I finished reading Masha Gessen’s fascinating, intelligent, and well-written book about Pussy Riot, Words Will Break Cement, yesterday. A Russian-American who has previously written about Vladimir Putin and had tremendous access to the band, Gessen explains much about how these women came together; their context within Russian literature, politics, and dissidents; their actions and trial; and the horrors they experienced in prison. The more I find out about Masha, Nadya, Kat, and the rest of these artist/activists, the more impressed I am with their foresight and bravery in trying to stop an autocratic nightmare. The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the emergent xenophobia in Russia that reported in part:
“At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new ‘state policy in culture.’ Widely expected to be enacted into law, the proposed cultural policy emphasizes that ‘Russia is not Europe’ and urges ‘a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance’ in favor of emphasizing Russia’s ‘unique state-government civilization,’ according to Russian news accounts that quoted a presidential adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy.”
As evidence of this emerging monocultural supremacy, the article cites a banner hung in Moscow that decried the “fifth column” of dissenting bloggers, politicians, and musicians. Putin used this loaded phrase himself in a speech, setting the stage for the potential purging of difference. Chilling stuff, as the Times says. Interestingly, Fifth Column was the name of an amazing queer-punk Canadian band in the early ’90s, associated with the Riot Grrrl movement from which Pussy Riot gets their name. They were dissidents against the homophobia of the era of the Defense of Marriage Act, just as Pussy Riot oppress the anti-gay politics of Putin’s Russia.
Somewhat amusingly, Masha and Nadya questioned Putin’s own sexual orientation on Real Time With Bill Maher.