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Anti-Putin punk group Pussy Riot headlines UK Christian music festival

Pussy Riot perform at the Greenbelt Festival on Aug. 26, 2018, in England. Photo by Ali Johnston/Greenbelt Festival

(RNS) — From its shock-effect name to its defiant activist tactics, little about the Russian band Pussy Riot would suggest that the punk group is on a holy mission.

But after an appearance last weekend (Aug. 26) at Greenbelt, the U.K.’s foremost Christian arts festival, Pussy Riot’s co-founder Maria Alyokhina explained that the act, beginning with the 2012 protest that resulted in two years in a labor camp, should be understood as a “Christian gesture.”

Pussy Riot is better known in the West for its feminism and political resistance — which almost prevented Alyokhina from making her date at Greenbelt. The Russian authorities had barred her from boarding a plane earlier this month as she headed on a tour of British arts events, telling her she was forbidden to leave the country until she completed a 100-day community service sentence for taking part in an unauthorized protest in April.

But Alyokhina, 30, is not easily deterred. She drove instead, crossing at an unsecured section of the border, and kept going until she reached Lithuania, where she boarded a plane to Britain.

There she joined the current members of Pussy Riot, which describes itself as a collective, with no fixed roster. Their latest escapade was to invade the pitch during the World Cup final in July dressed in police uniforms. “Protest is fun,” Alyokhina told Religion News Service.

The story told in her current show, “Riot Days,” is not fun. With a live soundtrack of saxophone, guitar and drums, the band re-enacted their story in front of a screen that showed grainy footage covertly filmed during their original protest in 2012.

It was that 40-second performance, at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, that made Pussy Riot international celebrities. At the time, Vladimir Putin was on the cusp of being elected for a third term as president with the full support of the Orthodox Church, whose patriarch called him a “miracle of God.” Pussy Riot took to the altar of the cathedral, shouting “Mother of God – Banish Putin!” from behind balaclava masks.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, from left, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Maria Alyokhina, members of feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, sit behind bars at a courtroom in Moscow on July 20, 2012. The trial of the feminist punk rockers who chanted a “punk prayer” against President Vladimir Putin from a pulpit inside Russia’s largest cathedral divided devout believers, Kremlin critics and ordinary Russians. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

Fewer people recall now the price Alyokhina paid for those 40 seconds: she was sent to a labor camp 3,500 miles from her home and from her young son. Her two fellow protesters also served long sentences but Alyokhina is the only one of them who made it to Greenbelt.

At Greenbelt, the show — if that’s the word — included documentary footage from the courthouse where Alyokhina was tried for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and film of the journey to the labor camp in the Ural mountains. Snow is featured heavily.

While some punk devotees in the audience pogoed to the rhythm, most people stood still, concentrating on reading the grim subtitles, applauding the moments of defiance, laughing at the lighter touches. (”We ate whatever God sent our way, which was usually pasta.”)

The act ended with a challenge to the audience: “Freedom doesn’t exist unless you fight for it every day.”

Alyokhina is frequently prevented from entering churches now, but she said that she identifies as a Christian, and added that suggestions that she is an enemy of religion make her angry.

The witnesses who spoke at her trial about how offended they’d been by the protest, she said, were mostly church security officials. She cited the persecution of the church under Stalin, when thousands of priests were murdered or sent to prison camps: “For this country to have a church which is now serving the KGB is a crime. For me this was the main reason (for going to) Christ the Savior.”

Maria Alyokhina performs with Pussy Riot at the Greenbelt Festival on Aug. 26, 2018, in England. Photo by Ali Johnston/Greenbelt Festival

“We didn’t do anything against Christianity,” she said. “When you have massive machines of propaganda working against you on TV, calling you the enemies of Christianity, you find it necessary to understand for yourself and to explain to people that this is a Christian gesture that we have done.

“What we are doing is criticizing the establishment elite of the church.”

When asked whether she was part of a larger Christian resistance in Russia, Alyokhina could only reply, somewhat uncertainly, “I hope so.

“Some of the people who supported us in 2012 were priests who left the church,” she said. “In the penal colony it was important to me to receive letters from people in the church to say they were supporting us.”

Alyokhina is now preparing to return to Moscow. It’s not clear what consequences she will face for breaking the travel ban. Is she afraid of Putin?

“I’m not afraid because – not just with Putin but with any system which oppresses — the base of oppression is fear,” she said. “It is they who are afraid.”

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Rosie Dawson

54 Comments

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  • The Christian music scene in the UK is clearly very different than its American counterpart. Here Pussy Riot would be verboten for daring to oppose our Glorious Leader’s BFF and oligarchical mentor.

  • These are women who “get it” that Christianity and official church are not the same things, that religion has been stood on its head in Russia and now supports everything it should not be supporting. We should listen up, because the exact same thing is happening in the USA.

  • “We [P*ssy Riot] didn’t do anything against Christianity” – my (banjo-strumming) foot!

