Saturday, 28 April 2012

Pussy Riot: an aesthetic protest

Did you hear about the band that embarrassed Putin by singing songs about him being a chicken in Red Square?

Pussy Riot is a fairly unique protest movement that has sprung up in Russia, although these protestors I spoke to recently, returning from a dance-off in front of the Embassy in London, said that it is more popular abroad because the level of repression they face in Russia is so formidable.

The three women whose photographs they're holding are alleged to belong to 'pussy riot' and are currently jailed with their lawyer fighting for their release.

The arrests ostensibly resulted from an 'illegal' gig in a church in which they prayed to the Virgin Mary to deliver them from Putin. Just looks like a nice party to me:

But the activists I spoke to feel this was just an excuse, and the most important protests Pussy Riot did were in February, in Red Square. They explained that Pussy Riot (and I would stress that the imprisoned girls, pictured, are only ALLEGEDLY from Pussy Riot) are "Politzeki: political fighters, for freedom of the culture".

I asked if this is mostly a feminist movement?

He said 'it's full of all kinds of people'.

The girl on the left explained: "It's more often led by feminist ideas, for [the girls who held a gig in a church], because they stood for eligibility and for feminism - they are really amazing in that way. It's one of the reasons for why they are mistreated. But in Russia  you would see all the different people for different groups."

I knew that these three pussy riot members had been imprisoned for a gig they held in a church, but asked how they could be identified, given that band members wear neon balaclavas?

The girl on the right said: "They can't prove anything! They say maybe they were identified from their mouths, but they can't prove it. I think everybody has just accepted that those three girls are the girls in the church."

The man (middle) said: "I think they [the government] were just waiting for another moment for Pussy Riot, to arrest them. Because actually, my theory is that he [Putin] wanted them arrested after they went to Red Square in February.

"In February they went to Red Square, in front of the Kremlin, and sang a song that went: 'Chicken-coward, get from the Kremlin, you have to go'. So he wanted to get to them directly, to get rid of them, but he couldn't, because he will look like he is a weak person - that he is afraid of the song."

"Because of the elections you know," one said "he couldn't arrest them at this time."

They showed me these pictures of other activists who have been arrested.

This month, reportedly 13 activists were also detained outside the courtroom where the three women were trialled.

For background, I like Peter Savodnik's summary in BusinessWeek:

'The rise of Pussy Riot is but one of many recent manifestations of public disapproval of the Kremlin. Discontent had been building for more than a year when demonstrations erupted in December after legislative elections whose results the authorities had clearly tampered with; widespread anger spearheaded by Russia’s youth focused on the United Russia party and its leader, Putin. Alexey Navalny, the most prominent opposition leader, is just 35. Among the more visible protest factions is FEMEN—which, like Pussy Riot, is an all-girl group that uses shock value to protest the regime. Unlike the punk-rock ensemble, members of FEMEN are known for taking off their tops and screaming angry, anti-Kremlin chants.
[...]  Punk rock icon Kathleen Hanna, who posted a video online voicing support for Pussy Riot, said: “These are the punk rock feminists that would be our friends if they lived down the corner, up the block, in our neighborhood, around Bushwick—wherever. These would be the cool girls we hung out with.”'

Monday, 2 April 2012


This blog entry includes accounts, roughly-rendered, from Syrians and other activists I know, along with what I've seen outside the embassy in London...

 I first noted this when friends spoke about an activist who was killed, and I lay awake afterwards in tears, bombed by the story.

However it has taken a while to re-upload this while I run it by the people involved - as they know their story best...

Free Syria: notes

"Everybody loved him,” she said. “He was a beautiful person - not just in the person that he was, but also, physically, beautiful. I couldn't understand how anybody could do this to anybody, especially to somebody like him, but they did.

“They tortured him. They smashed in his skull and they killed him, and they- "

She put her hands to her face and moved them around- a gesture to convey what had happened to his face.

There are still voices, internationally, defending Assad's regime.
I’ve seen them outside the Syrian embassy in London. Every time the ‘free Syria’ activists have a protest, the pro-Assad people set up camp on the other side of the square.

Here are the anti-Assad group, 'Free Syria':

The Free Syria protestors have angry speeches from guests in English and Arabic, while the pro-Assad crowd jump up and down singing love songs, with their dictator gazing pathetically from the tops of flag-poles: duplications of Assad’s-puppy-gaze and Assad’s straight little mouth.

