Putin’s Feminist Nemesis

220px-Vladimir_Putin_12015Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has spent his entire adult life “managing” the Russian people, first as a member of the KGB and later in politics. In Russia, he is considered an enigma. In fact, the name “Putin” doesn’t even appear in any registers prior to his paternal grandfather, Spiridon Ivanovich Putin, who was a cook for both Lenin and Stalin at various times.

Let’s face it, if there was a world leader Survivor show, Putin would win out of sheer calculation, taking out North Korea’s Kim Yong-jun without even waiting for the first tribal council, then slowly working his way through the list alphabetically without blinking or breaking a sweat.  Take a look at his official head shot (left). His eyes follow your every move.

So I have to say that I am completely in awe of the Russian Feminst Punk Rock Group, Pussy Riot (I guess it’s an awkward translation from Russian to English), who decided to protest the reelection of Vladimir Putin by going after one of his biggest supporters, the Russian Orthodox Church.

But on February 12, 2012, five women from the group went into the Cathedral of Christ the Savior of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow to sing “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away.” Video of their hooliganism was combined with footage (below) from another performance and posted online.

The music is definitely “punk” as well as the dancing. The lyrics of Punk-Prayer “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” were ultimately what got Pussy Riot arrested as the church called on the government to arrest them for blasphemy. It began simple enough with a chorus:

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away/put Putin away, put Putin away

The lyrics that followed were aimed directly at the church, the parishioners and even God.

Black robe, golden epaulettes/All parishioners crawl to bow/The phantom of liberty is in heaven/Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains
The head of the KGB, their chief saint,/Leads protesters to prison under escort/In order not to offend His Holiness/Women must give birth and love

Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!/Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist/Become a feminist, become a feminist

(Chorus)

The Church’s praise of rotten dictators/The cross-bearer procession of black limousines/A teacher-preacher will meet you at school/Go to class – bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin/Bitch, better believe in God instead/The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings/Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

(Chorus)

Two members of the band, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina,  were  eventually found guilty and jailed for premeditated hooliganism and inciting religious hatred against the Orthodox Church.

Both women had very famous supporters, as well as powerful detractors. Their defense attorney, Mark Feygin, sought an appeal, but insisted, “Under no circumstances will the girls ask for a pardon [from Putin] … They will not beg and humiliate themselves before such a bastard.”

[I feel slightly anxious just reading that quote.]

But a few weeks ago, on December 19th, after serving 21 months of her 24 month sentence, both women were released. Tolokonnikova exited the prison to hundreds of waiting journalists from around the world and shouted, “Russia without Putin!” She then headed to Moscow to reunite with her fellow band member who had been jailed in another part of the country.

Alyokhina’s release  comment sounded much like Tolokonnikova’s. According to the New York Times, “We didn’t ask for any pardon. I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don’t need mercy from Putin. I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics — particularly for the Western Europeans. But I don’t consider this humane or merciful. This is a lie.”

Still, their time away from each other in the Russian prisons changed them. In a press conference on Friday Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina discussed the founding of a human rights organization specifically focused on prisoners called “Zone of Law, a play on “the zone” (shorthand for “prison camp” in Russian),” says Rollingstone.com

“We intend to help with the advancement and reaction to complaints of prisoners about the conditions of their incarceration. We want to provide them with legal aid.”

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina

I’m not sure which act is braver – antagonizing Putin or starting a human rights organization  in Russia’s prisons. Either way, Pussy Riot is vowing that their musical days are over, for the time being.

I have to say, sending these women into the dark hole of despair (aka Russian prison system) changed them, but not the way Putin or their critics had hoped.  Tolokonnikova nearly died according to some reports and she also disappeared for 18 days as her husband tried to find which prison system she had been moved to without anyone’s knowledge. Stay tuned. It’s not often a woman emerges from the Russian patriarchal system and never as a leader. The last was probably Catherine the Great.  I think we might be witnessing the emergence of the first female Russian president. Blame it on Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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