Split or sleep?

Елена Волкова / 10.02.2014

So called anonymous members of Pussy Riot published their "Hear us finally!" open letter («Так услышьте же нас наконец!», see their Livejournal) in which they thanked the people who supported the group, demanded the release of the members and sympathized with their ideology. They also say that feel proud of Masha and Nadya’s resistance and their determination to continue the struggle which they started in penal colonies.

Hear us finally! (open letter from Pussy Riot)
We, the anonymous members of Pussy Riot, would like to say many thanks to all the people who have supported us all this time, those who demanded the release of our members, those who sympathized with us and sympathized with our ideology. We are very grateful to all of you, we deeply appreciate and respect everyone who has contributed to the overall Pussy Riot campaign at this difficult for us time. Our joint efforts were not in vain: Putin had to bend under the pressure of the international community and let Nadia and Masha free.
Thus, December 23nd was a real celebration for us — the Liberation Day of prisoners of conscience and the real victory of the liberation of the entire Pussy Riot. But the amnesty is certainly not the end of our dreams. We demand real justice: the complete abolition of the verdict and the recognition of the entire criminal case against Pussy Riot, illegitimate.
We do hope that the justice will be restored on February 21 — the anniversary of our teasing performance in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, with the song "Mother of God, put Putin away!"
We are very pleased with Masha's and Nadia's release. We are proud of their resistance against harsh trials that fell to their lot , and their determination by all means to continue the struggle that they had started during their stay in the colonies.
Unfortunately for us, they are being so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons, that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group — feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult, all of which, as a matter of fact, was the cause for their unjust punishment.
Now it is no secret that Masha and Nadia are no longer members of the group, and they will no longer take part in radical actionism. Now they are engaged in a new project. Now they are institutionalised advocates of prisoners' rights. And as you know, such advocacy is hardly compatible with radical political statements and provocative works of art, that raise controversial topics in modern society. Just as gender-conformity is not compatible with radical feminism. Institutionalised advocacy can hardly afford the critique of fundamental norms and rules that underline the very mechanics of modern patriarchal society. Being an institutional part of this society, such advocacy, can hardly go beyond the rules set forth by this society.
Yes, we lost two friends, two ideological fellow member, but the world has acquired two brave, interesting, controversial human rights defenders — fighters for the rights of the Russian prisoners.
Unfortunately, we can not congratulate them with this in person, because they refuse to have any contact with us. But we appreciate their choice and sincerely wish them well in their new career.
At the moment, we are witnessing an outrageous collision:
While Nadia Masha are being the focus of media and the international community, they gather crowds of journalists and people heed to their every word, so far no one hears them.
In almost every interview they repeat what they left the group, that they are no longer Pussy Riot, that they act in their own names, that they will no longer engage in radical art activities. However, the headlines are still full of the group's name, all their public appearances are declared as performances of Pussy Riot, and their personal withdrawal from Pussy Riot is treated as termination of the entire collective, thus ignoring the fact that at the pulpit and solea of Christ the Savior Church, there were not two, but five women in balaclavas and the Red Square performance had eight participants.
The apotheosis of this misunderstanding was the public announcement by Amnesty International of Masha's and Nadia's speech at a concert in Barclays Center in New York, as the first legal performance of Pussy Riot.
Moreover, instead of the names of Nadia and Masha, the poster of the event showed a man in a balaclava with electric guitar, under the name of Pussy Riot, while the organizers smartly called for people to buy expensive tickets.
All this is an extreme contradiction to the very principles of Pussy Riot collective:
We are all-female separatist collective — no man can represent us either on a poster or in reality.
We belong to leftist anti-capitalist ideology — we charge no fees for viewing our art-work, all our videos are distributed freely on the web, the spectators to our performances are always spontaneous passers by, and we never sell tickets to our "shows".
Our performances are always "illegal", staged only in unpredictable locations and public places not designed for traditional entertainment. The distribution of our clips is always through free and unrestricted media channels.
We are anonymous, because we act against any personality cult, against hierarchies implied by appearance, age and other visible social attributes. We cover our heads, because we oppose the very idea of using female face as a trademark for promoting any sort of goods or services.
The mixing of the rebel feminist punk image with the image of institutionalised defenders of prisoners' rights, is harmful for us as collective, as well as it is harmful for the new role that Nadia and Masha have taken on.
Hear them finally!
Since it happened that Nadia and Masha chose not to be with us, please, respect their choice. Remember, we are no longer Nadia and Masha. They are no longer Pussy Riot.
The campaign "Free Pussy Riot" is over. We, as art collective, have an ethical right to preserve our art practice, our name and our visual identity, distinct from other organisations.

