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Pussy Riot, fighting more than Putin

D'Arcy Briggs

October 5, 2012


Pussy Riot is the latest protest phenomenon in Russia, which is experiencing a year of revolt like many countries around the world. While some in the West claim to defend the punk group as a way of criticizing Russia, Pussy Riot’s politics don’t only oppose Putin and their own state but also the international system of capitalism.
Russia’s Pussy Riot formed in 2011 and has been making news headlines around the world in early 2012. They are a radical anarcho-feminist collective who hold public performances that are based out of performance art, musical concert, and radical politics. Their website (a sparse Livejournal) says “ a punk group that acts illegally…The political interests of member states and members of the group – feminism, anti-law enforcement, protection of LGBT communities, the radical decentralization of power, saving the Khimki forest and transfer of the capital of Russia in Eastern Siberia.”
Many members are also part of the Voina (“war” in Russian) anarchist art collective. The group is known within Russia for their art installations, happenings, vandalism, and destruction of public property. These events are frequently sexual in nature and the group maintains that they are extreme in order to showcase both their politics and the horror of the system they live under. Three members were sentenced to two years jail—in what Amnesty International calls “a bitter blow for freedom of expression”—sparking solidarity from around the world.
Pro-punk or anti-Russian?
Artists such as Bjork, Madonna, Yoko Ono, and even Geddy Lee of the Canadian rock band Rush have offered their support to the group, and have condemned Russia’s actions. Reacting to the prison sentence given to three members of Pussy Riot, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s press secretary Rick Roth claimed Canada “believes strongly in the rule of law, administered independently and without political bias or motivation.” This being said at a time where Canada’s federal government is deporting war resisters to jail, ignoring multiple parliamentary motions and international law.
All over Canada, communal housing and garden projects, as well as concerts and educational workshops are shut down frequently and self-identified punks are arrested—and there is no international outcry. Canada also has its own history of jailing punk musicians: in 1983, Gerry Hannah (lead singer of the Subhumans) was arrested for being a member of the Squamish 5 and supporting, though not always participating, in the acts of direct action (the group also called itself “Direct Action”).
With Pussy Riot, the mainstream media, as well as countries like Canada and the US, offer highly-selected support towards a group of individuals and the punishment they face, but not what the group stands for. The claim is that Pussy Riot are performing and acting as agents against issues unique to Russia, and that the government’s oppression is also a uniquely Russian product.
Pussy Riot’s politics
But Pussy Riot is international in their scope. They stand against patriarchy, capitalism, and oppression wherever it stands, not just in Russia. As members of a radical-left movement, they are critical of more than just Putin and their own state. They are critical of capitalism, and the oppression it breeds.
Pussy Riot is part of the punk movement, which is generally quite political and subversive in its music, fashion, and ideology. Members of the community are frequently arrested for staging or participating in events. While Pussy Riot does sing about topics unique to Russia, they also maintain that they are “part of the global anti-capitalist movement, which consists of anarchists, Trotskyists, feminists and autonomists.”
Of course we should offer them our support, but perhaps to also be critical of those mainstream supporters as well, and gain a critical and complex understanding of what it means to develop an internationalist attitude, even if we’re starting with a group of punks.


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