MPT FEATURE

Pussy Riot Testimonies

The trial of three women who climbed onto the ambo of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow to sing a protest 'punk prayer' has been international news. There has been widespread condemnation of the harsh treatment meted out to these young women, who caused no damage or injury, and yet have spent five months in remand prison and now face a three-year prison sentence.

Their trial was described by Russian and international observers alike as 'unobjective', a 'show-trial', and was compared to the famous trial against Joseph Brodsky, sent into internal exile for an equally trivial crime.

MPT, committed to a free exchange across all frontiers, is publishing the final testimonies of the three women, made in court on the 8 August 2012.  They are translated by MPT Editor Sasha Dugdale.

Testimonies

These testimonies were made on 8 August at the Khamovnichesky Court. Each speech was met with applause and the judge saying repeatedly, ‘we are not in a theatre’. 

When the girls left the court they had a standing ovation.
This testimony was recorded by Andrei Kozenko for Lenta.ru


Nadya Tolokonnikova

It is not really three PUSSY RIOT vocalists who are on trial here. If that were the case, then what happened here would have no significance. On trial here is the state system of the Russian Federation. This imitation of the judicial process is reaching its pre-determined end, such were the prosecutor, judge and investigator we had. And those who stand behind them as well, those who gave the political order to repress. Where should the blame lie for the performance in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral and the subsequent trial? It lies with the authoritarian nature of the political system. PUSSY RIOT makes oppositional art, or you could call it politics in the guise of art. In either case it is a type of civic action, taken as a response to the state’s erosion of basic human rights.

Many people are rising up: people who have spent the first decade of the new millennium being mercilessly and methodically flayed of their liberties.

We searched for real beauty and sincerity, and found it in our punk performances. Our passion, openness, naivety are above the hypocrisy, deceit and the feigned decency which masks criminals. The first men of the state stand in the cathedral with righteousness upon their faces, but their sins are far greater than ours. We did our punk performances because what reigns supreme in the Russian state is a caste system, a closed system, a system set in stone. And the politics are led by narrow corporate interests. So much so that even the air in Russia causes pain to us.

We are absolutely against and feel compelled to act against the measures of force used to regulate society, harsh mechanisms to control our citizens’ behaviour. We are against the passivity which is forced upon the majority of the population, and the complete domination by executive power over judicial and legal processes. We are also honestly angered by the low level of political culture. It is a scandal and the result of fear, and it is deliberately and constantly maintained by the state system and its henchmen. Just hear what Patriarch Kirill says: ‘Orthodox believers do not attend political protests.’ We are angered by the scandalous weakness of non-hierarchical structures in society. We do not like the way in which the state manipulates public opinion through the strict control of the vast majority of media outlets. One very clear example is the media campaign against Pussy Riot, unprecedented in its cynicism and its selective use of facts and words. It has been conducted through most of the Russian media, with the exception of a few independents outlets.

Nonetheless, I am watching the disintegration of this political system, made manifest by the trial of three members of PUSSY RIOT. The system relied upon something happening that did not happen, to its own misfortune: the whole of Russia did not condemn us, more and more people believe us, believe in us, and believe that we should be free, and not behind bars. I see it through the people I meet; the people who represent the system, who work for its organisations. I see the people who are in prison. And every day we see more and more that our political act was justified. People say to us, your gesture was right, you’ve laid bare the weeping wounds of this political system, you struck against the very snakes’ nest which has now attacked you. These people try to make our lives easier as far as they can, and we are very grateful to them for doing so.

We are grateful to all of those who have voluntarily offered their support – it’s a huge number of people, I know that. I know that a huge number of Orthodox believers also defend us, and some are even praying for us outside the court. We’ve been shown little books which believers are handing out, with prayers in them for those who are in prison. And this alone shows that there is no single social group of Orthodox believers, as the prosecuting counsel would have us believe. Believers are more and more coming to the defence of PUSSY RIOT. They consider that what we did does not deserve five months in remand prison, let alone a three-year sentence, as the prosecutor wants. Every day it dawns more and more on people that if this political system has armed itself to the teeth against three girls who performed in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, then that only means that the system is scared of the truth, afraid of the sincerity and directness we represent. We were never ever devious – not even for a moment during this trial, and the opposing side has been far too devious, and people feel it.

