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Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina: ‘Fear is the most dangerous thing’

What characterizes Russian feminism? Should we fear Putin? DW talked to Maria Alyokhina, front woman of the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot as they start their German tour.

Maria Alyokhina is sitting in the famous Berlin’s music club SO36, smoking one cigarette after another. Her fingernails are just as blue as her eyes.

The bar is in the heart of Kreuzberg, a Berlin district with a strong alternative tradition. From the window, you can see across the street an organic food shop established by a women’s collective, while a banner on the next-door building denounces capitalism as a “system of pigs.”

Alyokhina is one of the two front women of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist protest punk rock group that caused a stir six years ago when they performed their anti-Putin concert “Punk Prayer” in a cathedral in Moscow.

The aftermath? Global notoriety, but also a year and a half of imprisonment for her and her two bandmates.

Alyokhina recounts her experiences in the recently published book “Riot Days,” which inspired the group’s new performance piece of the same name that is now coming to Germany.

The tour starts on January 9 in Hannover, and concerts in Berlin, Munich, Bonn, Karlsruhe and many other cities in Germany are planned for the whole month.


Maria Alyokhina (r) performing with Pussy Riot in Frankfurt in 2017

DW talked to Alyokhina as she was finalizing preparations for the first evening.

DW: To whom do you address the message of the new performance?

Maria Alyokhina: To anyone who does not want to be silent anymore. It is no secret that the political situation not just in Russia but all around the world is very tense now. To say nothing is the worst thing you can do in such situation. 


In March, millions of Russians will re-elect Vladimir Putin as their president. Are you going to vote?

There are no democratic elections in Russia, so participation is not a civil action in this case. People must think of more creative forms of protest against the government. What happens on the streets is much more important than what happens in the polling stations.

There are so many teenagers, so many young people with hope for a better future in their eyes right now. I already have many friends among them.

As for the choice Russian citizens have, they can only pick between Putin and Putin, so to say. So it is not surprising that many vote for the Putin.

Read more: Pussy Riot is not giving up on Russia


Last December, you unfurled a banner reading “Happy Birthday, Executioners!” at the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet secret police. After all your terrible experiences you’ve described so vividly in your book, aren’t you scared?

Fear is the most dangerous thing that can happen to us today. I consider the absence of fear a form of self-defense.

No, I’m not afraid — but you can say I’m “afraid of fear.” 

You can change a lot if you’re not scared. When I was in prison, for example, I did not want to accept that we were forced out without warm clothes at minus 35 degrees Celsius. I sued the penal colony, and we won. As a result, eight employees were fired and their director was sentenced to five years.

Read more: Scrotum-nailing Russian artist Pavlensky opens up about prison and new film

Maria Alyokhina was detained in Moscow in December 2017 after unfurling a banner on the FSB building

Pussy Riot calls itself a “feminist punk collective.” What does feminism mean to you personally?

Feminism came to my mind when I decided to keep my child. My son, Philip, was born when I was 18. You can’t even imagine the hell young women in my situation must go through, how much humiliation they have to accept.

But in general, feminism also means fighting for men’s rights. Women are not conscripted into our army, and they are much less likely to hold a senior position. If we could free men of those obligations and transfer them to women, I am sure it would be quite interesting for everyone.


Does “Russian feminism” exist?

In Russia, we still live in a criminal system. And every criminal system is, by its very nature, purely male. It gives women a clear role: that of the servant. That’s why feminism in Russia has such a strong political message. 

A good third of the women I met in the penal colony was behind bars because of domestic violence. That is, their husbands would beat them repeatedly, and when the women couldn’t bear it anymore, they stabbed them.

Not to mention that reactionary figures, such as the Orthodox priest Dmitri Smirnov, flourish in the Russian media landscape. He suggests people live according to the “Domostroy,” a 16th-century Russian set of household rules that sees women as slaves to the men.

Not bad for the 21st century, right?

Read more: Russia planning to ease domestic violence penalties

The anti-Putin protest that made them world famous: Pussy Riot performing inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012

The Russian Orthodox Church stylizes Putin as the “triumph of Christianity.” Is there a way to resist this politicized theology?

The Church is today part of the state’s power structure. Incidentally, this is not Putin’s invention — it began with Stalin, who, during the Second World War, used the church as an instrument of the government’s power. 

Personally, I consider myself a Christian, but Christianity for me signifies above all a philosophy of freedom and personal choice.


From the Women’s March in January to the recent Hollywood scandals, 2017 seemed like a continuous feminist protest. Why do many people in Russia see the development as an “inquisition” against men?

I believe the whole process is a political act of global feminism. It is a natural answer to the strong neo-conservative trend of the today’s “men’s world.” But I think people should look beyond that — the world will not change just because Harvey Weinstein and his kind are condemned for their behavior.


Your son is now 10. How do you explain the things you do to him?

I do not have to, he lives the same life as I do and knows everything. He even drew illustrations for the book! He is a real hero to me.


Interview: Anastassia Boutsko (jt)




10.01.2018 | 13:18