How Punk Band's 1-Minute Protest Disrupted a Nation

PHOTO: An upcoming HBO documentary follows Russian punk rock band, Pussy Riot, as they perform and are eventually arrested.
Share
Copy

They call themselves "jokers, jesters, holy fools," the moral conscience of Putin's Russia. One patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church calls them "deranged vaginas."

On Feb. 21, 2012, Pussy Riot, the feminist performance artist/punk rock group, donned pink and orange minidresses and bright neon balaclavas to conceal their identities, and entered Christ the Savior Cathedral, a garish spectacle of a church in the center of Moscow that for them symbolized an unhealthy, authoritarian relationship between church and state. And they did what they had been doing for the previous three months on the streets of Moscow, in beauty parlors and the windows of expensive boutiques, atop a garage rooftop next to a prison, outside the walls of the Kremlin: They performed.

As a priest with elaborate vestments and incense and a long beard offered sacraments to dutiful worshippers, Pussy Riot offered their own punk-rock prayer, "Mother of God, Banish Putin," dancing, screaming, punching the air, calling on the Virgin Mary to "become a feminist" and rid Russia of Vladimir Putin.

Their flash-mob-like performance lasted less than a minute before they were escorted out by security guards. Nevertheless, "it was like a bomb going off," said Mike Lerner, a co-director of "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," a documentary that will air tonight on HBO. "You've got five women in a cathedral, doing a vaguely absurd thing, and it causes this massive eruption in society."

Protests spun out not only in Moscow but in New York, Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin. A video on YouTube of the church protest has received more than a million views. Madonna performed "Like a Virgin" in a balaclava and dedicated her performance to Pussy Riot in a Moscow concert in August 2012. Yoko Ono tweeted, "#PussyRiotTrial Mr Putin, you're a smart man and don't need to fight with musicians."

"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer" offers a highly engaging and informative romp through the formation of the group in 2011 to the trial and conviction of three of its members -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), Maria Alyokhina (Masha) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (Katya) -- on a charge of "hooliganism driven by religious hatred." (The two other women in the cathedral protest fled Russia. As of now, Katya has been released on appeal, Nadya and Masha are serving two-year sentences in penal colonies and last month made headlines when Masha went on an 11-day hunger strike.)

Along the way, Lerner and co-director Maxim Pozdorovkin interview protesters in the street (both pro and con), members of the church and the women's parents.

While the filmmakers are decidedly on the side of the jailed Pussy Riot members and liken their trial to the show trials of the Stalinist era -- "a public spanking," Pozdorovkin calls it -- if you asked people on the streets of Moscow what they thought of the group and their actions, "I'm guessing 70 percent of the people feel they got what they deserved, and 30 percent think it's a moral outrage," Lerner, who is British, told ABC News.

"They were vilified on state television," said Pozdorovkin, who is Russian and now lives in the U.S. During the Soviet era, believers "had such a low status in Communism, they retained a moral high ground. For a lot of ordinary Russians, [the question they had for Pussy Riot was], Why are you messing with these people? They've suffered enough."

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...