It can’t hurt to have Madonna on your team. Onstage in Moscow last night, Madge voiced her support for the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, who have been in jail the past five months on charges of hooliganism, the night before their trial wrapped. This MDNA tour has been a particularly controversial one, with feelings and bits spilling freely, but Madonna’s words last night were careful, clear and — at least by those in attendance — uncontested.
“There are many sides to this story, and I mean no disrespect to the church or the government … I think that they have done something courageous, I think that they have paid the price for this act, and I pray for their freedom,” she offered during the show’s pause, “PUSSY RIOT” scrawled across her back. Then she called on the Moscow audience, who, “if you’re here as my fan, you feel that you deserve the right to be free,” to join her. The speech earned a massive applause.
Madonna is not the first artist to come out in support of Pussy Riot — Patti Smith, Sting, Pete Townsend, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for a few, have spoken in their defense. She was bold, though, to voice her support in Moscow and on the eve of their trial’s close. Who are Pussy Riot? Check out our primer below.
Who are they? Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk-rock collective that stage impromptu performances in Moscow, usually in colorful costumes and most often with a feminist or anti-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin slant.
What did they do? On February 21, 2012, three of the collective’s members — Maria Alyokhina, 24; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22; and Yekterina Samutsevich, 29 — performed an impromptu and unsanctioned “punk-prayer” at the altar at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. They got only so far as to call for “Virgin Mary, drive Putin away” before they were hauled out by security.
And then what happened? They were charged for hooliganism and religious hatred. The three women have been held without bail in pretrial detention since then, their trial repeatedly postponed. The Russian Orthodox Church has called for strict punishment, in order to make them an example to anyone who might cross them in the future. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has called for their release, recognizing them as prisoners of conscience. Today, the three woman made their final pleas in court, from inside the glass and metal cage where they’ve been held throughout their eight-day trail.
What will happen to Pussy Riot? The trial has been thought by most to be a show of warning to opposition by Putin, and has been, by some reports, “worse than Soviet era.” If found guilty, the girls face up to seven years in jail, and the prosecutors have asked for three years in a labor camp for each girl. Sentencing will be handed down on August 17th. Check in with FreePussyRiot.org for updates.
Which other musicians are with Madonna on this? Pussy Riot have been assumed a symbol of artistic struggle against political repression, and have earned support from everyone from Yoko Ono to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Franz Ferdinand to Peter Gabriel and the Beastie Boys. Rolling Stone has a good rundown of their different efforts here.