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The heroic story of Pussy Riot who resurrected the power of truth in a society built on lies On February 21 2012 five young women entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow In neon colored dresses tights and balaclavas they performed a “punk prayer” beseeching the “Mother of God” to “get rid of Putin” They were uickly shut down by security and in the weeks and months that followed three of the women were arrested and tried and two were sentenced to a remote prison colony But the incident captured international headlines and footage of it went viral People across the globe recognized not only a fierce act of political confrontation but also an inspired work of art that in a time and place saturated with lies found a new way to speak the truth Masha Gessen’s riveting account tells how such a phenomenon came about Drawing on her exclusive extensive access to the members of Pussy Riot and their families and associates she reconstructs the fascinating personal journeys that transformed a group of young women into artists with a shared vision gave them the courage and imagination to express it unforgettably and endowed them with the strength to endure the devastating loneliness and isolation that have been the price of their triumph


10 thoughts on “Words Will Break Cement The Passion of Pussy Riot

  1. says:

    Basically they got what was coming to them In order to understand WHY they got their terms of 2 years in jail per person they got out way earlier one has to realize that these gals were repeat offenders And they did a lot of alien grade shit apart from scaring a bunch of grannies priests and some underpaid churchyard security officer in one of the churches with richest religious and cultural history in Russia Pussy Riot members were initially part of an art group Voina which in English means 'War' which was responsible for a number of blatant public misdemeanors Source ВойнааWould YOU like to wake up and see the doors of your restaurant welded shut? All in the sake of some presumably political action protest performed by some crazy neighbourhood kids? Or maybe it is the dream of your life to be able to gaze at your leisure at a giant dick painted across a street where your children might walk? Again done by the same crazies?What about seeing a scene of public play of hanging a gay man and a couple of illegal immigrants of certain nationality performed by the same kids? Huh? Nice start to a working day?Or maybe you would consider getting a faceful of live cats to be a nice break of drudgery of a working day? Yes live cats were being thrown over the counter at McDonalds 'to break up the drudgery of workers' routine day' by these very 'artists'How about taking a uiet walk with your family to a supermarket only to witness some crazy gal whore first shoplifting a chicken and then stuffing it into her vagina? All done in public while her associates keep shouting f words about 'whorring' and 'antiwhorring'? Nice end to a dull working day? Huh?Hm Maybe you would like to witness live sex in the Moscow Zoological Museum 'Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear' 'action'? You sure it should be considered normal public conduct to fuck with your friends in your nearest museum with about 50 witnesses to it? I would like to see you do it for whatever political or any other reason and get away with it in your country however liberal it might beHow about attacking police cars overturning them or setting them on fire with Molotov cocktails? Sounds like reasonable public conduct? Would it be considered an allowed form of protestart in your country? Bringing 3000 Madagaskaran live giant cockroaches to a court with intention to set them free there? I'm sure people loved the experience NOT A 2 minute 'Dick in the Ass' themed punk concert was presented in a yet another courtroom where they went into detail as to just why 'All Cops are Bаstards Remember This'?You sure no prosecution would follow such actions in YOUR country? Still there was NO prosecution for all these misdemeanors to these people initially Then they just had to go to a church and have histrionics there And finally they were nailed Is it really such a big surprise that such behaviour would and should someday be punished? There is some breaking point in any society toleranceThere is no topic to have writen this book about Major minus to this authorPS And trust me it was pure and unadulterated attention seeking not political protest of any intelligible kind They are freaking space cadets not political opposition And their performances are an ongoing escalating depravity fair If I decide to I don't know steal something or use Molotov cocktails against police or create public disorder in say NY won't I be arrested even if I scream about half the world's leaders? Basically had they been allowed off the hook due to their screams about political leaders and whatnot any miscreant could afterwards use this precedent and cover their misdemeanors with screams about politics or whateverPS And 2018 we had a 'wonderful' opportunity to enjoy these same birds interrupting the World Football Cup final


  2. says:

    Update; bc whoever did this i love theeThis is an excellent bit of reporting by Masha Gessen For those of you who are interested in the background of the Pussy Riot collective this book will not disappoint The three young women who were convicted for their performance art in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior are remarkable Their art dared to criticize Putin and his government policies and they paid the ultimate price Their bravery and belief in their convictions shine throughout this account If you are not interested in the book as a whole at least read it for their court speeches The speeches they give in the Russian kangaroo court tell you exactly who they are smart educated articulate and philosophical As an aside currently I am visiting Barcelona as a tourist and before that I was in Toulouse Lourdes I mention this because I have seen many cathedrals in the last weeks Today I visited Basilica de Santa Maria Del Pi and having just finished this book viewed the cathedrals with the Pussy Riot performance art in mind The acoustics in these cathedrals are incredible It is a bit mind blowing to think of them performingsinging punk style screaming in such a uiet and contemplative space This is the point I get that and so I imagined it was akin to watching a riot grrrl concert in the cathedral I visited today


  3. says:

    When I began this book I was a little put off by the lack of distance between the journalist and her subjects It is unusual but not unheard of for a reporter to so obviously take sides in a debate By the end of the book however this lack of distance no longer troubled me Gessen had no access to Nadya or Maria two of Pussy Riot’s leading members who had been jailed in early 2012 Gessen was reduced to compiling information about their thinking and living conditions through their lawyers family friends and televised court appearances Considering the extraordinary nature of Pussy Riot’s protest against the Putin regime in Russia and their ability to articulate their protests it is far better we understand in detail as much as we can of these brave and unusual women who are seemingly willing to die for freedom to speak vote protestNadezhda Tolokonnikova Ekaterina Samutsevich Maria Alyokhina are three women of Pussy Riot jailed for their role performing punk music in the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow in February 2012 There were others there that night but these three formed the core of the group before they were separated in jail They are speaking out against the abuses in the Putin regime political judicial and legislative fraud corruption manipulation of public opinion use of force to regulate social processes Their “actions” which in the early days were punk songs staged in public spaces were accompanied by pointed lyrics often spiked with swear words criticizing the powerful They were however as a group extremely articulate and well spoken as evidenced by statements made at their trials some of which are recounted in detail in this bookSeveral clips of their “actions” are shown at least in part on YouTube as are interviews with journalists around the world It is hard to imagine that these young protesters were very nearly killed in jail mostly because the conditions were such that they decided hunger strike was the only way to stop the pressure being put on them from prison officials Though given two year sentences in August 2012 Nadya and Maria were released eight months early in December 2013 before the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in January 2014 They decided to work for prisoners’ rights upon their release A September 2014 Guardian article excerpts the open letter Nadya published from jail that is printed in full in Gessen’s book describing the conditions in the women’s jail at Mordovia a gulag prison some eleven hours by car southeast of Moscow In 2015 Pussy Riot were Grand Marshalls of the Toronto Gay Pride Parade Nadya’s English is better she can now curse Putin in English as well as Russian Her words have had some effect on the citizenry in Russia though it is said Putin still enjoys the support of the voting public Extraordinary voices extraordinary bravery


  4. says:

