The latest Pussy Riot comes out of anonymity: "My family calls me a fascist"

The Pussy Riot have traveled to Spain to present their new show, Riot Days, and collect the Alan Turing award at the Culture & Business Pride festival in Tenerife. In all the interviews –including the one in the Hormiguero– two of them appear, Maria Aliókhina and Olga Borisova, but off-camera they are accompanied by a third who has been in the feminist collective since the assault on the Moscow Cathedral in 2012.

Diana Burkot emerged from anonymity two years ago once that "crime" prescribed and she was safe, but she does not lavish herself in the foreign media because she fears that her English is not good enough to launch her message against Putin. With the help of Maria and Olga, Ella Burkot recognizes that her story is a little different from her classmates'. Although for all of them –including Nadia Tolokónnikova, who fled to Canada, Yekaterina Samutsevich, another of the detainees, and Lucy Stein, Maria Aliókhina's girlfriend and a new member of the group– Pussy Riot has changed their lives.

"I thought it was a minor act of vandalism, not that they could be jailed for two years for that," acknowledges the last one who has shed the colored balaclava. She was not arrested during that assault, she lived in Crimea for many years and continued to train in politics, since at first her commitment was very superficial, almost musical. She now she has her own project, Rosemary loves a Blackberryand has hooked up with the Pussy again for the first time openly since what happened in the Russian chapel ten years ago.

Although he has not had the artistic repercussion of Maria or Nadia, he does not envy them either because the price they paid was very high. For its part, the band always respected his anonymity. "Until one day I said: what the hell, why won't they say my name if it's been so long," says the 37-year-old musician, who also participates in Riot Days. We talk to them.

What do you claim in this new version of Riot Days?

We use the stage as a platform to launch our political message against the governments and against the war in Ukraine, which is the most important mission. We try to inspire the people who come to see us and tell them Maria's personal story about how being an activist can change a country. It is important to remember that you have to fight for human rights and actually Russia is a good example of what happens if you only dream of being a "rich bitch".

Doing activism outside of Russia changes a lot compared to doing it inside. For one, it's safer. But, on the other hand, do they ever miss the repercussion that their actions had there?

The main difference is that here we would not go to jail. They offer us many more scenarios, from small bars to huge places. If we wanted to do Riot Days in Russia, the government would close down the venue before even starting to negotiate. But I also don't want to idealize the West because all the money that Putin uses against us comes from here. It is the money of gas and oil. That is why we ask for an embargo on 100% of those resources. There are incredible initiatives to support Ukraine in Europe, but it would be possible to stop the war in a week if they did.

The problem is also that art in the West is perceived as entertainment and not as politics. We want to bring back the political art of the 1960s, because there was a very important anti-war movement back then and it reminds us that art is important and can change the world.

For weeks there has been speculation that Putin is suffering from a serious illness. They insist a lot that, with more reason, he should be judged before. Why do you think he has allowed that to leak?

We shouldn't focus on his illness. That would not solve the problem. Putin is the face of the system and the system will live on. Death is too small a punishment for him. He should be condemned by an international tribunal in which all the witnesses spoke. Without that trial and without this denunciation, nothing will change because it is an old system and where Putin is not alone. He is accompanied by the police, the army, the propagandists and everyone else. They have almost a century of experience in repression and right now they remain hidden.

With the war, there has been talk again of the danger that the families of opponents in Russia may suffer. What is your case? Have you ever feared retaliation against family members or loved ones?

It is not my case (Diana), because my family consists only of my father and my sister and they both support Putin. In fact, a couple of months ago they called me a fascist for criticizing him, because they believe that everything he does is fine. The propaganda is very strong and for someone who consumes it at all hours, seven days a week, for the last ten years, it is difficult to convince him otherwise. This example is very good because there are many families divided in Russia with the conflict.

And on a personal level, how do you deal with fear?

It's okay to be afraid, it's a human feeling. But we have to stay strong and brave for Ukraine. People are dying daily there, they are leaving their lives, their houses and their families. They have collapsed. It is not comparable.

Russia has been threatening since the beginning of the war to launch a nuclear offensive against the rest of Europe. Knowing first-hand the Russian media, do they give any credence to that threat?

Putin has been in power for so long that he believes it is his mission to go down in history. The rest of the people don't care. He says that the rest will die and go to hell, but the Russians will go to heaven. It is his narrative. But on the other hand, do you know that Germany, France and Italy were the main arms exporters in Russia when the war in Ukraine started in 2014? All of this is important in that it is not only Russia, but also all these countries in the European Union, with all their values, that continue to provide weapons now that there is a war. It is everyone's responsibility.

They don't like to focus on their personal cases. But Maria Alyokhina escaped from Russia disguised as a delivery girl thanks to her girlfriend (Lucy Stein), and she is the example of the level of repression suffered by opponents there. What would have happened if she had been caught at the border?

I don't like to talk about it because I decided to go on tour to help Ukraine and write an anti-war song with my girls. I don't know how that has turned into the story of how I escaped from Russia that I have to talk about every day. If they had caught me, I would have spent 21 days in prison because I had the electronic bracelet. But hey, I was already in prison for two years, six more times for 15 days and a year and a half under house arrest in Brussels. I use jail to do yoga and write. I'm fine. There are many people who are receiving heavy sentences and nobody knows anything about them, not even their names, because they are not politicians or activists. Only people who called war "war" and decided to give their brave opinion.

But the only way to know how that works is through these testimonials. Olga Borisova, for example, joined the police and then left to go to the other side. Why did she make both decisions?

Sure, I agree with what you say. There is a lot of injustice and corruption. It is only a function of the Government that protects the interests of politicians. I couldn't meet my goals. I was under the mistaken impression that she would be that strong woman who would catch the bad guys. But something went wrong, for whatever reason (laughs). I knew I was going to lose myself in there. The first time you see an injustice you get very angry, but then you begin to tolerate it against yourself and against others. Police men and women are brainwashed a lot.

They share the poster with Chelsea Manning, who was also persecuted for "betraying" her country. What do you think of those who seem to give a choice between Russia and the US, as if it were a competition between who violates human rights the most?

It's a fucking mistake. It does not work like that. If you are against US imperialism you may not like Vladimir Putin or the Soviet Union. The so-called Russian "socialism" cannot be idealized, because it does not directly exist. Our entire culture was destroyed by these assholes, even avant-garde artists were sent to prison camps. All my favorite painters, poets or theater directors died of hunger or repression. I could give you a hundred names. One thousand.

Vladimir Putin is the face of the system because the FSB is a copy of the KGB and the KGB is a copy of the NKVD. This all started a hundred years ago and it was as dramatic an experience as Nazi Germany. But in Germany they have been demystified and not in Russia, that is why we still have monuments to Stalin and the police celebrate each anniversary of 1937 (the year of the Terror).

The US has surpassed Trump because it is a democracy and because even the artists attached to the establishment understood that they had to get out of there. Now look at Russia: Putin has been in power for 20 years. And the nightmare is not only in Russia. Those who defend him should listen to what Putin's propaganda says about them: that the people in Europe are shit and that he should destroy them with a nuclear bomb. I don't know if something like that would be possible in the American media. So please don't idealize that system. It's bullshit.

Lastly, where would you like to settle?

In Russia. Without a doubt. It is our home and I hope we can make it soon.

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