Russian Punk Rock Girls’ Fight for Freedom

On rare occasion, there is a band or singer that comes out of the abyss to raise hell and rock the world. Sinead O’Conner did it when she tore up a picture of the Pope. Madonna did it when she mocked the Catholic Church and wore rosaries and a cross while singing ‘Like A Virgin.’ The Sex Pistols did it with their fury and anthem of ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’, and the Beatles did it when Lennon said they were bigger than Jesus Christ and screamed ‘Helter Skelter.’ I could go on, from the Rolling Stones, to Bob Dylan, and more, but you get the idea. As long as there has been rock music, there has been rebellion in the movement of rock that has provoked, shocked, and offended, be it against the church, the state, or even specific leaders one may oppose.


P*ssy Riot blasted on to the forefront of mainstream media as violently and suddenly as their antics. They were born of a movement stronger than music itself-an anarchistic style art collective built on radical performance protest. To say they were successful in their goals is an understatement. To say they are young, bold, brave, cute and cool would be correct.

P*ssy Riot is a Russian, feminist punk group born of subversive art protest, reportedly forming in October 2011. Through a series of peaceful yet powerful and shocking performances in highly visible places, the group has given voice to basic rights reportedly under threat in Russia today, while expressing the principles of gender equality, democracy, and freedom of expression contained in the Russian constitution and other international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


While at times consisting of up to eleven members-with two who have reportedly fled Russia after the bands persecution-the three members of P*ssy Riot getting global attention now due to their recent arrests include; Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, age 29.

In discussing their similarity to feminist punk band Bikini Kill, P*ssy Riot states, “What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, and a non-standard female image. The difference is that Bikini Kill performed at specific music venues, while we hold unsanctioned concerts. On the whole, Riot Grrrl was closely linked to Western cultural institutions, whose equivalents don’t exist in Russia.”

The band further states, “P*ssy Riot’s performances can either be called dissident art or political action that engages art forms. Either way, our performances are a kind of civic activity amidst the repressions of a corporate political system that directs its power against basic human rights and civil and political liberties.”


Lyrics to most P*ssy Riot songs are simultaneously anti-government and pro-feminist. Their song ‘Kropotkin Vodka’ takes its title from Russian anarchist intellectual author Peter Kropotkin, and metaphorically concerns the covert poisoning assassinations of Kremlin officials presumably committed by Putin’s administration.

On February 21, 2012, as part of a protest movement against the re-election of Vladimir Putin, five women from the group entered The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. They shed their winter clothing and pulled colorful balaclavas-which they are known for-down over their faces. They then walked up the steps leading to the altar, crossed themselves, bowed to the altar and began a performance, later described by the group as a “Punk Prayer.” After less than a minute, they were escorted outside the building by guards. Film footage of the performance was later used to create a video clip for the song, entitled “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away.” In the song, they invoked the name of the Virgin Mary, and urged her to get rid of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and to “become a feminist.”

P*ssy Riot released a single in August 2012 as the court case against three of their members drew to a close. It was called Putin zazhigaet kostry (“Putin Lights Up The Fires”), and had lyrics referring to issues around the case. Among other demands, the lyrics request that “Seven years (imprisonment) is not enough, give us eighteen!” Maria Alyokhina, who is vegan, reportedly collapsed from hunger during the trial due to Russian prisons not providing food she could eat. All three members reportedly went on a hunger strike before the trial to protest two of the members not being allowed to see their young children.

The three detained members of P*ssy Riot are recognized as political prisoners by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners. Amnesty International named them prisoners of conscience due to “the severity of the response of the Russian authorities.”


All three band members were convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor in the Russian gulag penal colony on August 17th, 2012. The judge stated that they had “crudely undermined the social order” with their protest, showing a “complete lack of respect” for believers. Certainly, what they did was offensive and rude to the church, yes. But if three clothed girls dancing and rocking in a nearly empty church for a few moments can undermine Russia’s social order, than that social order is so pathetic and weak as to perhaps need undermined. A sentence of two years of prison labor for a few minutes of disorderly conduct is insanity, and sad proof that unlike what Russian government would like the world to believe, it is still a political system that is barbaric. Whether one agrees with the bands message or actions is irrelevant. The point is, three young woman are currently in prison for a two year sentence and possibly being starved, beaten, refused sleep (as is suspected), and doing hard slave type labor for a few minutes of rebellion that damaged no property and caused no physical harm. The sentence of P*ssy Riot itself proves exactly what the band was protesting-a Russian government gone mad.

Being more rational, most church leaders themselves asked for a lighter sentence for the young women. Defense lawyers said they would appeal the verdict, although they saw little prospect of it being overturned. “Under no circumstances will the girls ask for a pardon (from Putin),” stated their attorney Mark Feygin. “They will not beg and humiliate themselves before such a bastard.” The insane sentence itself is viewed as revenge by Putin who is reportedly known for his brutal treatment of critics.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova stated that “Our imprisonment serves as a clear and unambiguous sign that freedom is being taken away from the entire country.” Former world chess champion and a long standing opposition member Garry Kasparov, who tried to attend the reading of the verdict, was reportedly arrested and beaten, among were reportedly other supporters and protesters.

Even The United States embassy in Moscow tweeted that the sentence “looks disproportionate to the actions,” and the U.S. State Department asked Russia to “review this case and to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.” Russia didn’t. The U.S. State Department stated they were displeased with the verdict. And, even United States of America President Barack Obama expressed disappointment, with The White House stating, “We have serious concerns about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system.” Over two thousand prisoners have reportedly died in the past six months alone, on route to the prison gulag the girls are being shipped off to for the two year sentence. If you would like to help fight for these girls rights, visit the link here.

P*ssy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova reportedly states that she regrets nothing about their actions. She reportedly states that “P*ssy Riot’s goal remains a revolution in Russia.” The way things are looking, these punk rock girls just might. Viva la P*ssy Riot!

According to recent reports, the Russian court postponed an appeal Monday by the girls, after one of them fired her three lawyers. One of the defense lawyers for one of the girls said that the young women were “under tremendous pressure, with the government threatening to take away their children.”

Works cited: Official P*ssy Riot blog, Free P*ssy Riot website, Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, as well as various other mainstream network media news sources for fact checking purposes only.

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