Pussy Riot Press Tour Doesn’t Help Russia’s Image

Pussy_Riot

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Two members of the all-female Russian punk band and political art collective Pussy Riot went on The Colbert Report on Tuesday night, telling the talk show host about their time in prison and what life is like in Russia as the country prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Pussy Riot is known for performing concerts while wearing balaclavas. The group protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin and advocates for LGBTQ rights and free speech.

“We sang a fun song in church,” they said after being asked what they did to get arrested. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24,  and Maria Alyokhina, 25, were both imprisoned for two years after being arrested for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” per the BBC. The particular performance they were arrested for was of a song entitled “Punk Prayer — Mother of God Chase Putin Away,” which they sang inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The performance was to protest the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Putin.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina traded jokes with Colbert via an interpreter. When Colbert told them that anything bad they said about Putin would be edited out of the show, they said that they were making their own video of the interview. Colbert responded by saying “You will be searched when you leave the building,” and Tolokonnikova fired back, “We’ve had two years of practice hiding things from searches.”

“They got sick of us. Both the prison administrators and Putin who they had to report to about everything,” Alyokhina said when Colbert asked why the “dangerous criminals” had been released from prison.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released from prison on December 23 after serving 21-month sentences that involved hunger strikes and Tolokonnikova at one point being so lost in the system so that not even her husband knew where she had been moved. Pussy Riot has gained some famous supporters in the West, including Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sting, and Paul McCartney. Many outside of Russia have viewed Putin’s treatment of the women as a gross violation of human rights and a backwards attempt to suppress free speech.

Many feel that Putin only released the women as a publicity stunt to make Russia look better on the eve of the Winter Olympics. This strategy hasn’t worked so well, since Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have gone on a press tour badmouthing Putin and ripping apart his efforts to make Russia look good for the Olympics. “We don’t think it was a very successful political stunt. We don’t think it improved the image of Russia, so maybe Putin made a mistake and he should just throw us back in jail,” Tolokonnikova said.

“Can anyone be in Pussy Riot?” Colbert asked. “Of course. Even you,” the ladies responded.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina gave a news conference at the Amnesty International offices in Manhattan upon their arrival in the U.S. earlier this week. The women said they planned to form their own human rights organization and are proud of what their activism has accomplished so far. They also commented on the Russian government’s efforts to clean up the city of Sochi in time for the Olympics.

“It’s not the Olympic Village you see on TV,” Alyokhina said of Sochi, via Billboard. “Look beyond those buildings.”

“We are never afraid to perform,” said Tolokonnikova, in Russian.

“We are proud of what we did,” Alyokhina added. “We are proud it landed us in prison.”

While the women did not perform at Amnesty International’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert at the Barclays Center on Wednesday evening, they did attend the event and were announced by Madonna. Other supporters in attendance included Yoko Ono and Blondie. The women have been in conversations with the United Nations and Amnesty International, and have plans to tour U.S. prisons.

“This is certainly not the time for us to be afraid. In these two years since the act for which we were imprisoned, the situation in Russia has gotten so much worse. And if we couldn’t keep quiet about it then, then we certainly won’t keep quiet about it now,” Tolokonnikova said to the New York Times. If their release was an attempt on the part of Putin to get some good press, it has clearly backfired, as the women are drawing the world’s attention to Russia’s human rights violations on the eve of the Winter Olympics.

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