GQ just published the first (or one of the first) English-language interview with Pussy Riot since a Moscow court sentenced the dissident punk rockers Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich to two years in prison for performing a song criticizing President Vladimir Putin’s ties to the Orthodox Church at a Moscow cathedral in February. That event followed a series of opposition-oriented performances, including one right outside the Kremlin.

The trio’s prosecution has inspired a global solidarity movement. Their lawyers snuck in GQ’s questions. Samutsevich’s answers were confiscated, but I’ve picked out a few of the notable quotes from Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina’s responses:

Alyokhina: “… we get showers once a week. After 6 a.m., you’re not allowed to sleep under a blanket. Theoretically, until lights-out at 10 p.m., you’re not allowed to sleep at all, but in practice you can lie on top of the blanket and cover yourself with your coat.”

Tolokonnikova: “… we couldn’t even imagine that the authorities would be so dumb that they would actually legitimatize our influence by arresting us. Sure, [they] tried to intimidate us by tailing us constantly. But unlike Putin, we’re not chickenshit – so we didn’t stop performing.”

- “I still can’t shake the feeling that I’ve spent the last six months acting in a big-budget movie. The amount of Western support that we got is a miracle.”

In response to the question, Does it bug you as feminists that your global popularity is at least partly based on the fact that you turned out to be, well, easy on the eyes?

- “I humbly hope that our attractiveness performs a subversive function. … because this attractiveness destroys the idiotic stereotype, still extant in Russia, that a feminist is an ugly-ass frustrated harridan. This stereotype is so puke-making that I will deign to be sweet for a little bit in order to destroy it.”

- “… I’m happy I got two years. For every person with a functioning brain, this verdict is so dumb and cruel that it removes any lingering illusions about Putin’s system. It’s a verdict on the system.”

Exactly right. Critics of my previous posts (here and here) on Pussy Riot have suggested that I don’t understand just how offensive their performance at Christ the Savior Cathedral is to many Russians. The Orthodox Church, one said, is sacred.

But that’s not the point. Giving offense doesn’t justify a prison sentence. Just as it doesn’t justify violence. Pussy Riot understands that and, though the band members couldn’t have foreseen the scale of Moscow’s response, they’ve revealed Putin’s Kremlin for what it is: insecure, oppressive, dangerous.

Update: The Russian Orthodox Church has called on Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova, and Alyokhina to repent, suggesting it could help the women in their upcoming appeal, Radio Free Europe reports. The church said in a statement that if the women express “repentance and regret,” their words “shouldn’t be left unnoticed.”

Picture of Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova, and Alyokhina during their trial from freepussyriot.org

S. Adam Cardais

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Email: adam.cardais@tol.org.

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