    I say, Who cares what Greenbelt, that pseudo-religious, registered charity, or you & I think about P*ssy Riot; the Russian society is the best judge of their own. Which is what, exactly? Well, not this, clearly, that, according to this article, “the trial of the feminist punk rockers …divided … ordinary Russians”; but rather this:

    “At the conclusion of the trial [of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina], a series of Levada Center polls showed that, of 1600 Russians surveyed in 45 cities nationwide, 42% … believed P*ssy Riot had been arrested for insulting the shrines and beliefs of the Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, 29% saw it as a case of general hooliganism, while only 19% saw it as a political protest against Putin. Overall opinion was for the most part negative or indifferent. Only 6% sympathised with P*ssy Riot, while 41% felt antipathy towards them. 44% believed the trial was ‘fair and impartial’, while 17% believed it was not. Of those following the case, 86% favored some form of punishment, ranging from prison to forced labor or fines, while 5% said they should not have been punished at all. A prison sentence of 2 to 7 years was seen as appropriate by 33%, whereas 43% saw two or more years as excessive, and a further 15% said the defendants should not have been prosecuted in court.”

    Source: Wikipedia, where else.

  • I’m calling out your Elagabalusian Bluff: “The Christian music scene in the UK is clearly very different than its American counterpart” – “clearly”, how? A minimum of 3 proofs is required, Music Expert!

  • Their adolescent antics – disrespecting a place of worship sacred to millions – were properly dealt with. They deserved every second of their sentence.

    “We didn’t do anything against Christianity.” Bah! Sacrilegiously desecrating a Christian holy place is indeed doing something against Christianity!

  • This little gathering in D.C. is only the most recent evidence of Trump’s effort to enshrine right-wing Evangelical Christianity as the Official State Religion. Jerry Falwell, who began this project in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, would be so proud to see his seedlings develop into such large oaks in just forty years’ time. One by one, the stones are being put in place. People who’d rather not see patterns developing will insist that there’s no there there. Until all of a sudden they wake up one day and are finally forced to admit to themselves that they can no longer deny the obvious. At which point it will be too late – the point of no return will have long since been passed.

  • Just another example of “up is down”; “down is up” BS that “enlightened” liberals throw out to see if we are awake.

    Why a bunch of feminist, anarchists are considered Christian is beyond me. Oh yeah, it’s cuz they’re fighting “ the state”. Forget the fact that they desecrated a church with their “act of charity”; or the fact that their music is filled with hate and violence – the fact that they are “resisting” makes them “christian”.

    Idiots…

  • Indeed. People do not realize that freedom from religion and freedom of religion are the same thing. The latter does not exist without the former. No “Christian” should want to be led by Trump, or by Putin. When they fawn over these guys like this, they not only are treading on all the secular people, they are putting themselves in a bad box.

  • Amen!

    “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20

  • “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20

  • Greenbelt started as a Christian Festival but has developed into a more inclusive event – “the festival is an inter-generational celebration, inclusive and accepting of all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background or belief.” So, for some, definitely not Christian.

    Had the wind had been in a different direction I might have heard them!

  • Where did you get that idea? Putin is also a Globalist Puppet. My Scripture reference is directed to the fact that pussy riot was invited into a c.hristian church.

  • Does the phrase “Give us Barabbas” ring any bells? WITOG does that have to do with anything?

  • 1. The Evangelical crowd which informs said scene is thoroughly in the pocket of Russia

    2. Same crowd isn’t big on protests against theocrats and the entaglement of church and state.

    3. Punk rock in both form and ethos is an anathema to the easy listening astroturf rock of Christian Music. As Hank Hill says of the genre, “You are not making Christianity better, you are making Rock and Roll worse”

  • So you consider those who protest an autocratic state to be bad people.

    People who were literally political prisoners and thrown into a gulag for the act of playing music.

    Wow, there really isn’t a bottom of the barrel for you at all. Its just an endless abyss.

  • I like your comment elsewhere: “Russians [are] helping [Syrians] get their city [Aleppo]. Aleppo is all cleaned up”.

  • What arrant nonsense! It is proper for Christians to support their local governments as much as it is possible for them to morally do so, whether it be in Russia, the US, or anywhere else. Such support is not “whoring”, nor does it imply approval of absolutely everything one’s government does.

  • They were thrown in a gulag for insulting a church.

    Don’t you dare call yourself an American if you support that kind of behavior.

    Evangelicals are selling out thetheir professed values for the promise of personal benefit and power. Assuming those beliefs were genuine, they are whores. Otherwise just typical liars and hypocrites.

  • “We [P*ssy Riot] didn’t do anything against Christianity”

    So…..?

    Do you value notions of humanity, freedom and liberty?

    Does your version of Christianity?

  • I not only call myself an American, I AM an American, AND I also condemn as HATE CRIMES wanton insults and sacrileges directed against the sacred places of any religion. DEAL WITH IT!

