Translated from French by Iddhis Bing, 99GetSmart
Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich on protest, art, and freedom
On October 10, 2012, an appellate court in Moscow announced the conditional release of Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich, the punk rock dissident imprisoned alongside band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina for charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” The “religious hatred” involved a musical protest, a “punk prayer” staged inside Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February, less than a month before Russia’s elections. Appealing to the Virgin Mary to banish Vladimir Putin, the performance artists called attention to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill’s explicit endorsement of Putin as “a miracle from God,” highlighting the entangled powers of church and state.
The government’s attempt to stifle the political criticism and the prosecution and court’s conflation of “blasphemous acts” with “a grave violation of public order” served to elevate Pussy Riot’s cause, launching the plight of the activists into the international spotlight. Solidarity protests swept through cities, celebrity artists like Madonna pledged support, and Amnesty International named the women “prisoners of conscience,” a designation shared by Russia’s famous political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Nevertheless, two of the band members—Masha and Nadya—remain incarcerated, sentenced to two-year terms at harsh prison camps.
Two days after her release, Katya gave an interview to the Russian radio station Echo of Moscow, a bastion of independent journalism increasingly coming under the control of Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of the partly state-owned natural gas company. Fielding the questions of some skeptical Russian listeners, Katya discusses Putin’s fueling of national resentments, the tactics of protest, and the future of Pussy Riot.
– Conversation published courtesy of Echo of Moscow, originally translated from Russian by Olga Kokorina
Echo of Moscow: How did you feel when your case was separated [from the cases of Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova]?
Yekaterina Samutsevich: I have very conflicting feelings about our separation. I wasn’t expecting it at all. At first, I didn’t understand why the text that we were used to hearing—the verdict is unchanged—was suddenly different, why suddenly there were different words. We started listening closely and suddenly: “The verdict is changed, the punishment altered,” and then the words about the conditional release. For a few seconds I had no idea what it meant. And then all at once, there was an explosion of emotion. The girls embraced me and I understood that I was going to be free, outside, on the street.
Echo of Moscow: Have you explained the sense behind your action to people? It seems like the most frequently posed question is: why did they do it?
Now many people ask, “Had you known that this action would be considered a criminal act, would you have done it?” Yes, because we could not remain silent.
Yekaterina Samutsevich: Yes, I think so. I think that the majority of people understand the idea behind the action very well.
Echo of Moscow: Could you explain it to our listeners? There are more than three hundred questions on our site, and I can see quite clearly that many people do not understand why you did it or what your motivation was. Read the rest of this entry →