  ‘Hail Mary, Expel Putin’ in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.  Subsequently, band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina were arrested.

The three women have since been convicted and sentenced to two years in a penal colony.

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At first glance it may appear as if Pussy Riot’s subversion of Russia’s authoritarian conservatism amounts to little more than youthful insurrection; kids sticking their fingers up at the system through shock and awe tactics.

Pussy Riot is so much more than that.

Using flash-mob style performances, the women shake public spaces with day-glo colours, flags, smoke and noise. The performances are never aimless attention seeking exercises.   These eye-popping exhibitions (videoed and posted on the web) are designed to make the world take notice, designed to ensure as many people as possible hear the women’s politically charged message.

That message is primarily focused on undermining Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. His re-election earlier this year was dogged by suspicions of carefully managed corruption and there is disquiet about his ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. In a supposedly secular country, Putin’s favour with the influential head of the church, Patriach, Krill I, is what drove Pussy Riot to perform their ‘punk prayer’ at the Moscow cathedral.

Masked Pussy Riot supporters

Russia is rattled by the huge global interest in the band. Pre-trial, Putin stated that he hoped the women wouldn’t be treated too harshly, a sure sign he was nervous about the potential fall-out from women’s sentencing.  Pussy Riot scored a political body blow and reminded Putin any abuse of power would not go unchecked.

If you’re wondering why all of this matters, here are a few reasons why the Pussy Riot trial should keep you awake at night:

1)   The women have been convicted on grounds of religious hatred, despite their ‘punk prayer’ containing zero references to the Russian Orthodox Church, its teachings or its followers.  At worst, the women offended churchgoers by dressing in bright clothes and making a bit of a scene.

2)   Two of the women have children. Their conviction will unjustly deprive young children of their mothers for two years (devastating for all concerned).

3)   The women’s imprisonment on highly questionable charges suggests Putin’s desire to clamp down on political protest and freedom of expression is readily supported within the judicial system.

4)   Acceptance of the sentence means acceptance of the implicit warning being issued by Putin and Russian authorities regarding the consequences of future political protest.

If that isn’t enough, it’s worth remembering this isn’t just a foreign issue in a far away land.  Yes, Australia enjoys a robust democracy where the judicial and political processes are largely fair and transparent.  However, Australia’s reluctance to help Julian Assange avoid extradition to Sweden (and possible persecution by the US) suggests we’re not averse to punishing political dissent either.

This is why we all have a vested interest in doing what we can to help secure freedom for the women from Pussy Riot.    Not only is it a good thing to help those who have been unjustly treated, we should also be making a noisy song and dance about the importance of free and vigorous political discourse.

Pussy Riot members on trial – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, left, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevic

OK, so what can we actually do?

A big issue the women face is waning interest in their predicament. Two years is an eternity in the churn of global news and nothing would help the Russian authorities more than everyone forgetting about Pussy Riot.

So, for anyone (and this means everyone, right?) who cares about political freedom, the right to express political dissent, miscarriages of justice, false imprisonment and the need of a child to be with his or her mother – keeping Pussy Riot at the forefront of discussion is paramount.

There’s lots of activity happening all over the world right now in support of the band: activist days, music events, readings and demonstrations.  Find the thing that floats your boat, get involved and keep doing it.

If you’ve spent plenty of time navel gazing and chit-chatting about injustice and inequality but done very little to actually make a change (and that’s probably 99% of us) – here’s your chance.

I’ll be tweeting something about Pussy Riot every day the women are in prison (under #730days). What will you do?

Victoria Birch is a writer and music obsessive living in Sydney. She is the proud owner of two small children and an extensive collection of pre-loved leather handbags. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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