Punk Rock Protest: Pussy Riot by Carina Vo

Taken from Google Images
Taken from Google Images

As rebels worldwide fight for what they believe is politically just, they revolt through a number of mediums, from strikes to violent riots to silent protests. One medium in particular, however, is not particularly violent, nor is it silent at all.

Russian rebel band, Pussy Riot, have channeled their outrage through punk rock and protest art. Founded in August 2011 by women sporting neon ski masks, the band demands public attention as they fight for feminism and LGBTQ rights, and against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies.

Shocking the public by playing provocative surprise shows dubbed “guerilla performances”, and posting controversial music videos online, Pussy Riot have already gained quite a reputation – blasphemers to the Orthodox church, criminals to the Russian government, and YouTube phenoms to the internet.

The band began with a test run three years ago – they spoke on “punk feminism” and played their feminist song, “Kill the Sexist” for their fellow political protest artists in Voina. But their first public performance seemed barely experimental as they stood atop a scaffold at the Moscow Metro and played “Release the Cobblestones” while tearing apart feather down pillows. With feathers raining down around them and the crowds below, the band urged the masses to protest the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Pussy Riot later began claiming more and more unexpected public places as their venues, including the roof of a detention center, an automobile display unit, and most prominently the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The band’s 2012 performance at the cathedral included their song, “Mother of God, Chase Putin Away”, which expressed the band’s indignation against the Orthodox Church’s support of Putin.

This “blasphemous” performance at the cathedral marked a turning point for Pussy Riot. It was recorded and posted online as a music video entitled “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” In the video, the band is shown raucously jumping in front of the altar and later being escorted out by guards. And while the band did establish an online presence, two of their members also established a prison presence.

After that performance, the Orthodox Church demanded that the government deem blasphemy illegal. Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, two alleged members of Pussy Riot, were arrested on account of “premeditated hooliganism performed by an organized group of people motivated by religious hatred or hostility” on March 3, 2012, despite pleading “not guilty” and arguing that they did not mean to offend anyone, but simply make a political statement.

Many refused to support Pussy Riot’s imprisonment. The foreign ministries of both the United States and the European Union claimed that the sentence was “disproportionate”. BBC Monitoring, in the European and American press, stated that there was an “almost universal condemnation” of the band’s sentence. On December 19, 2013, Putin announced that the three Pussy Riot prisoners would be released under amnesty, but only after he signed a bill that would incarcerate or fine those who offend people’s religious beliefs earlier that year.

Pussy Riot did not stop. During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, they attempted to film a music video at the Olympic Park. Rather than recording a video of their performance, the band was beaten by security guards, and the graphic recording of this attack was posted online.

Refusing to be known as beaten down, Pussy Riot struck back. Shortly after they were publicly flogged in Sochi, the band released their music video for “Putin Will Teach You To Love Your Country”, which included footage of the beating. The song’s title is deceiving: the video takes a stab at Putin’s condemnation of free speech and public expression, as well as the $50 billion spent on the Winter Olympics.

When the band visisted America, they received positive publicity. Nadezhda and Tolokonniva were interviewed on The Colbert Report, speaking on their endeavors of promoting their beliefs. During their interview, they spoke of how members of Pussy Riot publicly kissed female police officers, backing up their LGBTQ support. When Pussy Riot was confronted by the officers, the women said, “Why did you have to do it in public?”

Yet only 6% of the 1600 Russians in 45 cities nationwide sympathized with the members of Pussy Riot. For the most part, Russian opinion of the band was negative. On March 6, 2014, five men attacked Nadezhda and Tolokonniva at a McDonald’s. The country they fight for still refuses them, but the band will continue to hit hard.

Between their punk rock approach and their relentlessness towards their beliefs, Pussy Riot is a prime example of rising youth involvement in worldwide political protest. Their movement, along with the rebellions in Ukraine and Venezuela, emphasizes the growth of a younger generation of rebels. But not only are they rebels, they are activists, fighting for their rights.

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