One of the most fa­mousp unk groupsi n the worl d, Pussy Riot have made global he ad­line sf ort heir­polit icalac­tivis m in Rusi a.D uri ng theirr ecent st op-o ff in Dublin,t hey took tim e out fora nin-de pt hdisc usi on on Re­peal the Eighth,t he op­presi

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Dur­ing their re­cent stop-off in Dublin, the punk icons took time out to talk to Claire O’Gor­man about Re­peal the Eighth, the op­pres­sive as­pects of Rus­sian so­ci­ety, and the en­cour­ag­ing words they re­ceived from Sinéad O’Con­nor.

It’s freez­ing in Dublin – and, it’s not just we who think so. When the Hot Press crew ar­rive at the But­ton Fac­tory, Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina (Masha) is go­ing for a cig­a­rette, and com­plain­ing about the cold. For this to come from a Rus­sian (ar­guably one of the tough­est around, what's more), is re­as­sur­ing. We have not been ex­ag­ger­at­ing all day!

De­spite the frosty sit­u­a­tion out­side, how­ever, we’re given a much warmer wel­come from Masha after she's had her smoke. Ear­lier in the day, when she re­ceived our re­quest to con­duct an in­ter­view about Re­peal the 8th, she had jumped at the chance. Ready and will­ing to learn ev­ery­thing we can tell her – and fel­low Pussy Riot mem­bers Olga and Kyrill – about the cam­paign, she is at once both at­ten­tive and shocked. We spend two hours to­gether, shoot­ing the breeze.

The band's in­ter­est in the is­sue is gen­uine. One of the most in­fa­mous ac­tivist groups cur­rently in our strato­sphere, they’ve been in­volved in con­sciously revo­lu­tion­ary ac­tions, tack­ling po­lit­i­cal, fem­i­nist and hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues head-on through their mu­sic, since they first banded to­gether in 2011. They’ve faced tremen­dous reper­cus­sions in Rus­sia for their de­ci­sion to stand up and be counted, be­ing ar­rested and charged with hooli­gan­ism, and con­se­quently sent to two years in prison – five months of which Masha her­self spent in soli­tary con­fine­ment ("For her own pro­tec­tion," the au­thor­i­ties claimed). Her book Riot Days, and the per­for­mance art piece they’re per­form­ing in the But­ton Fac­tory, are both based around that ex­pe­ri­ence.

We sat down to ask her about her views on the sit­u­a­tion in Ire­land, how she keeps her strength, and where she gets in­spi­ra­tion from.

Claire O’Gor­man: Were you aware of the sit­u­a­tion sur­round­ing the 8th amend­ment be­fore you came to Ire­land?

Masha: Not hugely. That’s why I wanted to meet you. This is my first time in a coun­try where abor­tions are il­le­gal and it’s very im­por­tant, firstly, to un­der­stand why it’s like this. Ev­ery per­son should have a choice. I don’t know how the ma­jor­ity will vote, but from my un­der­stand­ing, women go­ing to the UK for abor­tions is very com­mon. This should be openly dis­cussed. It’s how civil so­ci­ety works and moves for­ward. Tra­di­tion­al­ists shouldn’t be afraid to speak to those with an­other opin­ion. A woman can be im­pris­oned for 14 years for pro­vid­ing abor­tions – even if peo­ple haven’t been charged, this law ex­ists. Four­teen years is like the mid­dle ages.

What was your ex­pe­ri­ence in re­la­tion to women's re­pro­duc­tive rights, grow­ing up in Rus­sia?

I was born in the Soviet Union. My par­ents and grand­par­ents were liv­ing in a coun­try where Stalin cre­ated the en­tire abor­tion law. It was a big so-called moral shame – un­mar­ried women who got preg­nant. Or were teenagers, or were raped – or what­ever the case may have been. There are sev­eral books about women dy­ing from il­le­gal abor­tions in the Soviet Union; it was like tor­ture. No anaes­the­sia, noth­ing. Hands and knives. And even now in the 21st cen­tury, we have re­gions like Chech­nya where it’s al­most the same.

