Pussy Riot at the Olympics

Members of the group, including Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, who were released from jail in December, were set upon by uniformed Cossacks – who are acting as an informal police force during the games – and plainclothes security men, as they attempted to perform under a sign advertising the Olympics.

-via The Guardian.

and Tumblr Commentary, from Annihilate This Week:

OK, this is fascinating, because if you click through, there are photographs of members being unmasked and Nadya and Masha are clearly performing as part of Pussy Riot during this action. So does this mean the statement released earlier this month indicating that the two of them were no longer members of Pussy Riot was just a smokescreen to try and throw off the Russian government? Because that’s pretty fascinating. Also, note the fact that one of the members was apparently male, which also contradicts previous communiques. Finally, note the fact that police on the scene didn’t arrest anyone, which makes me think that, on some level, Pussy Riot has got the Russian government afraid to mess with them. I find that FASCINATING. (Not, of course, that it stops right wing militias from beating them up, which is far from ideal, but still, no one from Pussy Riot’s crew being in jail as the result of this incident is extremely surprising to me.)

I am pretty confused at the moment about what is going on with Pussy Riot overall, but I will say one thing: they’re pretty much the punkest band in the world. And I stand by that even if they aren’t an actual band, in the strictest sense of the term.

It seems like a mistake to interpret the open letter distancing the group from Alekhina and Tolokonnikova as having much definitive meaning. As far as I can tell the original source for the letter is this post from Pussy Riot’s live journal,* which is of limited value for two reasons: 1. the journal has been largely inactive for the last year, leaving some questions about how central it is to the group’s actual function, and 2. the fundamental makeup of Pussy Riot has always been one of decentralized egalitarianism. The idea that a few members could define, without their consent or participation, the “status” of other members seems entirely outside the group’s central values system. As an art collective Pussy Riot has always had some particularly active central figures, but I don’t think it’s right to interpret that as a closed membership system. It’s also worth noting that a smokescreen in contemporary Russia would be unnecessary and ineffective–the government hardly needs group membership as a pretense for arrest, and neither Alekhina nor Tolokonnikova have made any effort to veil their contempt for Putin or for his government. They’re just as arrest-able as independent activists as they are band members, possibly even more so.

All that said, I’m equally fascinated by this last point: they haven’t been re-arrested. This seems totally out of character for the Russian government, and I wonder if it is only a stay of arrest until after the Olympics have closed.** Prominence in the West has not been a dissuading factor for the Russian police in the past; it is very hard to see why it would be now, especially when the activists are so clearly unconcerned with avoiding it.

I’m most interested to see what they do after the Olympics, and especially with regard to prison activism. There is so much to be done to raise awareness about the Russian judicial and correctional systems; I think there is a lot they can do with their newfound global audience.

*It’s been like two years since I’ve read their live journal, and the comments are really active now. I totally learned the Russian word for “trolling,” which is троллинг. Word adoption from the internet is happening so quickly that I predict soon we will all speak Russian simply by speaking English with an accent.

**It’s also possible the amnesty legislation that allowed for their release would preclude their re-incarceration. I haven’t read whatever document Putin issued to allow their release, so who knows. Some Russian lawyer?

Why have I been reblogging so much Soviet paraphernalia? Because I am still reading Ian…

Why have I been reblogging so much Soviet paraphernalia? Because I am still reading Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia, which I absolutely love.

I feel guilty, because it’s National Poetry Month, and my field of study is poetry, and I should be blogging poetry (which I am, actually, but over at OAR). In lieu of a great post on poetry today, here is a passage from Frazier’s book:

Telling us again that her name was Galina, she pointed down the hill to where she said she lived in her own izba (cabin) with a small black dog and a milk cow. She asked us if we liked poetry. She wrote poetry herself, she said; now we would hear her read her poems. The next we knew we had been walked from the church down to her cabi, which was a tiny, rustic affair with grass growing on the roof and a door frame barely taller than she was…Galina began to declaim her poems after first announcing to us the quality of each one. Some she described as “very good,” some as merely “good.” The sonorousness of her reading reverberated pleasantly in the little open-air roofed shelter where we were sitting, but the poetry’s style was antique and I couldn’t understand a word. After each poem she nodded her head appreciatively while we smiled and murmured praise. 

and here is the poem by Blok that it brings to mind:

Девушка пела в церковном хоре
О всех усталых в чужом краю,
О всех кораблях, ушедших в море,
О всех, забывших радость свою.

Так пел её голос, летящий в купол,
И луч сиял на белом плече,
И каждый из мрака смотрел и слушал,
Как белое платье пело в луче.

И всем казалось, что радость будет,
Что в тихой заводи все корабли,
Что на чужбине усталые люди
Светлую жизнь себе обрели.

И голос был сладок, и луч был тонок,
И только высоко, у Царских Врат,
Причастный Тайнам,- плакал ребенок
О том, что никто не придет назад.

It is the first poem I memorized in Russian. More poetry posts soon, once I catch up from my conference weekend.