Anonymous members of Pussy Riot:
Garadja , Fara, Shaiba, Cat, Seraphima and Schumacher


But then the authors of the letter express their regrets about Nadya and Masha "being so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons, that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group — feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult, all of which, as a matter of fact, was the cause for their unjust punishment". They continue by claiming that "it is no secret that Masha and Nadya are no longer members of the group", because they are not going "to take part in radical actionism" having become "institutionalized advocates of prisoner’s rights". Hence, they have no right to identify themselves with Pussy Riot.

The Open letter sounds strange and raises a number of questions.

First, it is signed by six Pussy Riot nicks — Garadja, Fara, Shaiba, Seraphima and Shumakher, which are anonymous artistic characters. Can artistic characters write open letters? They can but as part of a work of art. Tatyana Larina writes a letter to Onegin, but one can hardly imagine a modern open letter written by Tatyana, or Raskolnikov, or whatever character one can think of. Open letters should be identified, otherwise they sound as anonymous denunciation (anonimka in Russian). If it is Katya Samutsevich behind it (as some people think), she should have signed it.

Second, it is inhuman and illogical to oppose problems in Russian prisons — women being tortured, beaten, raped, frozen, worked to death — to feminist and anti-dictator aspirations of the group. Those group ideals do mean struggle against violence in women colonies, don’t they? Otherwise those principles remain abstract ideas which have nothing to do with real women and dictators.

Third, if anonymous members believe that the only truly Pussy Riot activity is radical actionism why haven’t they presented any for such a long time? Why were they sleeping in some underground shelter when people organized pickets and flash mobs in support of Nadya and Masha? Today they cry "Hear us finally!", but it is not the open letter but a brave political action of the punk-prayer and resistance in prison which made the whole world hear Pussy Riot. Address your own requirements to yourself, follow your own principles, make performances, and if they are done well the world will hear you.

Fourth, the open letter has several mistakes. Masha and Nadya don’t repeat "in almost every interview that they left the group". On the contrary, Masha repeated (at least twice) that their human rights activity could be combined with protest actionism, while Nadya said at Amsterdam press-conference that when "we were Pussy Riot nobody knew that we were Pussy Riot; perhaps something like this is going on now".

Fifth, it is not fair to identify Nadya and Masha’s activity with established institutionalised human right advocacy. They are different, they really represent a new type of prisoner’s rights defender. And they have just started. You’d better support them with your radical actionism instead of blaming Masha and Nadya for their constant struggle against injustice and state violence. Why the rest of the group don’t show solidarity instead if criticism?

Sixth, one of the basic principles of Pussy Riot was that of openness: everybody can become a Pussy Rioter, put on a balaclava, write a song, choose a place, and go ahead! Thousands of women and men all around the world organized balaclavings in support of Pussy Riot. Why do anonymous complainants say that no man can be a Pussy Riot? There are a lot of feminists among men. More than that, no anti-feminist man can become today a respectable figure in the West. Being feminist doesn’t mean being all-female any more. You have slept away this news as you have overslept many things in the Pussy Riot story.

Nobody can own the name of Pussy Riot while everybody can enrich it with renewed protest performance or movement. The Pussy Riot story is very dynamic. At present stage it means political feminism actionism plus prison resistance and human rights fight. It’s key figures are Masha and Nadya, whose anonymous masks were removed by the police on Feb 21, 2012. Perhaps now it is time for the rest of the group to replace their nicks by real names and speak to us face to face. In the name of truth and justice. And solidarity.