Pussy Riot Member Launches Hunger Strike Protesting Prison Conditions

Effective today Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of Feminist punk rock outfit Pussy Riot, is undergoing a hunger strike to protest conditions at the Mordovia prison camp where she’s being held.

Currently serving a two year sentence for staging a concert demonstration outside Moscow’s main cathedral in protest of Vladimir Putin, in an open letter published by The Guardian she offers a lengthy and devastating account of her experiences.

24 year old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is one of the three members of Pussy Riot arrested and tried in 2012 alongside Yekaterina Samutsevich (known as Katya), 31, and Maria Alekhina, 25. This past February, Katya was released because she’d been arrested prior to participating in the actual performance. Maria continues to serve time and was denied parole this past July.  The three members were the subject of a documentary that aired on HBO this year.  The film profiles the three members and shadows them throughout the trial – which ended with them being convicted of ”premeditated hooliganism” that was “motivated by religious hatred or hostility”, but not before captivating a global audience.

At 24 years old Tolokonnikova is often fingered as the ringleader of Pussy Riot.  In the documentary of the group’s efforts she was referred to by one Russian critic as “a demon with a brain.”

With a reputation that preceded her, Tolokonnikova notes that upon entering the camp she was greeted by Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, head administrator at Mordovia – a location known for its dire conditions – who informed her that “we have broken stronger wills than yours.”

Her lengthy and frank assessment of the conditions at Mordovia reads like a field report;

My brigade in the sewing shop works 16 to 17 hours a day. From 7.30am to 12.30am. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners submit petitions to work on weekends “out of [their] own desire”. In actuality, there is, of course, no desire to speak of. These petitions are written on the orders of the administration and under pressure from the prisoners that help enforce it.

She goes on to discuss conditions that pit inmates against each other with unofficial punishments.  She tells a story of a fellow inmates who had limbs amputated from being left out in the cold as punishment.  Another was beaten to death by a fellow inmate. After filing a report in May of 2013, she notes that Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov responded by making “conditions at the camp unbearable”.  In addition to being threatened by Kupriyanov, she acknowledges being provoked by fellow inmates who are trying to fight her.  In response to that she says:

Over and over, they attempt to get me to fight one of them, but what’s the point of fighting with people who aren’t in charge of themselves, who are only acting on the orders of the administration?

The entire letter is worth reading in full.

The women of Pussy Riot have repeatedly made their intentions clear– as artists, they view “changing the world” as an extension of their jobs. Their actions, including this current hunger strike, confirm that they’re not fucking around.  This isn’t a political endorsement or an appearance in a PSA – they’re intent on uprooting the system that they’re up against.

They are remarkable because they are relentless and prison or not — their spirits are far from broken.

6 Responses to "Pussy Riot Member Launches Hunger Strike Protesting Prison Conditions"
Talcott | Monday September 23, 2013 07:42 pm 1

Courageous Women, thank you for the post.


Sharkbabe | Monday September 23, 2013 07:44 pm 2

That full letter was deeply harrowing and dispiriting.

I am so fucking sick of neverending human brutality and sadism.

My only prayer anymore is for an asteroid.

That said, I wish her the very best. Russia seems to be losing its mind domestically.

FREE PUSSY RIOT


Frank33 | Monday September 23, 2013 08:12 pm 3

I support political prisoners no matter what dictatorship. The crimes of the Gulag have been well documented. But “Pussy Riot” are phonies. The US Government has promoted these persecuted ladies because of the US political prisoners, such as Chelsea Manning.

What did they, PR do? They invaded a church. Not the biggest crime. But they are provocateurs, who have no antiwar, anti globalist message. It is just anti-Putin. When PR does anti-Obama messaging, I will support that.


EdwardTeller | Monday September 23, 2013 08:26 pm 4

The way political dissidents were treated in the USSR in the early 70s was one of the first issues that got me to donate money as well as time to political action. I had just come to Alaska, and had a bit of extra money for the first time in my life. I donated to Helsinki Watch, which later became Human Rights Watch.

There is a continuity here. Andrei Sakharov was never able to become president of Russia, but maybe Nadezhda Tolokonnikova might do that some day. She is one of the more cogent political thinkers alive today.


jasmine311 | Monday September 23, 2013 11:34 pm 5
In response to Frank33 @ 3

Yeah, I agree.


Sarah B. | Wednesday September 25, 2013 10:06 am 6

I agree.

I don’t know if you saw this hilarious critique of Pussy Riot by gadfly journalist Israel Shamir, published at Counterpunch in August 2012, but it is worth a look just to get another perspective:

By Israel Shamir

Hitting the Commercial Jackpot — The Secret History of Pussy Riot
http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/08/23/the-secret-history-of-pussy-riot/

I’m not saying that I buy Shamir’s take wholesale — or retail, either, for that matter — but it is a welcome variation on the theme that these women are somehow secular saints who have made it their crusade to confront the Evil Villain Putin and vanquish him.

I suspect if the word “Pussy” were removed from their brand name and replaced with almost any other “P” word — take your pick among the almost endless choices — they would have had greater difficulty in getting people to notice their grandstanding and pimping for the cameras and attention-getting protests. But they will no doubt remain the darlings of the anti-Putin crowd until people finally tire of them and move on.

PS — I wonder if Pumpkin Riot or Pickle Riot would have garnered the same cachet?


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