Scattered thoughts (2) on Pussy Riot, anonymity & other political prisoners.

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Back to the anonymity of Pussy Riot.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s release from prison has been followed by other releases, including that of the two members of Pussy Riot that were still in jail. That these will be reported in the Western press in more or less the same tones can be taken for granted. Minor differences will be found but the generally accepted “thought images” to explain these releases will slowly collect producing an easily manageable discourse. Being in Moscow it is difficult to extricate oneself from a certain elation. For all the scepticism I have about the figure of Khodorkovsky, I couldn’t bring myself to support his imprisonment if it wasn’t a necessarily fair one. I think that there was a case for the imprisonment of oligarchs (perhaps indeed an ever greater case for the imprisonment of Roman Abramovich than Khodorkovsky could be made given that it was at his mine in the Kuzbass town of Mezhdurechensk where due to the ignorance of safety mechanisms over 90 miners lost their lives). Abramovich even refused to pay them compensation. But a jail sentence should have been handed down for the right reasons (implementing a system in which the wilfull neglect of safety procedures leading to massive loss of life was systemic) and not simply for directly political conflicts (but, of course, this demand is clearly a utopian one in contemporary Russia). All in all, Khodorkovsky’s release wasn’t as good a piece of news as Alyekhina’s and Tolokonnikova’s release.

Whether one thinks that their strategy is a good one or not and there is space for criticism, their freeing from prison gives one more reasons to rejoice precisely because they had no part in the oppressive set up of either the 1990s or the past decade. Whatever their outlook it is not the Neo-Liberal outlook of Khodrkovsky but one, at least, taking into account the social question. In the decade that Khodorkovsky spent in prison he made not a single call and wrote not a single article on prisoners rights. Compare that to Tolokonnikova’s article or Alyekhina’s resistance to the idea of being amnestied. She had fellow prisoners to support and didn’t wish to be released early. The difference between Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot prisoners can be gauged by Alexei Tsvetkov’s (quoted in the previous post about Khodorkovsky) suggestion that if the opposition had any backbone, it would choose Tolokonnikova as the only candidate to oppose Putin (ie she is the only real national symbol of non-systemic opposition).

Of course, it is rather early to make many more comments but I would say that the next step is what Maria Chehonadskih has to say in her article on Pussy Riot. Their real strength, she argues, was their anonymity (their unmasking at the trial was, in some ways, the victory of Power over them- just as they had unmasked the Power mechanisms of Putin’s authoritarian project). Now it is time to think of strategies (political ones) and also to think of those prisoners who have been truly anonymous – the Bolotnaya Prisoners-and who are still in prison:

We expected to hear the story (of Pussy Riot) from the second- or third-person point of view, which was so important for their early performances. We don’t want to see what is beyond the mask but what the mask is, itself. We would like to know who are these hes and shes for whom Pussy Riot is fighting. We would like to know what these hes and shes can do together, how they can collaborate, and for what they should struggle – for human rights, for smashing down a tyranny, or for a ‘free market’ unburdened by authoritarianism, or a new, just world for all? We would like to understand together and to learn more about these hes and shes, and we want to come to a common political viewpoint. And we would also like a more active solidarity campaign for the sixteen anonymous activists arrested on 6 May 2012 in Moscow, and for those hes and shes who are being arrested elsewhere, in so many other countries.

Four of the Bolotnaya prisoners still awaiting their freedom

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About afoniya

I am a translator, language teacher, independent film scholar who is interested in many aspects of culture. I have my own blog on Russian and Soviet cinema at http://giuvivrussianfilm.blogspot.com and I have also written for journals such as Film Philosophy and Bright Lights as well as Ribbed magazine. Outside of film my interest runs to language, politics, literature and my world is centred around the Meditteranean, Russia, Southern Ukraine as well as the UK.

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  1. Pingback: Scattered thoughts (2) on Pussy Riot, anonymity & other political prisoners. | Research Material

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