'What on earth are they celebrating?' we asked.

'Being in power, of course,' observed a friend.

We watched them bobbing up and down frantically and wondered if they were all relatives of the royal family.

The hands of dictatorship reach out everywhere, but especially in London (see Kelvin Brown's blog - 'robbed at the gaddafi's london mansion', March 22, for more of this madness).

M, an activist I met, knows all about Assad's apologists. She said: "I understand how a Jewish person feels if they are faced with holocaust deniers.

'I was at a lecture, the speaker was talking to us about the French Revolution and she said 'what do you think of Syria?'

"I sat up - I thought, yes! Syria! Of course they had no way of knowing that I am Syrian. But, one Algerian guy stood up and said 'I think it's bullshit'.

"I said: but you have seen the pictures of children killed?

He said, yes, but that these are all terrorists, and that we are all selaphists in Syria.

I said 'look at me, I am Syrian, I am with this revolution and I am not veiled.’ This guy was so aggressive, he argued with me for so long, I just couldn’t stand it.”

She glanced at the floor. “I completely broke down."

Her Egyptian friend, L, interrupted, gently: "the French and the Algerians do not want a revolution to happen in their own country. This is why they are so aggressive - because they are scared."

M said: "Some people try to argue with me about numbers - they say, ah, you think it is however many thousands of deaths it is more like 300 that he is responsible for, or something like that.

Even if you could only prove that Assad was behind 1000 deaths, 100 deaths, even if it was 10 deaths, or just one - you can't put a measure on pain."

She went on: "I can even count four Syrians that I know, here in London, who do not oppose Assad. And in Syria, too. The more people watch the television, the less they seem to actually know.
“Even in Homs,” she explained, “there is a wall. Inside the wall, you’ll see boys on the street, girls, wandering about, talking - you could think that everything is fine. Outside it...”

She makes another gesture to indicate buildings razed to the ground.

"... You know,” she carried on, “I even went to Tunisia and I had a bad feeling. I wasn't expecting it. A few years ago, I had been absolutely moved by the warmth of the Tunisian people, but I went there last December and...

"We said: we are Syrians. And they said: Yes." She did an impression of them shrugging. "We think - is that all you're going to say?! And they say: your revolution is quite different to ours. I say, yes. It is different. Ours is very, very much more feeling. Very real to us still. What happened in Tunisia was such an inspiration to us and they do not even..."

She broke off with restrained sadness.

L said: “I spend so much time thinking to myself: what am I doing about this, other than praying?”

M said “You are raising awareness. When I speak to British people they realise that I am somebody young, educated, maybe stylish? Someone that they can have laugh with. Somebody just like them. That we are peers.”

The group spoke about somebody that they had all worked to free from Assad's forces, a Syrian student at a university in London:

“When he was captured, my brother said to me ‘are you sure you want to speak out?’ but I just thought of him, trapped, and of course I had to do it. I knew what could happen to me, but there was no question in my mind.”

"I will say," said N, an English girl, "that I am such a coward. But, I saw an Afghan woman MP speaking on television, answering the question 'and what if you are killed? What about your children?' - she just [smiling] said 'we all die, anyway.' I was so inspired by this woman.

'We all spend our lives fearing death - but in this world, I feel we have lost touch with that, and we extend it until we fear the loss of our office, the loss of our title, or job.

'Will we get so scared that we can no longer leave the house?'

She went on to explain what I've always believed, that heartlessness only comes from a sense of detachment from suffering:

She said: "I saw a girl on TV speaking from Syria. She said her father had heard a knock on the door.

And she said - don’t open it.

He said: No, I will open it, I’ve done nothing wrong.

But when he opened the door, she said, they grabbed him and they dragged him out of the door, and they slit his throat.

People can say oh, it is Syria. But when I imagine that this is my father, and my house,suddenly-”

We all stop for a moment. Then she carries on.

“What really makes me angry is the thought of anybody doing these things to preserve their little office, their little job."

L said: "It’s power. I have seen people change the moment they get a taste of it."

"I know 'absolute power corrupts absolutely' - but, Assad could have listened to the protests. He could have made his government more democratic and still kept his piece of power. Now that he has done this, people want him dead."

L said: "What will happen when Assad meets God?"

“The shit that will go down when that happens."