Yesterday Madonna had a concert, and she appeared on stage with PUSSY RIOT written on her back. I am amazed by the ever-increasing numbers of people who see that we have been falsely accused and unlawfully imprisoned. I am amazed that truth really does win out over lies, even if we are here in a cage. We are freer than all those who sit opposite us on the side of the prosecutor, because we can say what we please and we do, and they can only say what the political censor has allowed them to say. They can’t even say words like ‘punk-prayer’ or ‘Virgin Mary, chase out Putin’. They can’t even say the lines from our punk-prayer, which concern the political system. Perhaps they think that it would be good to send us down because we oppose Putin and his system, too, but they can’t say it, because they’re not allowed to. It is sad to say but their mouths are sewn shut, they are just puppets here. I hope they will realize this and follow the road to freedom, truth, sincerity, because all of these are high above this feigned decency, this rigidity and hypocrisy.

Man is an imperfect creature, always making mistakes. He strives for wisdom, but never possesses it. And that is how philosophy was born –for a philosopher is one who strives for wisdom, but never possesses it. That is what sent us in to the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, and I believe that Christianity, as I understand it from my studies of the Old and New Testament, promotes the search for truth and the constant overcoming of oneself.

It also seems to me that the speeches of the lawyers on the opposing side are controlled by higher forces, time and time again they slip up, say the wrong words and they call us ‘victims’. Almost all the lawyers do this, even Larisa Pavlova who is very hostile to us, but all the same some higher force makes her call us ‘victims’, rather than the ones she is defending.

I want to weep when I look at how the Russian Federation’s legal and judicial system is debased by the tactics of the inquisition. But from the moment of our arrest we have not been able to weep, we have forgotten how to cry. We shouted at our punk concerts the best we could, shouted out about the unlawfulness of the government, and look! They stole our voice. During the whole trial they have refused to listen to us, or to understand us.

But instead, to our misfortune and that of the whole country, the court has listened to the prosecutor, who over and over again, without fear of retribution, has twisted our words and statements in an attempt to reduce them. The flagrant rejection of the basic adversarial principle even seems to serve as an example. On 30 July, the first day of the trial we gave our response to the indignation of those upset by our behaviour in the cathedral. We apologized. But the court did not even give us the chance to read our text, our lawyer Volkova read it. This was the first opportunity in five months of imprisonment of speaking for ourselves. We talked about a dialogue with those who, for some reason, see us as enemies. But they made fun of us – that was their answer, they spat on our outstretched hand. They told us that we were ‘insincere’. They shouldn’t have. They shouldn’t judge others by themselves. We are in desperate circumstances, but we are not desperate. We are persecuted, but we are not alone. Open, sincere people are easy to humiliate and bring down, but when I am powerless I am strong.

Listen to us and not to what Arkady Mamontov says about us. Do not twist our words, or quote us selectively, allow us to meet in dialogue, to be in contact with the country, it is our country, it belongs to us too, not just to Putin and those around him. I, like Solzhenitsyn, believe that the word, in the end, will prove stronger than concrete.

I, Katya and Masha are in prison, in a cage, but I do not believe we have suffered defeat. Just as dissidents didn’t lose when they disappeared into asylums and prisons. Just as the oberiu (absurdist) poets remained artists to the very end, although they were purged in 1937. One of them Aleksandr Vvedensky wrote ‘The incomprehensible gives us pleasure, the inexplicable is our friend’. The official version is that he died on 20 December 1941, the cause unknown, perhaps dysentery in a cattle truck, or a guard’s bullet. The place: somewhere on a railway line between Voronezh and Kazan. PUSSY RIOT are students and disciples of Vvedensky, his ‘bad rhyme’ principle seems natural to us. He wrote ‘it sometimes happens that two rhymes come to mind, a good one and a bad one and I choose the bad one, because that’s the exactly right one.’ The oberiu poets proved with the loss of their own lives, that a sense of meaninglessness suited the ‘nerve’ of that time. The price of this proof, of participating in the creation of history, is always out of proportion, always too great. But in it, and in this participating is all the salt of our existence. To be a pauper and yet to make others rich, to have nothing, and yet possess it all. Punished, yes, but they live on.

I believe that if the government, tsars, presidents, elders and premiers, the nation, the judges understood what ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ meant, then they wouldn’t condemn the innocent. Our government rushes to condemn and offers no mercy. Oh yes, thank you Dmitry Anatolevich Medvedev for another one of your aphorisms. He characterized his own term of presidential office with the slogan ‘freedom is better than no freedom’, and thanks to Medvedev’s happy turn of phrase a third term for Putin might go under the new slogan ‘Prison is better than stoning’.

As we really had and have in us no hatred for religion, our accusers have had no option but to turn to false witnesses. One of these – Motil’da Ivashenko – was ashamed and didn’t come to court. All that was left were the false witnesses: the experts Troitsky, Ponkin, and Mrs Abramenkova, and apart from this so-called expertise, there is no other proof of the existence of this hatred and enmity. And so the court, if it were honest and judicious, would have had to throw out this proof, because it is no strong, scientific and objective text, but the false and soiled papers of the Inquisition.

