Video: Russia’s Punk Disrupters Take the Field with Poetry and Protest

I’m a huge fan of the creative and brave nonviolent actions by Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist protest punk rock group based in Moscow. If you were watching the World Cup finals, then you saw some if their “cops interrupt your daily life” antics on the field. These folks take incredible risks for freedom and for life under President Putin. See an earlier Pussy Riot post here. –Rose Berger

During the World Cup final on Sunday, with millions around the world watching on and President Putin in the stands to soak up the adulation (at the end of what has been an astonishingly good tournament), four members of Greenbelt 2018 artists-in-residence, Pussy Riot, invaded the pitch.

Despite the usual knee-jerk groans of “what idiots!”, there was a carefully thought-through back-story behind the scenes. We want to take a few minutes to tell you about it.

In memory of Russian Poet Dmitri Aleksandrovich, who died 11 years ago, the four Pussy Rioters created an act they entitled ‘Policeman enters the pitch’. In his work, Prigov had created the image of a benevolent and perfect policeman (who Pussy Riot interpret as the bearer of heavenly statehood). This heavenly policeman, according to Prigov, would talk on his radio with God himself.

Pussy Riot took this image and contrasted it with the current behaviour of what they called an ‘earthly policeman’ (representing Russia’s current state police) who, they argue from personal experience, often fabricates criminal cases.
While the celestial policeman gently watches the fans at the World Cup, Pussy Riot argue that the state policeman prepares to disperse rallies. While the heavenly policeman affectionately touches the flower in the field and rejoices in the victories of the Russian team, the earthly policeman is indifferent to the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov (the Ukrainian filmmaker being held in a Russian jail for 20 years for allegedly plotting terrorist acts). The heavenly policeman is an example of true and benevolent statehood. The earthly policeman just causes hurt.

Pussy Riot go on to suggest that the heavenly policeman protects the baby’s sleep, while the policeman on the ground persecutes political prisoners. The heavenly policeman is the organiser of the wonderful carnival of the World Cup, whereas the earthly policeman is afraid of the mere idea of holiday. The heavenly policeman carefully monitors the observance of the rules of the game, whereas the earthly policeman enters the game, regardless of the rules.

So this is what Pussy Riot did. They made the players and all those of us watching around the world feel a mere slither of the regular disruption they experience at the hands of the State – as it enters their lives for no reason and in contravention to the rule of law. And they did it as Putin watched.

As Pussy Riot concluded in their statement about their actions: “The World Cup recalls the possibility of a heavenly policeman in the beautiful future of Russia, but every day a state policeman, entering the game without rules, destroys our world.”

In connection with their pitch invasion action, their demands were as follows:

The release of all political prisoners.
The ending of illegal arrests at rallies.
The allowing of political competition (opposition) in the country.
The ending of fabricated criminal cases and incarceration
That the earthly policeman transforms into a heavenly policeman.

Those arrested face fines and/or community service. The New Yorker carries a helpful article all about the action.

Of course, there’s always an organisationally selfish and natural anxiety whenever we see Pussy Riot in the news: will they make it to Greenbelt, we wonder? But their activism and notoriety is precisely why we’ve booked them, so we should know that this anxiety goes with the territory.

In fact, Maria (Masha) Alyokhina was not among those in the wider collective who invaded the pitch. So the writer of Riot Days and the leading light in the Pussy Riot contingent coming to Greenbelt this summer will not find herself incarcerated (again) this time.

This is an important reminder that Pussy Riot is not a single band – a tight-knit small group with a single mind that moves as one, and in one way. Instead, Pussy Riot is a many-stranded collective of (mainly) women, all committed to the same idea: to use their bodies, creativity and intellect in protest against what they see as the poisonous, patriarchal, punitive power of Putin’s Russian State.

We’re privileged and excited that Maria Alyokhina, together with nine others of the collective still based in Moscow, will be in residence with us at Greenbelt this August. There, they will argue that – if we’re committed to change and justice – we are all Pussy Riot![]

Follow Pussy Riot on Facebook and @wearepussyriot

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