Philosophy student, Political activist, Punk rocker. This is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. The arrest and subsequent conviction of three members of Pussy Riot for hooliganism has made international headlines and launched the girls to global fame as celebrities and NGOs around the world critique the conviction as emblematic of a retrograde state of human rights and freedom of expression under the Putin regime. The T-shirt that Tolokonnikova has been photographed in while in custody has also highlighted the syncretic blend of influences that feed into Pussy Riot’s music and political message. ¡No Pasaran! became a battle cry during the Spanish Civil War that was given new life in the 1980s by Carlos Mejia Godoy, a Nicaraguan musician who used “No Pasaran” to anchor his eponymous folk ballad that served as a de facto anthem for the Sandinistas. Just part of an interesting genealogy for the ladies of Pussy Riot.
Of course, as a punk rockers, the lion’s share of Pussy Riot’s lineage traces back to the American and British punk scene from the 80s and early 90s. According to John Harris, Pussy Riot takes many of its cues from bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, two scions of the “riot grrrrrl” movement out of Olympia, Washington. The Guardian published an interesting article by Harris where he explores these connections and dissects how modes of cultural protest that have grown tired, cliché, or otherwise drained of their original urgency in the west are finding a new voice and new audience in the higher-stakes political arenas of the east:
“What does all this tell us? That the Anglo-American world still sleeps, having sent forth cultural archetypes that have exploded all over the world. That in some places, culture actually still matters. And that in the macho dystopia of Putin’s Russia, where everything cultural is political and vice versa, three remarkable women have gone to prison to prove it.”