Pussy Riot What Have They Achieved


Has personal tragedy overshadowed international, political success?


Pussy Riot, a feminist punk-rock band, has recently shaken up the public mind in Russia. Founded in August 2011, the collective of approximately twelve members amazed and confused passers-by with their sudden provocative performances. The distinctive feature of this band was a bright-color ‘balaclava’, a face-obscuring mask. Being a relatively minor source of trouble, they continued their unannounced gatherings until March 2012. However, following their ‘visit’ to Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, three members were arrested and convicted of hooliganism, for performing a ‘politically incorrect’ song. The result was too foreseeable for many, and probably, for some, too much awaited. The trial finished on 17th August with the expected result: a two-year sentence to each arrested participant. Although this verdict signified a success for the authorities against the band, the personal tragedy of the imprisoned should be separated from the international political success of Pussy Riot.


Nadezhda Tolkonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, the three members of the band who were convicted, are said to have performed a religiously disrespectful song in the Moscow cathedral. The piece was undoubtedly very political in nature. It addressed the increasing collaboration between the Russian Orthodox Church and governmental authorities, implicitly criticising the overwhelming obedience of churchgoers to both; an act of undoubtedly provocative nature aimed at raising a politically discomforting topic, which few had previously declared in public.


No matter how strong or otherwise one’s religious sentiments might be, the location chosen for Pussy Riot’s performance was inappropriate. The church has symbolic and spiritual functions and should not be used as an arena for political protest; what is more, Pussy Riot sang a punk prayer, adding fuel to the fire. However, the location does not seem to be as inappropriate as the sentence the three have to face. Perhaps their actions were too bold and explicit for Russian people.

When it comes to themes of great political sensitivity, people naturally group together based on their opinion. The incident and Pussy Riot’s arrest prompted public discourse and anger. TV channels were bombarded with clearly biased programs and newspapers were stuffed with articles of various viewpoints. While the message of TV programs stated and emphasized the disrespectful offence to the Russian Orthodox Church, left-wing newspapers gladly continued their vehement criticism of the flaws and sins of current authorities. Those who believe that Pussy Riot’s actions are morally and politically reprehensible are now at peace knowing that the culprits are finally behind the bars. However, those who are able to peel off the biased veil seem to be concerned with the current state of affairs in Russia. This group understands that the trial of the band has confirmed a simple and unspoken truth: in Russia, the law is not separate from government interests. The occasions when the government does interfere, may, in fact, encompass all stratums of society and all levels of economic activity. What Pussy Riot has also managed to show is that any politically controversial topic has the potential to polarize Russian society. In the absence of a meaningful discussion, people tend to exchange signals of approval or disapproval, rather than sound arguments. However, this re-confirmation of views, which has already been prevalent for some time, appears to be a relatively minor achievement by Pussy Riot, in comparison to the huge amount of both national and international support they have attracted.

Amnesty International named them prisoners of conscience. Madonna performed with a ‘balaclava’ on her head in Moscow’s show. People from various European countries and many Russian cities organized public protests. At the same time, the Western mass media enjoyed portraying the flaws of Russian democracy, with big announcements and catchy headlines. The unexpected international success of Pussy Riot is, therefore, hardly advantageous for the image of the Kremlin. This is a strong indicator that Pussy Riot as a project has been politically successful, despite the personal tragedy of those three members who have been imprisoned.

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