August 14, 2012

The New Dissidents

The New Dissidents

The three women - Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich & Nadezhda Tolokonnikova - on trial in Russia for "hooliganism" for their punk rock performance in Savior's Cathedral, made long closing statements last week. While people can debate the women's tactics, it is excruciatingly difficult after reading their statements to doubt that the women are serious, thoughtful and extremely articulate critics of authoritarianism in Russia.

The full texts of the women's statements (in which they invoke Brodsky, Socrates, Solzhenitsyn and Berdyayev, among others) has been translated by a group effort of American Slavicists and published on the n+1 website.

Those who cannot take the time to read the full statements should read the excerpts from their statements below.

If you haven't been paying attention to this trial, you should. If you disagree with their "blasphemous" performance in Saviors Cathedral, that is fine. They themselves have sincerely apologized to all they may have offended. That was not their intent. Their intent was to draw attention to Russia's rising authoritarianism, and their arrest and trial, more than anything else, seems to have proven the truth of their assertions and ideas.

Maria Alyokhina

I would like to point out that very similar methods were used during the trial of the poet [Joseph] Brodsky. His poems were defined as “so-called” poems; the witnesses for the prosecution hadn’t actually read them—just as a number of the witnesses in our case didn’t see the performance itself and only watched the clip online. Our apologies, it seems, are also being defined by the collective prosecuting body as “so-called” apologies. Even though this is offensive. And I am overwhelmed with moral injury and psychological trauma. Because our apologies were sincere. I am sorry that so many words have been uttered and you all still haven’t understood this. Or it is calculated deviousness when you talk about our apologies as insincere. I don’t know what you still need to hear from us. But for me this trial is a “so-called” trial. And I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of falsehood and fictitiousness, of sloppily disguised deception, in the verdict of the so-called court.

But all you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness [glasnost], when this will be read and heard by thousands of people. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country. With everyone who found shards of the trial in themselves, like in previous times they found them in Franz Kafka and Guy Debord. I believe that I have honesty and openness, I thirst for the truth; and these things will make all of us just a little bit more free. We will see this yet.

Yekaterina Samutsevich

It is very strange that in their reaction to our actions, the authorities completely disregard the historical experience of dissent. “[H]ow unfortunate is the country where simple honesty is understood, in the best case, as heroism. And in the worst case as a mental disorder,” the dissident [Vladimir] Bukovsky wrote in the 1970s. And even though it hasn’t been very long, now people are acting as if there was never any Great Terror nor any attempts to resist it. I believe that we are being accused by people without memory….

I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. Once again, the world sees Russia differently than the way Putin tries to present it at his daily international meetings. Clearly, none of the steps Putin promised to take toward instituting the rule of law has been taken. And his statement that this court will be objective and hand down a fair verdict is yet another deception of the entire country and the international community.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

What was behind our performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the subsequent trial? Nothing other than the autocratic political system. Pussy Riot’s performances can either be called dissident art or political action that engages art forms. Either way, our performances are a kind of civic activity amidst the repressions of a corporate political system that directs its power against basic human rights and civil and political liberties. The young people who have been flayed by the systematic eradication of freedoms perpetrated through the aughts have now risen against the state. We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [the holy foolishness] of punk.

Passion, total honesty, and naïveté are superior to the hypocrisy, mendacity, and false modesty that are used to disguise crime. The so-called leading figures of our state stand in the Cathedral with righteous faces on, but, in their cunning, their sin is greater than our own.

We put on political punk performances in response to a government that is rife with rigidity, reticence, and caste-like hierarchal structures. It is so clearly invested in serving only narrow corporate interests, it makes us sick just to breathe the Russian air….

Every day, more people understand that if the system is attacking three young women who performed in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for thirty seconds with such vehemence, it only means that this system fears the truth, sincerity, and straightforwardness we represent…. The paths of truth always triumph over the paths of cunning, guile, and deception. Every day, truth grows more victorious, despite the fact that we remain behind bars and will probably be here for a long time…

Despite the fact that we are physically here, we are freer than everyone sitting across from us on the side of the prosecution. We can say anything we want and we say everything we want. The prosecution can only say what they are permitted to by political censorship. They can’t say “punk prayer,” “Our Lady, Chase Putin Out,” they can’t utter a single line of our punk prayer that deals with the political system….

Who would have thought that man and the state he rules could, again and again, perpetrate absolutely unmotivated evil?  Who could have imagined that history, especially Stalin’s still-recent Great Terror, could fail to teach us anything? The medieval Inquisition methods that reign in the law enforcement and judicial systems of our country, the Russian Federation, are enough to make you weep. But from the moment of our arrest, we have stopped weeping. We have lost our ability to cry. We had desperately shouted at our punk concerts. With all our might, we decried the lawlessness of the authorities, the governing bodies.  But now, our voices have been taken away. They were taken from us on March 3, 2012, when we were arrested. The following day, our voices and our votes were stolen from the millions at the so-called elections….

Why wasn’t the following text by us—which, incidentally, appeared in the affidavit—presented by the prosecution? “We respect religion in general and the Orthodox faith in particular. This is why we are especially infuriated when Christian philosophy, which is full of light, is used in such a dirty fashion. It makes us sick to see such beautiful ideas forced to their knees.” 


About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567