Why is it different there? Be­cause, first of all, the head of Chech­nya, Ramzan Kedy­rov, is a pure ter­ror­ist who cre­ated the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion where women have al­most no rights at all. They can be beaten with stones for get­ting a di­vorce or leav­ing their hus­bands. We as a com­mu­nity, and I as an artist, should know these cases and be open about them. We did a show with Be­larus Free The­atre (BFT) called Burn­ing Doors, which was about artis­tic re­sis­tance. I saw Claire from BFT’s Re­peal shirt and asked about it. Firstly, I was re­ally sur­prised. But sec­ondly, I gave my­self my word that when I came here, I would know more about it.

We now face ei­ther re­mov­ing the amend­ment com­pletely, or re­plac­ing it.

One pos­si­bil­ity is le­gal­is­ing abor­tion in the case of rape. It can be al­most sci­en­tif­i­cally im­pos­si­ble to prove rape. What’s your re­ac­tion to that?

It’s to­tally wrong. Abor­tion is a woman’s right. How can she prove she was raped? You would need to go im­me­di­ately to the doc­tor within 24 hours and have an anal­y­sis of the sperm in­side you. Not all women will do this, for moral rea­sons, or the shock. This is so ob­vi­ous.

Rus­sia has an elec­tive abor­tion RTQEGUU|YKVJKP YGGMU +U VJKU VJG QPN[ thing that makes sense for us, if rape can’t

be proven?

For me, it’s very com­pli­cated to com­pare Ire­land with Rus­sia. There are a lot of laws in Rus­sia that ex­ist but don’t work. Al­most all of them – it’s a mafia state. To­tally cor­rupt. Even talk­ing about democ­racy, we’ve had Pres­i­dent Putin for 17 years. Seven­teen. And he used to work in the KGB – the most ter­ri­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion since the Nazis prob­a­bly. Of­fi­cially, yes, we have this. In re­al­ity? The ma­jor­ity of women who have an abor­tion, 90% go to pri­vate clin­ics. Not all women can af­ford a pri­vate clinic.

Olga: I don’t know any­body who had an abor­tion in a gov­ern­ment clinic. Friends, friends of friends. We have such a bad med­i­cal sys­tem. It’s al­most dan­ger­ous for your health. In Rus­sia we have a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to Ire­land re­gard­ing re­ac­tions to abor­tions in so­ci­ety. A doc­tor might tell you, “It’s a sin – and it’s your sin now!” It’s not about laws, not about gov­ern­ment. It’s about peo­ple who think it’s a sin. A doc­tor who ev­ery day car­ries out abor­tions, they think it's a sin. Masha: It’s very com­mon for peo­ple to judge and shame women for abor­tions. There are a lot of stereo­types. Even if a woman is raped, she’s the guilty one.

Olga: It’s her short skirt.

Masha: There are ex­am­ples of Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church lead­ers and me­dia per­son­al­i­ties say­ing if a woman was raped, it’s her fault, be­cause she was wear­ing a short skirt or what­ever. This isn’t anony­mous peo­ple from the in­ter­net! It’s proper me­dia per­son­nel with money, rep­u­ta­tion. They’re killing our coun­try by pro­vid­ing ha­tred. Pro­vok­ing peo­ple who don’t have ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. There’s a huge amount of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and rape.

You got an in­sight into this when you were in prison.

I met a lot of women in there for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence crimes. It’s com­mon in Rus­sia where they have one house, he beats her and beats her, and she can­not do any­thing. By law she can call the po­lice, they’ll take him for a night, and then next morn­ing he comes back and beats her again. There’s no solution. In the end one of them, her say, will just kill him. This makes up maybe one-third of the prison pop­u­la­tion. There’s a lot of stereo­types be­ing dis­cussed openly on me­dia. All of the me­dia be­longs to friends of Putin, and they pro­vide only the in­for­ma­tion that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has told them to.

