An all-female punk band in Moscow organizes “Guerrilla performances.”
The band “Pussy Riot” performs songs that criticize Russia’s authoritarianism and in particular, president elect Vladimir Putin.
Anchor Marco Werman talks to Miriam Elder, a reporter for the The Guardian in Moscow.
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Marco Werman: Tomorrow, opposition activists in Moscow are planning a rally to protest Vladimir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency. There have been several large anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow over the past few months. One of the fixtures of these protests has been the all-girl punk band “Pussy Riot”. The band is known for its guerrilla style performances, taking over subway stations, trams, even Moscow’s famous Christ the Savior Cathedral. Band members wear ski masks to conceal their identity. Last Saturday though, some of the women were arrested and their identities were revealed. Reporter Miriam Elder has written about the band for The Guardian Newspaper.
Miriam Elder: They got together after Vladimir Putin announced he was planning to come back to the presidency and started this punk band giving impromptu performances around Moscow with these really wild punk songs denouncing Putin and the current political situation in Russia.
Werman: First, let’s hear what they sound like. We’ve got the sound from a music video they recorded and one must say recorded rather bravely. Three members of the band are on top of a streetcar, a tram in Moscow and they are rocking out on one of their anti-Putin songs. Here is a taste of the music ["Pussy Riot" band playing]. I know a lot of people who listen to the music of “Pussy Riot” find it kind of incomprehensible. There’s a lot of chaos and feedback going on but, generally, what do their songs address?
Elder: Generally, their songs will call out Putin personally and they will attack him. One of their most famous songs they performed actually on Red Square. The title of the song was “Vladimir Putin has wet himself” but said in a rather more colorful way. So it’s really rowdy language and something that particularly in Russia is just revolutionary for two reasons. One is speaking so openly against the government but also, as women, using this kind of language is just unheard of here.
Werman: Now, last Saturday, the day before the elections that saw Vladimir Putin get re-elected to the presidency of Russia, the band was charged. What were they charged with and are any of the members still in custody?
Elder: Well there were six of them that were detained, but I’m not sure that they’ve actually been charged but they’re being threatened with the charge of hooliganism which carries a potential sentence of seven years in prison. What happened was a couple of weeks ago they went into the most famous, biggest cathedral in Moscow called the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, got up on the altar and performed on of their anti-Putin songs. Again, in a country that’s very traditional, where the Russian Orthodox Church is very powerful, some people got very upset. Then, on the eve of the election there were a couple of raids and they were taken into custody. Most of them are released but two of the young women, both of whom are single mothers, remain in custody and they’ve launched a hunger strike. There has been a pretty big movement in Moscow of people signing petitions and coming out to try to get them released.
Werman: As you say, The Christ the Savior Cathedral is a pretty sacred place for a lot of Russians; quite symbolic. Do you think that in performing in Christ the Savior Cathedral “Pussy Riot” actually may have lost some supporters in the anti-Putin movement?
Elder: Actually, what you see happening is people like Alexei Navalny who is one of leaders of this opposition movement, he wrote a blog post yesterday saying, “Now, what they did was disgusting. I would never support that kind of an act but, at the same time, this campaign against them is completely unfounded. They don’t deserve to be in jail and they should be released immediately.”
Werman: One of the things that I’ve read is that “Pussy Riot” has pointed out in interviews that Putin wears a $40,000 wristwatch, is something they say is intolerable when so many families in Russia are on the edge of poverty. It almost sounds like their critique is similar to the occupy movement going after the one percent. Are they bringing something unique to the anti-Putin movement?
Elder: They do offer a unique critique and that’s what they are kind of promoting…that every person who feels that the system is unjust should launch their own form of protest, be it art, be it music. At the very heart of it, they’re punk rockers and punk rockers are against the system, are against incredible disparities as well, and are against sexism. What’s really new about them is just bringing this kind of a punk mentality to Russia and to Russia’s protest movement.
Werman: Miriam Elder with The Guardian Newspaper speaking with us from Moscow. Thank you very much.
Elder: Thank you.
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