    This book shows what happens when church and state are not separated There are two classic forms of church state combination The most familiar to us is theocracy when religious clergy control the state or have the state do their dirty work as in Calvin's Geneva where Calvin by his own admission instigated the trial and execution of Servetus for heresy and in seventeenth century Massachusetts Bay where four uakers were hanged Baptists were whipped and Roger Williams and others were banished all because of their religious beliefs and nonviolent religious practices My book The First American Founder Roger Williams and Freedom of Conscience discusses these examples and issues of church state separation and liberty of conscience in depthThe second classic form of church state combination is what scholars call Erastianism the state controls the church and all religious doctrine and practice for political purposes The bible of Erastianism is Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan 1651 a work that Vladimir Putin must keep at his bedside As described in Gessen's book Putin installed one of his KGB buddies as the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and the most important cathedral in Russia was turned into a propaganda vehicle for Putin's political regime including televised appeals to vote for Putin in the name of God It is this same church that Pussy Riot turned into its own media platform in an effort to protest the Putin regime's emerging theologico political dictatorship Pussy Riot's activity might have been a technical criminal trespass under American law but it was certainly less of a violation of others' rights than the original Boston Tea Party from which a popular right wing movement in the United States currently takes its name The Pussy Riot contingent waited until a time when no services were being held in the cathedral in order to perform their protest song and dance routine Of course the Putin regime brought the full power of the one party Russian state on them and the state controlled church and media mischaracterized the Pussy Riot action as an antireligious criminal act Three Pussy Riot performers were tried in a good imitation of Soviet style judicial proceedings convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment The sentence of one of them was later suspended because she had been grabbed by security before she could participate in the performance The other two were consigned to prison colonies where they were forced to live and work under intolerable conditions until December of 2013 when Putin freed them shortly before the expiration of their sentences in order to avoid adverse media publicity at the imminent Winter Olympics in SochiGessen's portrayal of the current Russian criminal justice system provides the reader with a chilling reminder that due process of law and other constitutional protections we take for granted in the West have not prevailed everywhere Like its predecessor Soviet constitutions the current Constitution of the Russian Federation pays lip service to these concepts but the practice of the Russian government is far different Although individual examples of lack of due process exist even in the United States Gessen's book shows that due process is systemically denied in Russia at least when the power of the Putin regime is threatened in any way Moreover the Pussy Riot performers well understood the nature of their protest At their trial it was the defendants themselves who made their own closing arguments and Gessen faithfully reproduces these arguments from written transcripts made by independent observers The logic and elouence of the Pussy Riot performers' closing statements are themselves sufficient to warrant the price of this book and sufficient justification to read itOriginally posted 6212014; revised 8232015


  5. says:

    Worth reading just for the speeches Maria and Nadzha give in court


  6. says:

