Wed February 8, 2012
In Russia, Punk-Rock Riot Girls Rage Against Putin
Anti-government protests in Russia are taking many different forms, from mass rallies and marches to defiant street art and music.
Just recently, members of a feminist punk group were arrested in Moscow's Red Square after they performed a song ridiculing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The group, which calls itself Pussy Riot, says it's planning more stunts before March's presidential elections.
The band's latest performance took place on an icy winter's day in mid-January, when even the police who guard Red Square were hunched over from the cold. Eight young women doffed their coats, jumped over an iron fence and climbed atop a snowy stone platform.
They were dressed in summery short dresses and tights, but brightly colored balaclavas masked their faces. Dancing frantically to keep warm, they launched into a song that could be delicately titled "Putin Got Scared," though the lyrics in Russian were ruder than that.
Other members of the collective shot video of the Red Square performance, which promptly went viral on the Internet.
Eventually, they were detained, held for a few hours at a police station, and given small fines for holding an illegal protest. Band members say the "illegal" part is the whole point.
One band member — who goes by the name "Schumacher," an homage to the German car-racing champion — says many people in Russia are ready for more radical action than the leaders of the main opposition movement believe.
The members of the collective have known each another for years, she says, but they came together as a band in August to protest what they say are government policies against women.
Schumacher says feminist groups had campaigned all summer against government legislation that placed restrictions on legal abortions. They were further outraged by the announcement that Putin and current President Dmitry Medvedev planned to change places after the next election.
In December, the band performed a song called "Death To Prison, Freedom To Protest" on the roof of a garage next to a prison where other protesters were being held.
The collective is made up of about 10 performers, and about 15 people who handle the technical work of shooting and editing their videos. Members say all their decisions are collective and anonymous — Schumacher and her friend Kot won't give their real names, and they insist on wearing their balaclavas during the interview.
They didn't start as performers, says Kot, whose nickname means "Tomcat." She says they were politically engaged women who figured punk protest music would energize people through their emotions.
As to the group's name, Kot says band members are well of aware of its vulgar connotations in English. But "pussy" can also be taken as a term of endearment for girls in Russia.
Kot says the group members liked the tension between that word, and the rudeness and aggression of the word "riot." She says they plan to stage more protest exploits in the weeks leading up to the March 4 elections that Putin is expected to win.