Olga: Abor­tion is le­gal in Rus­sia, but there are so many fac­tors. The opin­ion of so­ci­ety is, you’re a slut if you have an abor­tion. It’s sham­ing. Masha: In Moscow and St. Peters­burg, it’s a bit different. But in the rest of Rus­sia, it’s a to­tally different sit­u­a­tion. And not only me­dia. In­sti­tu­tions! In school! There’s no sex ed­u­ca­tion at all. If some­body tries to in­tro­duce it, they say it’s im­moral.

Olga: "Why are you talk­ing to our kids about sex?" – that kind of re­ac­tion.

Masha: We should have Ortho­dox lessons from tenth class!

So where do kids learn about sex from? Their par­ents?

The in­ter­net! No, their par­ents don’t talk, be­cause it’s taboo to talk about sex in the Soviet Union. Sex doesn’t ex­ist in the Soviet Union! As ev­ery­body knows! It’s seen as shame­ful to have sex ed­u­ca­tion books at home, and do you think that ev­ery­one has the in­ter­net? Not true – to­tally not true!

Olga: Many young women, have bro­ken lives be­cause they can’t dis­cuss it with their par­ents. It’s hard. It’s shame, shame, shame. They can’t talk about it. She could go to a pri­vate clinic and they’ll say, “It’s your sin now.” We don’t have an in­sti­tu­tion pro­vid­ing so­cial help.

Do you know women who’ve had abor­tions? Masha: I’m not the best ex­am­ple – I was born in Moscow to a fam­ily of math­e­ma­ti­cians. But I have seen ex­am­ples of my friend’s lives, and it’s not how it should work. This sham­ing isn’t just about abor­tions. Its about so-called ‘moral­ity’, which the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to pro­vide. But it’s not con­nected with ethics and moral­ity at all. One of the main speak­ers seek­ing to ban abor­tion in Rus­sia – he’s col­lected thou­sands of sig­na­tures – is Pa­tri­arch Kir­ill, an of­fi­cial who has a villa, sev­eral yachts, ex­pen­sive cars, a to­bacco busi­ness. Who doesn’t think about money at all. And he’s mak­ing state­ments about moral­ity.

As if he is an ex­pert!

He knows noth­ing about the sit­u­a­tion of 17-yearold girls and stu­dents com­ing to Moscow from different cities. Women who were raped. He’s tak­ing the right to judge peo­ple. It’s ethics up­side down. To­tal hypocrisy. This isn’t just one ex­am­ple, this is how they do pol­i­tics in gen­eral. He’s or­gan­ised it all – made a state­ment that abor­tions in Rus­sia should be banned. He or­gan­ised an ini­tia­tive that brought maybe 1,000,000 sig­na­tures.

In Brazil there’s a move­ment to ban abor­tion.


In Rus­sia? I don’t be­lieve so. Not pos­si­ble.

It’d be the same sit­u­a­tion, but peo­ple will die. Women will have abor­tions any­way. Olga is very against this…

Olga: My cunt is my busi­ness. Do not go into my body.

Masha: Si­mona Weil used to be the health min­is­ter in France. She le­galised abor­tion there. She died this year and was buried in The Pan­theon. The most re­li­gious build­ing! So, I don’t think it’s about re­li­gion. It’s much more cyn­i­cal. It’s just a lobby of pro-life move­ments from the state who don’t give a fuck about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. They just want a 'nice' ex­am­ple of a so­ci­ety where abor­tions are banned and ev­ery­body is happy.

I find per­sonal sto­ries very im­por­tant – the sto­ries be­hind the facts, fig­ures and le­gal terms. Un­for­tu­nately, we don’t hear them a lot. Is this be­cause peo­ple are afraid?

The ma­jor­ity, yes. We’re do­ing what we’re do­ing to show the al­ter­na­tive. I’m an op­ti­mist, and I’m re­ally happy when I hear one Yes, even if there are 99 Nos. Self-cen­sor­ship in any way is the road to nowhere. It doesn’t make any move­ment or progress – it’s just be­ing stuck in a hole.

You’ve faced a back­lash and been to prison too. How did you get through that and re­main strong?

