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Pussy Riot


A handful of Rock groups are known for their political activism - U2, Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down and The Clash - while countless others have written songs criticizing government leaders or their actions. A lot of times, these protests go barely noticed. But in '12, Pussy Riot, a little known Russian female Punk band staged a political protest that resulted in charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." The group was put on trial facing the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence.

Here's how it came about.





Vladimir Putin's was campaigning for a third term as Russia's President. Seeking an endorsement, Putin paid a visit to Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Like many countries, Russia (once the home of "godless communists") tacitly believed in the separation of church and state. However, in the meeting with Kirill, Putin pledged roughly $120 million for the construction of Orthodox churches. "We must move away from the primitive notion of separation between church and state," said Putin. "On the contrary, we must devote ourselves to the totally different idea of cooperation." Needless to say, Putin got the Church's endorsement.

The cozy church/state relations seemed reminiscent of czarist Russia.

On February 21st, 2012, Pussy Riot wearing balaclavas (a type of ski mask), accompanied by a group of photographers and cameramen, showed up at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, the holiest site in Russian Orthodoxy, and sang a "Punk prayer" titled "Mother Of God, Chase Putin Away!" on the church altar. Church security moved in and hauled the group out after they had performed for a little over a minute.

The video of "Mother Of God, Chase Putin Away!" featured Pussy Riot in a lively but sloppy synchronized performance and the Church's angry and/or confused staff. Much of the music was obviously dubbed in later. Even so, the video racked up more than 250,000 YouTube views and Pussy Riot became a symbol of the opposition movement.

Putin won re-election on March 5th. Within days, band members, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested. Rather than being charged with creating a disturbance or simple trespassing, they faced a much more serious charge of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" which, if convicted, carried a sentence of two to seven years in prison. The charge totally ignored the political intent of their protest. The women were locked up without bail.

When court proceedings began in early August, Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich all entered pleas of not guilty. "Our motives had nothing to do with religious hatred," said Tolokonnikova. "It is incredibly cruel to impose such motivations on us Our actions were political."

"The court cannot ignore our ideology," added Alyokhina.

The trial was immediately seen as an attempt by Putin's government to harshly crack down on any protest. Journalist called the proceedings a kangaroo court or witch hunt. This perception was reinforced by government witnesses who did not see the actual protest first-hand but claimed to have been deeply disturbed by the news of it.

During the trial Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich were kept in the courtroom's bullet-proof glass cell surrounded by sub machine gun toting guards. It reminded many of a Soviet-era show trial.

Meanwhile, Putin travelled to London to attend the Olympic Games. While there, he claimed that there was "nothing good" about Pussy Riots' protest but felt the issue was up to the court to decide. "Nonetheless, I don't think that they should be judged so harshly for this," he said. "I hope the court will come out with the right decision, a well-founded one." Many discounted Putin's comments because he was said to control the courts and would likely have final say.

Western governments, human rights groups and Rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, criticized the trial and called for the immediate release of Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich.

The Who's Pete Townshend and several other British musicians published a letter in The London Times supporting the group. "Dissent is a right in any democracy and it is entirely disproportionate that they face seven years in jail for what we consider a preposterous charge of 'hooliganism motivated by religious hatred'," stated the letter. "We believe firmly that it is the role of the artist to make legitimate political protest and fight for freedom of speech."

As the trial was winding down even Madonna showed her support for Pussy Riot. During a Moscow concert she donned the band's trademark balaclava and stripped to a black bra to show their name on her back.

Paul McCartney wrote an open letter to Pussy Riot. "I would like you to know that I very much hope the Russian authorities would support the principle of free speech for all their citizens and not feel that they have to punish you for your protest."

Meanwhile...

"Katya (Samutsevich), Masha (Alyokhina) and I are sitting in jail but I do not believe we have been defeated, just like the dissidents were not defeated," said Tolokonnikova during the trial. "With every day, more and more people believe us, and believe in us, and think we should not be behind bars."

Despite international pressure, Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich were found guilty as charged ("hooliganism driven by religious hatred and offending religious believers") on August 17th, '12. They were sentenced to two years in prison.

On October 10th, a Russian court suspended Samutsevich's sentence. Her lawyer stated she didn't participate in the February "Punk prayer" protest against Putin because she had been stopped and led away before it began. The sentences for Tolokonnikova, 22, and Alyokhina, 24, were upheld.

But in December, '13, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released from prison, three months early.

When things calmed down a bit, for Pussy Riot, not the world, the group released a music video in '15 for the song "Refugees In," which was dedicated to refugees arriving in Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and other war-torn countries. The clip featured live footage filmed during a concert in England.

"xxx" was the title of a '16 EP. It contained "Make America Great Again," a dig at presidential candidate and Russian president Vladimir Putin pal Donald Trump, plus the tracks "Straight Outta Vagina" and "Organs."

Pussy Riot Discography

EP:

2016 xxx

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