The prosecution does not feel able to use excerpts from interviews with PUSSY RIOT as they are proof of a complete lack of motive. I will once again read this excerpt, it seems important to me. It is from an interview with ‘Russian Reporter’, given on the day after the performance in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. ‘We have respect for religion, and particularly Russian Orthodox religion, and that is why we are indignant about the way in which the great and good Christian philosophy is so soiled. We are furious at the way that a beautiful and pure thing has been dragged through the mud.’ We are still furious, it causes us real pain to witness all of this.

And last of all I would like to quote a PUSSY RIOT song, because, strange as it seems, all of our songs have been prophetic, including the one that goes: The head of the KGB is their big saint man, loading protesters in a prison van.’ But what I want to quote now is the next line:

‘Open all the doors, rip the stripes from your sleeve, and breathe with us our liberty.’


Maria Alyokhina

Each stage in this trial has been the quintessence of depravity. We planned a small performance to start with, but the state of Russia has long resembled an utterly sick body, and this sense of sickness was not just apparent, but was a resonating explosion at this performance. That is what happens when you touch an abscess ready to burst.

Talking about Putin, we do not mean Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin himself, but Putin the System. The hierarchy he has created, a hierarchy which takes no notice of the opinions of the masses, and, what troubles me more, takes no notice of the opinions of younger generations. We think that the ineffectiveness of this government can be felt in absolutely everything, and here, in my final testimony I want to briefly describe the experience I have had of this system.

Education, the beginning of the formation of the individual in society, effectively ignores the particular nature of each personality, there is no approach based on the individual, there is no study of philosophy, nor the basic principles of contemporary art culture. These subjects exist formally, but they are taught using the Soviet model, and as a result we have ‘the average citizen’ not interested in thinking in philosophical terms, favouring gender discrimination, their civil rights brushed into a far corner. Today’s educational institutes teach people to live ‘on automatic’ from an early age, without ever asking the vital questions, they develop in them cruelty and a hatred of alternative ways of thinking. From the earliest age their liberties are forgotten.

And now it takes thousands of people from all across the world to prove the obvious – that we are innocent. We are innocent – the whole world is saying it. The whole world says it at concerts, the whole world says it on the internet and in the press. In parliaments they say it. The British Prime Minister did not greet our President with a speech about the Olympics. He asked why three innocent girls were in prison. How shameful.

But what’s even more terrible is that people do not believe they have the power to influence their government. During a period of environmental pickets and protests, when I was collecting signatures in Krasnodar for a petition to save the Utrishsky Reserve, many people asked me, and with genuine bewilderment, what it had to do with them, this forest – possibly the only Russian forest of such a rare kind. What did it have to do with them, that the wife of the Prime Minister was about to build her residence and destroy in the making the only juniper reserve in Russia? Our people have stopped feeling that the country’s territory belongs to them, the citizens. These people have stopped thinking of themselves as citizens, they feel themselves to be just the masses. They have no sense that even the forest right by their homes belongs to them. I even doubt that they have any sense of their own homes belonging to them. If a digger drove up to the entrance and they were told ‘Excuse me, we’re about to knock down your house, this will be the residence of an important official’, these people would probably just collect up their things, pack their bags resignedly and go and sit out on the street until the government told them what to do next. They are totally amorphous and that is very sad.

After nearly six months in remand prison I have realized that prison is Russia in miniature. Start with the power systems: it's the same hierarchy. No issue can be dealt with without the direct interference of the one in power, there is no ‘horizontal’ assignment of duties which would make life much easier for everyone, there is no individual initiative, informers and mutual suspicion are rampant. In jail as in the rest of our country everything depends on the depersonalization of the individual, on turning the individual into a function, the function of a prisoner or a guard. You rapidly become used to the monotonous and senseless regime. It’s much like the one we were dropped into at birth. Within such limits people begin to value the smallest things, in prison, for example, the tablecloth or plastic cups and plates, which you can only get hold of with the express permission of the head warder – outside prison there is another corresponding role – that of status, which people place huge value on.

You might say that we are against Putin’s chaos, which only from the outside might be described as a regime. Our opinion is that there has been a mutation of almost all institutions within the system – whilst preserving external appearances – and it is destroying the civil society we value so much. It is strange that the government, in reacting to our action, has not given the least consideration to the historical precedent for such displays of alternative thinking. ‘ The country in which straightforward honesty is seen at best as heroism, and at worst, as mental illness, is an unlucky one.’ The dissident Vladimir Bukovsky said that in the 1970s. Not much time has passed and it’s just as if nothing happened: neither the purges, nor Brezhnev’s stagnation, nor the attempts to resist them.

