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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 8 Feb 2014
Charles - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot (Paperback)
Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk rock protest group based in Moscow, they are most famous for staging a song protest in a Russian church criticising current president Vladimir Putin. The protest in the church resulted in some of their members getting arrested and put in jail, causing a massive controversy in the world press.

This book goes from their early days of art protests, to the forming of the band, to the church protest and their imprisonment.

In the early days before forming the band they were involved with various comedy protests, memorable ones include drawing a giant phallus on a drawbridge outside the FSB's (the modern KGB) St. Petersburg headquarters, when the drawbridge was raised the phallus now seemed erect, the work was called "F*** the FSB", (google "fsb drawbridge" for video). Another involved finding traffic police who were stopping cars to extract bribes from the drivers, the protesters would come running up and pretend to be the policeman's wife and tell him to get even more money!

Their distinctive balaclavas were used to hide their identities but they chose brightly colored ones to be the opposite of the black balaclavas used by the Russian special forces. They performed their protest songs in places where it would be illegal like the roof of a bus or on the Metro. Their (badly sung) songs about feminist punk subjects like the tyranny of housework and the right ways to subjugate men.

When the Russian Orthodox Church backed increasing unpopular president Putin, Pussy Riot decided that their next action should take place in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a very important church where Putin came for holiday services. It represented the Putin era, a symbol of post-Soviet piousness, superficial, glided, with luxury car wash and banquet hall.

The church protest was leaked to the media, and a larger number of reporters than expected were at the church at the day of the protest, Things did not go well, one member (Kat) got throw out by a security guard and they did not get enough quality footage to make a clip. Later in editing they had to use bits multiple times and use footage of guards stopping them or church employees waving their hands at the camera and footage taken from a earlier protest at another church.

The media lapped up the story but concerns about getting arrested caused the girls to lie low, but four(Nadya,Maria, Petya and Kat) were caught. While been interrogated by police Kat was threaten with rape and violence. Nadya and Maria were kept under arrest but Petya and Kat were let go "for now", but both had a summons to report to a investigator in a few days time, which was postponed for a week, at which Kat was arrested again.

At the trail the prosecution ignored the fact the protesters' actions were political and instead focused on their attitudes towards religion, that their skirts were too short for church and they had shown their shoulders which had offended people in the church! The showing of the recording of the protest was done in such a way that the political statements asking the Mother of God to get rid of the president were skipped.

The band made some quite interesting statements during the trail, unfortunately there is not enough space for them all, but here is part of one:

"Our sudden musical appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with the song "Mother of God, Drive Putin Out" violated the integrity of this media image, generated and maintained by the authorities for so long, and revealed its falsity. In our performance we dared, without the Patriarch's blessing, to combine the visual image of Orthodox culture and protest culture, suggesting to smart people that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch and Putin, that it might also take the side of civic rebellion and protest in Russia.

Perhaps such an unpleasant large-scale effect from our media intrusion into the cathedral was a surprise to the authorities themselves. First they tried to present our performance as the prank of heartless militant atheists. But they made a huge blunder, since by this time we were already known as an anti-Putin feminist punk band that carried out their media raids on the country's major political symbols.

In the end, considering all the irreversible political and symbolic losses caused by our innocent creativity, the authorities decided to protect the public from us and our nonconformist thinking. Thus ended our complicated punk adventure in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we now expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. Now the whole world sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. Once again, Russia looks different in the eyes of the world from the way Putin tries to present it at daily international meetings. All the steps toward a state governed by the rule of law that he promised have obviously not been made. And his statement that the court in our case will be objective and make a fair decision is another deception of the entire country and the international community. That is all. Thank you."

The girls got two years.

After switching lawyers, the new lawyer got Kat released (after all she had been thrown out by a security guard and had not done anything). Maria was used as slave labour working twelve hour shifts in a sewing factory. The cheap prisons undercutting local rivals and the workers getting virtually nothing for their work. Maria went on hunger strike over prisoners not getting packages and the authorities caved in after eleven days allowing packages to be sent to prisoners again, then Maria was sent to a prison with better working conditions.

Nadya also went on hunger strike over her 17 hour work day slave labour conditions. Once Nadya stopped eating she became ill, prison officials would not let anybody call or visit. Two weeks later she resurfaced in a prison hospital, she was sent back to the same prison and she went on hunger strike again, she disappeared again to reappear in a hospital in Siberia. She has been was told she would be allowed to serve the last of her sentence in the relative comfort of the hospital.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of pussy riot, 7 Feb 2014
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Excellent account of the individuals involved in Pussy Riot and of the operation of the "justice" system in Russia today
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Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot
Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen (Paperback - 2014)
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