You do it step-by-step. It’s a simple choice: you ei­ther do it or you stand aside. I pre­fer to do it, be­cause if you over­come your fear – or over­come your­self – you will grow. It’s the only way to grow.

How has the po­lit­i­cal pres­sure in Rus­sia af­fected you?

I was al­ways kind of a trou­ble­maker. I changed school five times, started hitch-hik­ing at 17, had a child at 18. So after that, my­self and other ac­tivists cre­ated an eco­log­i­cal move­ment and started do­ing ac­tions as Pussy Riot. Then court, prison, and so on. So for me it’s in­ter­est­ing! It’s re­ally hard see­ing how afraid peo­ple are, and how they cen­sor them­selves. What’s the end re­sult in a coun­try where the ma­jor­ity are liv­ing like that? We made the first step a long time ago, and the sec­ond is to un­der­stand what you can do. How can you raise your voice to show that this isn’t the only way? That’s what we’re do­ing.

Since you an­nounced your­selves as Pussy Riot, what was the re­ac­tion like in Rus­sia? There were a lot of jokes, but we’re about jokes. We’re not se­ri­ous politi­cians in suits! There was a lot of sur­prise, even amongst peo­ple with op­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal views, that some­thing like this was hap­pen­ing. But since then, we made a lot of progress. When I was sent to the pe­nal colony, I started a case against the guards, and es­pe­cially when we won, that was a real sur­prise. Not only for the prison ad­min­is­tra­tion, but for ev­ery­one. There were some thoughts… Well, not thoughts, but pro­pa­ganda pre­sent­ing us as a band of stupid girls. Hooli­gans who don’t know what they’re do­ing.

What was your re­sponse?

When you see sit­u­a­tions like that, you re­ally see how im­por­tant it is for us to stand up for our­selves, for is­sues we be­lieve in. Then sit­u­a­tions start to change. I’ve seen sev­eral ex­am­ples, even in­side pe­nal colonies, when girls who were there for crimes to­tally un­con­nected with pol­i­tics – drug crimes, say – started

sup­port­ing me after talk­ing to me for a month or two. They started go­ing to the hu­man rights com­mis­sions, and started to speak about their rights. And about their friends’ sit­u­a­tions and the sys­tem. That’s not easy. If you de­cide to speak, you’ll serve your term to the end. They’ll put you in soli­tary con­fine­ment, and refuse all tele­phone calls with your chil­dren and rel­a­tives. But I’ve heard from the girls that it’s re­ally im­por­tant to them to say true. We’re still friends with some of them. Sev­eral of them be­came my re­ally, re­ally close friends.

Were you sur­prised that Pussy Riot be­came a global phe­nom­e­non?

I don’t know. I’m just do­ing what I can in each mo­ment I can. I don’t re­flect on the dif­fer­ence it can make glob­ally – I don’t think it’s pos­si­ble to count. It’s not right to count. It’s not about how big the move­ment is, how many peo­ple are in­volved. It’s about the change you can make in each mo­ment.

The band name could be seen as con­tro­ver­sial. Have any fem­i­nists taken is­sue with it?

Oh yeah, there were a lot of them – well not a lot, but there were some crit­ics from se­ri­ous fem­i­nist move­ments…

You just don’t lis­ten to them? I think it’s funny ac­tu­ally!

As fem­i­nists, who are your in­spi­ra­tions? Books changed my life a lot. Cinema too. And a lot of peo­ple I’ve met. Art had a big im­pact on me when I vis­ited an ex­hi­bi­tion of Ma­rina ƂLÀ>“œÛˆŇ° -…i½Ã >˜ >ÃÌiÀ˜ ÕÀœ«i>˜ >À̈ÃÌ who re­flected on the war and the sit­u­a­tion there. Bo­rat from the cinema! Mu­si­cally? I like Je­sus Christ Su­per­star! I love clas­si­cal mu­sic! Rach­mani­noff’s sec­ond con­cert is a good ex­am­ple. I de­cided to write a book be­cause when I had dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, books were my re­ally big sup­ports and in­spi­ra­tions. Not only dis­si­dent lit­er­a­ture or mem­oirs of ac­tivists… I loved Fight Club as a teenager!

