Peaches, the twenty-first century torchbearer of feminist punk, just released a video and track in support of Pussy Riot, the Russian female anarchist art group that has become the symbol of political oppression in Russia under Putin.
Unlike in the case of something like Kony 2012, this video is not a gratuite kind of protest. The whole point of Pussy Riot, and the wider protests in Russia of which it is a part, is the embeddedness in social media, and performing symbolic acts against the regime. That’s reflected in this ‘Free Pussy Riot’ video, which consists of footage sent in by Peaches fans.
Pussy Riot – whatever else it is – is also really an example for those Western hipster, a-political, “ironic” bands and the people who wallow in it (not excluding myself here). Punk, youth culture here once was a form of actual protest against the powers that be. That aspect of youth culture, thanks to the consumerist hipster, is long gone; grunge probably was the last vestige of it.
The three girls of this group, however, are literally risking everything. By staging an act of protest against spy-dictator Putin in an Orthodox cathedral, they have incurred the wrath of the most powerful institutions in the country. Pussy Riot is facing years in a Siberian prison camp – the worst imaginable place you can be in. This must have known this was going to happen, even though it’s an outrageous and thoroughly undemocratic and unjudicial sentence.
Throughout their trial, in their statements Pussy Riot have courageously pointed at the creeping dictatorship, the obliteration of the separation between church and state, and the squashing of free speech and right to demonstrate in Russia. They’ve even done this in an artful way, declaring themselves heirs to 1920s and 1930s absurdist collectives, and standing in a tradition of ‘last statements’ in show trials like dissidents of the Stalin and Soviet era.
As a political essay, the closing statement by Yekaterina Samutsevich, member of the group, is superb:
Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic? After all, he could have employed his own, far more secular tools of power—for example, the state-controlled corporations, or his menacing police system, or his obedient judiciary system. It may be that the harsh, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; that otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more persuasive, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the pinnacle of power. It was then that it became necessary to make use of the aesthetic of the Orthodox religion, which is historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.
So, what these women have achieved is exposing the coming-into-being of dictatorship in Russia. They’ve shown that to the world. For that – even though Putin is probably feeling the heat and is already saying that the group shouldn’t be treated “too harsly” – they’ll probably end up in jail.
The verdict is in two days. Think about them.
You can sign a Free Pussy Riot petition at http://www.change.org/freepussyriot
Here’s the track itself: