Pussy Riot′s Maria Alyokhina′s ′Riot Days′ are not over yet | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.11.2019
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Pussy Riot's Maria Alyokhina's 'Riot Days' are not over yet

On her way to Berlin, the Pussy Riot activist's boyfriend was arrested for an action in support of political prisoners. Alyokhina told DW about how the movement is attracting unlikely candidates, and revealed new plans.

Pussy Riot co-founder Maria (nicknamed Masha) Alyokhina came to Berlin on Thursday for the Ost-Europa-Tage (Eastern Europe Days) festival, whose theme was "Feminism and Democracy." Alyokhina was invited to read excerpts of her memoir, Riot Days, alongside three other female authors: Bulgarian poet Violeta Koleva, Czech author Dora Kapralova and Polish writer Roksana Wiankowska.

Before the reading, DW met up with the Russian activist to discuss current developments in Russia.

She showed up late for the interview, visibly upset, explaining, "My boyfriend was arrested at the airport today."

Alyokhina said that he was detained for his participation in a recent political action. MediaZona, the alternative media platform Alyokhina founded together with her Pussy Riot co-activist Nadeschda Tolokonnikova, reported that they had obtained a copy of the police protocol of his detention, stating that Dmitry Tsorionov (nicknamed Enteo) had been identified as one of the activists who had hung a banner on the Bolshoi Kammeny Bridge on November 8. The banner showed photos of various people who are identified by human rights activists as political prisoners, along with the words "Stop (!) Gulag" in Russian.

According to Alyokhina and MediaZona, one of the Pussy Riot members who participated in the action, Lyudmila Sukova, was also detained and released with an order to appear in court a week later. The action was jointly organized by Pussy Riot activists and members of the Dekommunizatsiya (Decommunization) movement.

Alyokhina told DW on Friday that Enteo would be kept for five days in prison.

Menschenrechtsaktivisten Banner (Alexander Sofeev)

The banner that led to the detention of activists

Hundreds of victims of repression

The banner the masked activists unfurled last week on the bridge near the Kremlin portrayed people who are imprisoned or facing a long prison sentence. Their action aimed to raise attention to these cases ahead of upcoming trials.

The pro-democracy activist Anastasia Shevchenko is among them, as is Yegor Zhukov, a student who has a widely popular YouTube channel criticizing the government of President Vladimir Putin. Both are under house arrest awaiting trial with a possible sentence of several years.

Read more: Russian blogger sentenced to 5 years in prison for a tweet

Another young man portrayed on the banner, Konstantin Kotov, was sentenced to four and a half years of prison in September 2019 for participating in several peaceful demonstrations. "He was only holding a small piece of paper at a demonstration, just imagine," said Alyokhina. His case was also reported on by Human Rights Watch, in an article that recalls that "since 2014, Russian law mandates criminal sanctions for participating in more than two unauthorized public gatherings within six months."

Maria Alyokhina in Berlin (DW/E. Grenier)

At the Berlin event, Maria Alyokhina was more focused on what was unfolding at home than her reading

"All of this is a big tragedy, and this is just a small part of it," said Alyokhina. "Since 2012 our country has changed a lot. We now have hundreds of political prisoners," she added. "It's much more important to talk about them, not about us."

The unlikely couple

Nevertheless, one unusual aspect about Alyokhina's boyfriend needs to be discussed.

Enteo may now be unfurling banners alongside Pussy Riot activists, but back in 2012, he was among those who aimed to get Pussy Riot behind bars. A renowned leading far-right Orthodox activist, he led controversial and sometimes violent actions against homosexuals and abortion, as well as stunts disrupting contemporary art exhibitions and theater productions promoting a secular state.

On the other extreme, Pussy Riot gained global notoriety through their performance in a Moscow cathedral that the Orthodox Church deemed sacrilegious. Lyrics of their songs promote feminism, LGBT rights and opposition to Putin.  

Dmitry Enteo (picture alliance/dpa/ITAR-TASS/A. Novoderezhkin)

A controversial figure: Dmitry Enteo was formerly the leader of a far-right Orthodox movement

So when Alyokhina started dating Enteo at the end of 2016, it was shocking news for all of their friends — and anyone acquainted with the Russian activist scene.

Their relation also challenges the media's usual narratives, according to which only politically like-minded activists can be together — perhaps even in the same room.

So where do these two people find common ground for joint activism?

Alyokhina explained that Enteo was banned from his Orthodox movement, "God's Will," after he invited her to read the Bible with him in public in front of the Ministry of Justice in July 2017. The action was in protest against the prohibition of public readings of the Bible without state permission. The Orthodox group called Alyokhina's presence blasphemous.

"And I think in many things he changed his position," said Alyokhina of her controversial boyfriend. "He's not an ultra-right Orthodox like he was before. He's doing good projects."

She cited the work Enteo does with his current Decommunization movement, which is "against totalitarian regimes and reflecting on what happened in the Soviet Union," said Alyokhin. Russia has until now avoided dealing with the terrors of the country's past, promoting its glorious aspects instead. Stalin is still a revered figure in the country. A record 70% of Russians approve of Soviet leader Josef Stalin's role in history, according to a poll published by the independent research organization Levada Center in April 2019. The sharpest rise in support for him is among people aged 18-30. Few of them are even aware that the dictator led ethnic cleansing campaigns, deportations, famines and executions that killed millions.

Read more: Opinion: Vladimir Putin shows his hand as Moscow rehabilitates Stalin's conquests

New activist projects underway

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia was to pay damages of €37,000 ($41,000) to the three Pussy Riot activists who were imprisoned. It was made public on November 13 that the Russian government had complied with the court ruling, paying out the Pussy Riot members. But Alyokhina doesn't believe that fine serves as a deterrent: "It's not Vladimir Putin who is paying. The Russian people are paying."

That's why Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova decided to donate that money to various projects, including their media platform, MediaZona, one of the rare news outlets that is still sending reporters to Russian courtrooms to cover political cases. 

Another part of the money will be invested in the creation of a new prize, the Pussy Riot Award Against Domestic Violence. The award supports independent filmmakers, journalists and anyone else producing material on the topic. Pussy Riot will be announcing the award officially in the next two weeks, Alyokhina revealed.

Pussy Riot activists in 2014 (Reuters)

The Pussy Riot masks have become an iconic symbol of protest

Hope in fellow activists

The activist network created over the course of Pussy Riot's history is what gives Alyokhina strength to go on. "Even in prison, I met so many amazing people who became my good friends and who became activists."

As a demonstration of how the movement can attract more unlikely candidates, Alyokhina told of how the editor of Riot Days, Olga Borisova (top picture, left) had previously spent two years working for the police in St. Petersburg, initially believing that it was a way to fight for justice. According to Borisova's own account on the website Batenka.ru, once the young woman saw the system from the inside, she resigned and became an activist. "And I couldn't have made this book without her, says Alyokhina.

"I think hope is inside us," she adds. "I really believe in solidarity because nobody knows what will happen next. At least I know that I have really good friends who will not go away if I'm in trouble — and the other way around. That's really a big thing. It can give you power for days and months and years."

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