The Russian Orthodox Church treats the Gospels as static religious truths. The Gospels are not the revelation they were at the very beginning, but rather some monolithic block to be broken down into quotations, which can be plastered around, shoved into any piece of writing, for any end. But a religious truth shouldn’t be static, it is a process and not an end in itself. It is given sense by philosophy, art, and yes, even contemporary art. I am extremely angered by the phrase ‘so-called’ which the State Prosecutor uses to refer to contemporary art. I would like to draw attention to the fact that during the trial of Brodsky exactly the same phrase was used. His poems were referred to as ‘so-called poetry’, and the witnesses hadn’t even read them. Just as a number of our witnesses had not actually seen what had happened.

Our apologies were clearly also thought of by the collective prosecution as ‘so-called’. And that is insulting, because they were truthful. You haven’t yet understood, or perhaps it is your slyness which makes you refer to our apologies as insincere. I don’t know what you would need to hear to convince you.

And if that’s how it is, then for me at least this trial is just a ‘so-called’ trial. I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of you and I am not afraid of the thinly veneered deceit of your verdict at this ‘so-called’ trial. My truth lives with me. I believe that honesty, free-speaking and the thirst for truth will make us all a little freer. We will see this come to pass.


Ekaterina Samutsevich

I have no regrets about what we have done. Instead I wish to give my thoughts on why this has happened to us. When a former colleague of Putin, Kirill Gundyaev, got the top job in the Orthodox church, it was clear that the Christ the Saviour Cathedral had become an important symbol of our government’s politics. And after this the Christ the Saviour Cathedral became a site for the politics of power structures, which are the basic source of power. Why did Putin need to use the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic? Putin could have used his own secular instruments of power: national corporations, for example, or his own terrifying policing systems. Or his obedient judicial system. Perhaps it’s because of the harsh and unsuccessful policies of Putin’s government: the Kursk submarine incident; the unexpected explosions in the blocks of flats of peaceful civilians – all these and other unhappy moments in his political career might have made him stop and wonder whether the citizens of Russia might just give him a helping hand with his resignation. And that must have been the point when he needed to find a unique, cast-iron guarantee of a long life at the summit of power.

This is when the need arose to use the aesthetic of Orthodox religion, associated historically with the most successful imperial ages in Russia, when power came from God, and not from civil society. But how did he manage it? After all we have a secular state. And any crossover between the religious and the political must also cut through our vigilant and critically alert society. The government clearly made use of the Orthodox aesthetic from Soviet times, when religion had the halo of a lost piece in the history and culture of the country, downtrodden and defeated by Soviet totalitarian rule. Religion was in opposition then.

The government authorities decided to use this historical ‘effect’ and build its own new political project on it, a project which had barely anything to do with a sincere desire to preserve the history and culture of Orthodoxy. Seems fairly logical as well that the Russian Orthodox Church, which has long had mystical links with power, is the force for carrying out this concept. It takes no small amount of professional lighting equipment and airtime on the main channels for live broadcasts from the cathedral lasting many hours. The Patriarch made elegant speeches helping the devout to make the right choice during those difficult days for Putin.

Our appearance in the cathedral with the song ‘Virgin Mary, chase out Putin’ destroyed the integrity of this image, created and managed over such a long time, and it exposed its falseness. We dared to present as one image Orthodox culture and the culture of protest without the blessing of the Patriarch, and in doing so, encouraged intelligent people to consider whether Orthodox culture didn’t just belong to the church, the Patriarch and Putin, but might also be on the side of the civil revolt and protest movement in Russia.

It is possible that the unpleasant and large-scale consequences of our ‘media gate-crashing’ of the Cathedral were unforeseen, even by the government. To begin with they attempted to pass off our performance as an attack by soulless militant atheists, but they failed as we were by that time already famous as an anti-Putin feminist punk group. And only when they had weighed up the political and symbolic damage that we had inflicted with our art did they decide to protect society against us and our convictions. And that is how this complicated punk-adventure ended.

I have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand we are waiting for the verdict of guilty to be passed. On the other, we have won, because the case against us is fabricated and the state is not able to hide the repressive nature of the judicial process. Russia once again does not appear in the eyes of the world as Vladimir Putin wishes to portray it in his daily international meetings. All the steps he promised to take towards a legal state were clearly never taken. And his announcements that our trial would be objective are just another deception, practised on the country and the world community.
Thank you. That is all.


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