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Pussy Riot, Punk-Feminist Collective Jailed by Putin, Returns to Rid the World of ‘Bad Apples’

Six years after the Russian government infamously jailed members of punk-feminist collective Pussy Riot for “hooliganism,” reverberations of their protests against Vladimir Putin are still being felt. Just last week, two of its members went missing in Crimea, only to reappear after being interrogated by authorities.

Today, Pussy Riot continues to lambast Putin’s regime, and has expanded their ire to include his alleged object of collusion, Donald Trump. The group’s most recent single (from their “XXX” EP) even borrows its name from the latter’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” A stripped-down track, it features production from Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), accompanied by a disturbing video from Jonas Akerlund (Madonna, Beyoncé). And what better, more auspicious start to Pussy Riot’s very first North American tour, which kicked off this week?

Live, Pussy Riot lean heavily on electro rap, performance-art choreography, and homemade revolutionary garb. It’s genuinely entertaining. But as we learned from Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, the group’s most visible member, “Our goal is to have deeper consequences.” In an interview with Variety, she elaborates:

How have the #metoo and the #timesup feminist movements impacted Pussy Riot’s message and overall strategy? 
We’re delighted that we live in the time when women around the world are taking their power back. No doubt, it’s truly a time of radical mass empowerment that will be [called] a “revolution” in the course books of the future. It’s crucial, though, not to forget about establishing a connection with those who’re living outside of big metropolitan centers, who are not lucky enough to be economically independent and self-sufficient. You don’t have a right to victimize those who’re coming from difficult backgrounds. You have to acknowledge the huge difference between speaking out when you’re a middle- or upper-class person or doing the same while being a person from a lower economic class.

Freedoms can’t be fully enjoyed without access to equal opportunities. That’s why it’s important to fight—alongside feminist causes—for things like good-quality universal healthcare, access to free education, and fair payment for one’s labor. The real things in life are free, and they simply can not fucking belong to a handful of ultra-rich privileged people—mostly men, most completely out of touch with reality—who commit harassment and abuses of power on a daily basis. It’s nonsense. Absurdity.

You have now directed criticism towards Trump. To what extent is that because of his alleged ties to Putin?
We’re still more concerned about Putin than about Trump, since Russia is our country. First and foremost, we’re activists who intend to create a difference in our home country. We do acknowledge the fact that we’re directly impacted by political events that happen in other parts of our Mother Earth. That’s why we comment on disgusting political figures like Donald Trump. Trump is only a part of a really sad trend that has allowed the political rise of a bunch of old-world misogynist patriarchal assholes who care about their money and power more than about anything else in life. They are bad apples that have to be stopped ASAP.

Some Pussy Riot members have fled Russia. Is that the case for you?
Our friends and fellow artists Lusine Djanyan and Aleksey Knedlyakovsky are staying in Sweden. They have to live under very strained circumstances and sadly don’t have an opportunity to create art, since their studio was in Krasnodar, Russia. Lusine and Aleksey were very vocal while I was in a Mordovian labor camp protesting, via a hunger strike, harsh labor conditions. These two Pussy Riot members who fled Russia were not given the opportunity to live normally here. They were harassed, pressed, threatened using various methods—psychological, as well as physical. They keep doing their political work while being away, though. … Me and a number of anonymous Pussy Riot members have chosen to stay in Russia. But by making this choice, you always have to be ready for a cop breaking into your home and arresting you.

Are there any other activist causes or groups that Pussy Riot are involved with?
Alexey Navalny’s Foundation Against Corruption, one of the most effective investigative groups in Russia and, arguably, in the world. Pavel Chikov’s Agora, an organization that operates in Russian and is based on the ACLU’s model. Mediazona, a free-of-censorship, totally independent media outlet that Pussy Riot activists founded and started to manage around the time we were freed from prison in the end of 2013.

What do you hope to achieve from your tour?
We intend to make the audience go out and act after leaving the venue or the festival. Our goal is to have deeper consequences than just being a piece of entertainment. Pussy Riot have been preparing this program for the last half-year. It’s surely not easy to digest, not pleasurable. It’s provoking. It includes art pieces both in Russian and English. We cannot predict people’s reactions, but we say what we want to say and are quite thankful to have this opportunity.

What are the most important changes you would like to see for women, globally?
Empowerment. Solidarity. More real freedom.

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