Any­one else among ac­tivists?

I should name Tobi Vail – she was the drum­mer of Bikini Kill. She’s amaz­ing, as an ac­tivist and a per­son. She’s from Olympia, Wash­ing­ton. She should write a book about their anti-war ac­tivism in the US. Bikini Kill was an in­spi­ra­tion for Pussy Riot in 2012. Then there’s a Czech ac­tivist group, Zto­hoven. They did a lot of things. Changed tele­vi­sion pro­grammes, for ex­am­ple, and in 2015 went to the top of the cas­tle, the highly se­cured main par­lia­ment build­ing in the Czech Repub­lic, and changed the flag to red un­der­wear! The pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic is a to­tal ass­hole – Miloš Ze­man. One of Putin’s clos­est friends. That was nice work. These ex­am­ples are ev­ery­where. You just have to keep your eyes open.

Will Pussy Riot ever re­lease any­thing less po­lit­i­cal?

Well, Pussy Riot isn’t a mu­si­cal band, it’s a po­lit­i­cal arts col­lec­tive. We’re do­ing different things. Ac­tions. Mu­sic. Po­lit­i­cal the­atre, like we’re tour­ing at the minute. Prison re­form and hu­man rights de­fence, which I re­ally fo­cused on. The last ac­tion we made (was) for Ukra­nian film­maker, Oleg Sentsov, who got 20 years in prison, and is now in east Siberia. We shut down Trump Tower for half-an-hour. There are a lot of forms of po­lit­i­cal art that we haven’t checked yet, but we will in the fu­ture.

Tell us about your book and your per­for­mance piece around it.

Riot Days is my book and we made it on stage as a man­i­festo for our team. It’s not ‘the­atre’ the­atre, it’s like a Brecht the­atre. It’s a man­i­festo. But maybe it’s bet­ter to talk about it after you’ve seen it.

;QWoXG JCF C NQV QH UWRRQTV JGTG HTQO 7 CPF Sinéad O’Con­nor, who you’ve met. Were you aware of Sinead be­fore­hand?

Sinead’s great, we met her in 2014, she’s re­ally cool. I knew her name but hadn’t lis­tened to her a lot. But she’s re­ally great.

What was meet­ing her like?

She said very warm, im­por­tant words. That we should con­tinue what we’re do­ing. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to hear words like that just after prison. When we started Me­di­aZona, an in­de­pen­dent me­dia out­let cov­er­ing vi­o­la­tion, free­dom and hu­man rights in Rus­sia, al­most no­body be­lieved that we would re­ceive any re­sult. But in three years it’s be­come one of the most pop­u­lar me­dia sites on the Rus­sian in­ter­net. Our jour­nal­ist won jour­nal­ist of the year. So, I think it’s a very good ex­am­ple of sol­i­dar­ity.

Abor­tion isn’t the only is­sue in Rus­sia –


It’s ter­ri­ble. You can be killed if you’re gay. The me­dia pro­vide ha­tred. Sep­a­rat­ing peo­ple to ‘ours’ and ‘aliens’. One of the lat­est ex­am­ples is gay pris­ons in Chech­nya. They ex­isted for a long time. They im­pris­oned gays and tor­tured peo­ple. There was a big cam­paign to ex­port gay peo­ple to save their lives. There was just one or­gan­i­sa­tion in Rus­sia, called Chil­dren-404, which pro­vided so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal help for LGBT teenagers. They al­most opened a crim­i­nal case against them. They were just stop­ping sui­cides, the num­ber of which is in­cred­i­bly high.

Have you any hopes for the fu­ture?

Even in the sit­u­a­tions where there was no chance of hope, I some­how found it. It will be like this in the fu­ture as well. If you speak truth and be­lieve in what you’re do­ing, they can’t stop you. We should sup­port each other. Do ev­ery­thing we can. Speak out.

What do you have to say to the peo­ple of Ire­land for the ref­er­en­dum next year? Re­peal.

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