During the Pussy Riot trial there was so much to take in, and so many updates that it was easy to miss different events and different updates. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at an essay written by Nadya Tolokonnikova while she was in prison during the trial.
The essay, translated into English for your convenience, describes the intentions of the band Pussy Riot, the explanation of the performance at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, along with apologies and clarifications that they are not anti-religious, or anti-orthodox, but were merely protesting the church’s support of Vladimir Putin.
Here is the essay:
Art and the Human Manifesto of Nadya Tolokonnikova
The punk band Pussy Riot, which I belong to, is a musical group that conducts unexpected performances in different urban spaces. Pussy Riot’s songs address topical political issues. The interests of the group members are: political activism, ecology, and the elimination of authoritarian tendencies in the Russian state system through the creation of the civil society.
Since its origin in October 2011, the band played concerts in the subway, on the roof of a trolleybus, on the roof of the detention center for administrative detainees, in clothing stores, at fashion shows, and on the Lobnoe Mesto on Red Square. We believe that the art should be accessible to everyone; therefore we perform in diverse public spaces. Pussy Riot never means to show any disrespect to any viewers or witnesses of our punk concerts. This was the case on the roof of the trolleybus and on the Lobnoe Mesto, and this was the case at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
On 21 February 2012 Pussy Riot band performed its punk prayer “Hail Mary, Expel Putin” at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. In the early March 2012 three members of the group were imprisoned because of the music and political activism. The themes of our songs and performances are dictated by the present moment. We simply react to what is happening in our country, and our punk performances express the opinion of a sufficiently large number of people. In our song “Hail Mary, Expel Putin” we reflected the reaction of many Russian citizens to the patriarch’s calls for vote for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin during the presidential election of 4 March 2012.
We, like many of our fellow citizens, wrestle against treachery, deceit, bribery, hypocrisy, greed, and lawlessness, peculiar to the current authorities and rulers. This is why we were upset by this political initiative of the patriarch and could not fail to express that. The performance at Cathedral of Christ the Savior was committed not on the grounds of religious enmity and hatred. Equally, we harbor no hatred towards Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christianity worships the same as we do: mercy, forgiveness, justification, love, and freedom. We are not enemies of Christianity. We care about the opinion of Orthodox Christians. We want all of them to be on our side – on the side of anti-authoritarian civil society activists. That is why we came to the Cathedral.
We came with what we have and can: with our musical performance. During this performance we intended to express our concern: the rector of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church – the patriarch – supports a politician who forcefully suppresses the civil society, which is dear to us.
I would like to emphasize the fact that, while at the Cathedral, we did not utter any insulting words towards the church, the Christians, and the God. The words we spoke and our entire punk performance aimed to express our disapproval of a specific political event: the patriarch’s support of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who took an authoritarian and antifeminist course. Our performance contained no aggression towards the audience, but only a desperate desire to change the political situation in Russia for the better. Our emotions and expressiveness came from that desire. If our passion appeared offensive to any spectators, we are sorry for that. We had no intentions to offend anyone. We wish that those, who cannot understand us, would forgive us. Most of all, we want people to hold no grudges against us.
We very much wish that people would not see our denial of guilt under the Article 213 (Part 2) of the Russian Criminal Code as audacity, insolence, or our unwillingness or inability to admit our mistakes. It seems to me that those who were distressed by our songs tend to take our denial of guilt that way. I believe that we are all victims of the most perfect misunderstanding and confusion of words and legal terms.
My key point is that I separate the legal and ethical assessments of our performance “Hail Mary, Expel Putin”. This is a very important, probably the most important, thing in this proceeding. I insist that the criminal side of this story must not be confused with the ethical one. The fact is that our denial of guilt does not mean our unwillingness to explain our actions and apologize for the distress brought by our performance, and I would like everyone, especially the victims, would try to understand that.