    “How did our performance a small and somewhat absurd act to begin with balloon into a full fledged catastrophe?”That’s the uestion this book struggles to answer It largely succeedsIf I sound as if I’m hedging a bit it’s because I’m still in shock from the very end of this book I didn’t realize it had been written while the convicted members of Pussy Riot were still in prison Not only is there no mention of Putin’s oh so magnanimous pre Olympics order to release them early such a sweetie but the book very nearly ends with no resolution given of Nadya’s 26 day disappearance during her hunger strike A hasty postscript is added updating the reader slightly on Nadya’s location and physical state as of December 2013I was going to discuss the story this book tells how several young women started a feminist punk band in Russia which a British journalist accurately describes as “the land women’s rights forgot” This is worth uoting Gessen at depressing length about The fact though was that feminism had never taken root in Russia It had been part of Bolshevik ideology in the 1920s when “revolutionary morality” replaced bourgeois morality abolishing marriage and monogamy and introducing free love communal children and full gender euality The USSR even introduced the world’s very first laws against sexual harassment in the workplace But the egalitarian spirit did not last Virtually all Soviet women held two full time jobs – one for pay and one at home for nothing but hardship which in light of constant food shortages could be extreme – and this was called “full gender euality” Even after the Soviet Union collapsed the tradition of reviling and ridiculing feminism proved surprisingly resilient A few feminist organizations that appeared in the late 1980s on the glasnost and perestroika wave either stayed small or disappeared Feminism was an academic pursuit and an unpopular oneSmall wonder then that Pussy Riot seems initially to have struggled with exactly what feminist activism should look like An early action was to approach female police officers ask them for simple directions and “if the officer responded helpfully one of the actors would go into paroxysms of gratitude culminating in a kiss – on the lips when possible” These interactions were filmed and the video clip went viralAfter this strange event Pussy Riot decided to focus on punk rock oriented actions They came up with ferociously feminist lyrics and found musicians to help them perform They filmed themselves performing at playgrounds at Metro stations on top of an electric bus They crafted lyrics for a performance outside a detention center and the prisoners inside roared along with them They staged a particularly daring performance in Red Suare – Masha Gessen’s description of this is deeply entertainingBut Pussy Riot was by no means the only group of people trying to shake things up in Russia The so called Snow Revolution of December 2011 was the beginning of a Russian protest movement which Gessen did much than just observe and report on Protest had gone mainstream in Russia taking Pussy Riot with it Creative direct action was not enough if everyone was doing it And everyone was; there was even a clearinghouse for direct action now with hundreds of people coming to weekly meetings to propose dozens of actions find collaborators and start to organize on the spot I started the Protest Workshop as it was called and facilitated its meetings from December 2011 through June 2012 These included flashmobs on the Metro performative acts of art and small scale unsanctioned protestsSo Why have we heard of Pussy Riot when most of us probably haven’t heard of any other activist Russian groups or even of the Snow Revolution itself?If Pussy Riot hadn’t staged an action at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior few people outside of Russia would have heard of them They did and now people all over the world have an opinion of what they did even when they don’t uite know what it wasThe cathedral was open for the record Many people I’ve spoken to were under the impression that Pussy Riot had to “break in” in order to stage their performance They didn’t They simply walked inThey were also not brought up on the kind of charges they’d have faced in America I don’t know enough about the law to say for sure but I’m guessing it would be something like disturbing the peace public nuisance – maybe even some kind of trespassing charge since although the cathedral was open it’s not as if Pussy Riot got permission to perform in thereThis is Russia so they were charged with “hooliganism and hatred toward Orthodox believers” And this being Russia the court managed even while playing clips of the recording to skip the refrain that calls for the Mother of God to “chase Putin out” Instead Pussy Riot was presented as having simply urged the Virgin Mary to “become a feminist” Heaven forbid that this be seen by the Russian public as a political action As long as you weren’t one of the accused the trial was hilarious in its way The members of a feminist group were chided for having chosen to perform in a certain area of the cathedral since “parishioners of the female sex cannot go up on the soleas” The cleaning lady later blew that by admitting that yes “she cleaned the soleas despite being female The prosecutor grabbed his head with his hands The judge directed the court marshals to remove anyone who laughed”The young women were also “accused” of performing “bodily movements that a witness called ‘devilish jerkings’” This was accepted as part of the evidence of their “hatred toward Orthodox believers” until the defense attorneys asked what exactly devilish jerkings were “How does the victim know how the devil jerks?” the lawyer asked with a straight face “Has she seen the devil?”“I am disallowing the uestion” the judge replied The judge said that many times during the course of this trial She wasn’t the kind of judge who worries too much about that pesky “innocent until proven guilty” nonsenseAnother laughable if it’s not you on trial moment occurred when an altar man “testified that Pussy Riot had acted as though they were possessed” ”Those who are possessed can act in a variety of ways” he explained “They can scream thrash around on the floor sometimes they jump”“Do they dance?” asked a lawyer“Well no”A security guard solemnly testified that he’d been so traumatized by the performance he had to miss two months of work I don’t know how Pussy Riot felt about this but I’d take it as a huge complimentAs I mentioned in an update this book would be worth reading just for the closing statements of the members of Pussy Riot Gessen’s writing is skillful and unobtrusive but it can’t compete with this brilliant passionAnd that’s where we reach what I consider the sole flaw of this book It begins with a visit to one of the prisoners The prison sounds deeply unpleasant but survivable Only in the epilogue do we learn that the conditions there are nothing short of torture Nadya managed to write and release an open letter about this just before she declared a hunger strike Prisoners are forced to work from 730 in the morning to twelve thirty at night They’re allowed to wash their hair once a week but often even this is cancelled – and the plumbing is constantly breaking down toilets as well as sinks and showers The food is stale bread watered down milk rancid millet and rotten potatoes “This summer sacks of slimy black potato bulbs were brought to the prison in bulk And they were fed to us”Any prisoner who complains will suffer for it doubly because collective punishment is meted out – and prisoners are encouraged to beat troublemakers The only violence that’s interfered with are suicide attemptsThis book as I said began with a visit to this prison but makes no mention of the true horror of conditions there I think the book should have started with Nadya’s letter Her story and that of Pussy Riot itself should have been told in the shadow of the kind of punishment Russian dissenters can expect to face Soviet gulags gone but not forgottenThis book is short and engaging Read it if you’re interested in global feminism punk rock activism Russia in general andor the plight of Russian women in particular


  7. says:

    I've been pretty much fascinated with Pussy Riot since I first heard about their actions As Russia is increasingly turning into an unabashed fascist state rather than hiding under the guise of democracy I am drawn and to those with the bravery to speak out against it I don't know if I would be that brave but I believe it my duty and everyone else's for that matter to give people such as Nadya Maria Kat and many others credence Reading this gave a very clear picture of what it is exactly that drove these brave young women to speak out the terror the lies hypocrisy fascism and patriarchal state of things in Russia It also illustrated how brilliant these women are They are well read autodidacts who can uote a slew of philosophers and poets not to mention apply their learnings to critically judge the goings on around them Their writings are of a caliber in and of themselves and Gessen uotes amply from their own writings whilst their story of injustice and horror plays out Great attention is given to what they endured in prison which could only be described as state sanctioned terrorism I applaud them for their strength and their ongoing efforts on global prison reform Gessen is a marvelous writer and journalist and this is a must read for anyone wanting to get a vivid humane idea of what it is to be an intelligent free thinking individual in Putin Era Russia


  8. says:

    I really don't get much performance art; I'm sorry Most of what I have seen strikes me as silly or just a desire to shock Yet I still think it is a legit form of protest or art I just don't like itLet's be honest some of the art that Pussy Riot undertook is not my thing at all And like much performance and much street art you can argue about breaking the law all day long Regardless Pussy Riot was also a protest group and in many ways reaction to them was based on the protest Gessen no fan of Putin herself chronicles the group and in particular the lives of the three women who were charged It is rather even handed and regardless of how you feel about Riot's art in general the trial should have you shaking your headAt times the book gets a little slow but it is well worth the read


  9. says:

    Hard to say 'enjoyed' this book as its such a heartbreaking story yet its a wonderful book The reader frames it well It tells of the humanity of Pussy Riot members ordinary yet extraordinary women


  10. says:

    Maybe this book is aiming at the Kremlin walls; maybe its cement It’s a fact that Putin in X’mas 2013 dressed up as Santa Claus he released from imprisonment Greenpeace people and the once richest Mikhail Khodorkovsky and two of the Pussy Riot members Commentators saw the move as strategic aiming at something very different from compassion much less justice One of the Pussy Riot members said she preferred to stay in prison showing clearly suspicion regarding the gift Farcicality at stake in my view Masha Gessen told recently to The Economist several important points on her book 1 That the 5 members group after “gorilla” performances in several places but especially in the cathedral of Christ the Savior got arrested in 2011 Their words the Punk Prayer asking the intervention of the Virgin Mary to put Putin down were fatal 2 In August 2012 the group went to trial and got a sentence of 3 years due to felony Basically the group “disturbed the social order”; their words were “motivated by hatred” 3 Now in 2014 two members of the group released by the amnesty are engaged in a movement in the defense of the rights of prisoners 4 Masha suggested something like “the last stage of the Putin regime” Walls crumbling? For the moment Khodorkovky is in factwas; he moved to Switzerland in Germany maybe with his political career at a stalemate But who knows he and others may contribute to alter cement consistency For the moment he's been silenced so no words UPDATESPutin’s Russia Don’t Walk Don’t Eat and Don’t DrinkBY MASHA GESSEN 28th May 2015httpwwwnewyorkercomnewsnews deRUSSIAN PURGEPutin Doesn’t Need to Censor Books Publishers Do It for Himin Former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky may seek asylum in BritaininUpdate now he's publishing lots of wordsFROM THE IRON CURTAIN TO A BROKEN WINDOWPosted on March 11 2016httpwwwkhodorkovskycomfrom the The New Politics of ConspiracyMasha Gessenin