    But interesting to know that you are okay with HATE CRIMES, as long as they are directed against things religious.

    Also, I really couldn’t care less about Evangelicals, so bringing them up is of little moment to me.

  • You sound like a Russian and extol very un-American ideas like attacking free speech and freedom of religion.

    A free society doesn’t punish blasphemy and insult to religion. It protects it. It protects the right to express beliefs. You demand your faith to be beyond criticism, GET BENT, you are not entitled to it. I never have to give a crap about what you call sacrilege or blasphemy. Nobody needs to.

    What you are calling a “hate crime” is a legitimate right to protest. Your faith doesn’t get immunity from insult. Just like you constantly insult other faiths as a matter of course.

    You sure sound like an autocracy loving evangelical toady

  • Only a hate-filled bigot like yourself would think it is okay to harass religious believers in their own synagogues, churches, and mosques. Disgusting. America is better than that, and respects the rights of believers to worship and practice their religions without hindrance or fear. Too bad you don’t!

  • Not what I said.
    The article implied they were fighting for some great Christian crusade; which they are not. On the contrary, they desecrated a church with their stunt and deserved to be punished. Jail time in the US; gulag in Russia. Too bad. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.
    On top of this they are anarchists who which to change nothing other than to destroy.
    I’m not impressed with their politics or music.

  • Some people understand a need to protest and why entanglement of church and state are bad. It’s too bad you are not one of them.

  • It is the focus of your criticism. Protesting the entanglement of church and autocratic state is a great crusade for Christians. Especially those who understand that when the two are entwined both are cheapened and degraded.

    “They desecrated a church” by playing in one. They were engaging in protest. What would be free speech in a free country.

    You would have people jailed for insulting your religion. How very Talibanish of you.

    It’s funny how American Christian conservatives have Bern falling over themselves to support the autocratic Russian state. One already known for suppressing other Christian sects. You guys sell yourselves cheap.

  • Free speech does not entitle anyone to infringe upon others or to break the law; much less be disrespectful to a church.
    Your ANTIFA inclinations are showing…

  • So that’s a Yes: “[I] do … value notions of humanity, freedom and liberty” but only as predefined & predestinated according to the ransoming Fatherly love of God through the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of His own beloved Son, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the savior of the rest of the world.

    And so “does [my world-rejects-Jesus-and-church-is-dead, Evangelical-Nones] version of Christianity”.

    Thanks for asking.

    None of that is controversial, however. This is, and you know it:

    Putin + Russian Orthodox = Trump + Evangelical Right

    Liberals just can’t accept that about Russia & USA. I can.

  • “Putin + Russian Orthodox = Trump + Evangelical Right

    Liberals just can’t accept that about Russia & USA. I can.”

    I am liberal and I accept that. 🙂

  • Now you are just flinging poo. Those losers have done more in service of religious freedom with just that act than any conservative who uses the term. 🙂

  • If the law and government is unjust and supresses speech, it is a duty to break such laws. You speak like a resident of a dictatorship, not someone who understands freedom and civil liberties

    The only time you even pretended to defend free speech and religion was in service of bigotry and discrimination. Go figure.

  • Why do you care anyway? Based upon your socialist screeds here and elsewhere; this is the type of government you get after your preferred form of government fails.
    Look at your future son – you like what you see?

  • I am not the one flinging poo here for its own sake.

    My socialist screeds?

    So you are so full of crap that you have to assign a nonsense label to me and argue strawman positions rather than address when I say.

    “this is the type of government you get after your preferred form of government fails”

    As evidenced by every developed country out there. They all are failing at it. Oh wait, they aren’t. You have no clue what you are talking about.

    You support kleotocracy. Corruption and theft at the highest levels. Since you clearly have no stake in the massive theft of public resources by our current leader and cohorts, you are about as stupid as one can be.

  • Because reasonable and free governments put people in concentration camps for such things?

    Oh wait you were the kind of person who supported putting children into such places as hostages. Never mind.

    No sense in pretending you have a reasonable view. 🙂

  • You must really miss those old Soviet days, when hate filled bigots like yourself could harass, disrupt and violently shut down the services of believers in their own houses of worship. Too bad you promote un-American, Soviet style values. America’s National Motto: “In God We Trust”. (Adopted in direct opposition to those promoting your own Soviet style values.)

  • Wow, dishonest and tone deaf. You support a dictatorship’s brutal clampdown of a non violent protest. Where the offenders were sent to an actual Siberian gulag. You have the nerve to accuse me if being a Stalinist type?

    What nerve you have???

    Projection much??

    BTW the only hate filled bigots present are the ones demanding their sectarian beliefs and religious inspired prejudice be given color of law. Like you, for instance.

  • I think the best description of your prior post requires me to quote a Adam Sandler movie

    “what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul”
    http://quotegeek.com/quotes-from-movies/billy-madison/1122/

  • The fact that you’re actually familiar with the content of an Adam Sandler movie says a lot of things you probably did not intend to convey.

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