My assessment of the ethics of the Pussy Riot punk prayer is this: our ethical mistake was that we allowed bringing our newly developed genre—the unexpected political punk performance—to the cathedral. We did not think that our actions might offend some. In fact, we performed in various places in Moscow since October 2011, and everywhere—in the subway, in stores, on the roof of the detention center, on the Lobnoe Mesto – people perceived our actions with humor, cheerfulness, or, at the very least, with irony. Similarly, based on our experience of the previous performances, we had no idea that the punk performance could hurt or offend someone. If anyone was offended by our performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, then I am ready to admit that we made an ethical mistake. This is, indeed, a mistake because we had no conscious intention to offend anyone. Our ethical – I emphasize, ethical, and not the criminal—fault lies in the fact that we allowed ourselves to respond to the patriarch’s call to vote for Vladimir Putin by our performance at the Cathedral, and, therefore, by sharing our political position with the audience. This is our ethical lapse, and I emphasize and acknowledge it, and I apologies for it.
However, our ethical slip matches no article of the Criminal Code.
We have been in prison for five months now, but in our actions do not constitute a crime. The violation of rules of church conduct substantially differs from the accusations of hate and enmity towards the entire Orthodox religion and all believers that we now face. One does not follow from the other. I shudder every time I read the indictment that we have come to the cathedral out of contempt and hatred towards Christians. These are terrible, very bad words and incredibly strong, terrible accusation. Our motivation was purely political and artistic. I agree, perhaps, we did not have an ethical right to bring them to the cathedral’s ritual space. But we do not hate anyone.
Think about it: what are hatred and enmity? None of them is a joke. No one may label people with them just like that. Perjury is happening here. For five months we have been suffering from slander. It is not easy for me to withstand the cynical and cruel labeling with the feelings that I have not experienced to any living being on earth. The prosecution accuses us of hiding our true motives (which supposedly are religious hatred and enmity) to avoid punishment. However, we do not lie because we have principles, and one of which is: always telling the truth. We did not betray our principles, even though the investigators detained us, forcing us to admit our guilt under the Article 231 (Part 2). Such admittance would label us with the false motive—hatred and enmity—and crush and destroy us as honest people. The investigators repeatedly told us, if we plea guilty, we would be released. We refused.
If we admit our guilt under the Article 231 (Part 2), we will defame ourselves. The truth is precious to us more than anything, even more than the freedom. Thus, I think there is no reason not to trust our words. We will not lie, for sure. The content of our laptops and hard drives is presented in the criminal case, and it refutes the version of the prosecution. These materials prove that we did not have religious hatred or enmity as our motive. Anyone who reads the content of our laptops and hard drives will clearly see that our motivation was purely political. The Volumes 3 and 4 of our criminal case contain our criticism of Putin’s authoritarian policies and our reflections about the benefits the peaceful civil protests. The Volumes 3 and 4 contain the texts about feminism and interviews of Pussy Riot band. Not a single word is about religious hatred or enmity.
In all those laptops and hard drives, the prosecution has found not a single piece of evidence confirming this motive, and now it is trying to get out of their predicament by magically making illogical conclusions. In our interviews after our performance on 21 February 2012, we repeatedly said that we treated Christianity with great consideration and respect. The prosecution, realizing their lack of evidence of our religious hatred, has resorted to the next move. They now claim that our statements of loyalty towards Christianity cover up our true attitude towards the religion, thus attempting to minimize the backlash against the illegal act committed at the Cathedral. These statements are illogical because we have publicly stated our positive attitude towards the religion on 21 February 2012 and on other dates – way before the news that a criminal case has been initiated.
The conclusion that we “revenge for Hypatia’s death”* is so absurd that even the ones who still doubted our motives, now realized: the prosecution has absolutely no evidence of the motive of hatred. Therefore neither the motive nor elements of crime exist.
Two expert reports, ordered by the investigation, found no motive of hatred or enmity in our actions. However, for some unfortunate reason, the indictment fails to mention these reports. The experts concluded that the song text, our activities, or the video do not contain any linguistic features of dishonor or insults towards Orthodox Christians, the Orthodox church officials, or other groups. Neither they contain any linguistic evidence of hostile attitudes towards the Orthodox religion, Orthodox believers, or people of other groups. Moreover, the experts noted that the behavior of our group had no psychological signs of hostility: the girls did not commit aggressive and violent acts against anyone.
In summary, we had no motive of religious hatred or enmity, neither we conducted a crime under Article 213 (Part 2) of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation.