Interviewing Pussy Riot

Reuters photograph found on The Telegraph

It was one of the most bizarre and enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done.

It was just before 2:00 in the morning. We’d been parked in a dark Moscow alley for close to 3 hours, waiting, re-hashing our questions, getting impatient.

I’d been working for a week to get this interview, and it kept getting pushed back – 9p.m., then 11:30 p.m. now around 1:30 a.m. My camera man was asleep, and our contact had disappeared into the dark behind a row of dodgy garage sheds.

Somehow Time Magazine had gotten ahead of us. They said they’d only take 30 minutes, but it had been over 2 hours. We were sick of waiting, so we just took off in the dark, heading in the direction our contact had walked, picking our way over ropes and broken up sidewalks in an abandoned construction site.

Finally, poking into a dimly-lit building, resembling a tin-roofed garden shed more than anything else, we heard voices. My contact appeared in the doorway, and behind him a group of girls in multi-colored balaclava’s spilled out into the yard, giggling, talking, smoking.

To be honest, I’ve been rather ambivalent about this feminist punk rock up until now. Of course the jailing of three of their performers, and what it says about Russia is outrageous. It’s not that I don’t understand the implications of their story, it’s just that I help process up to 10 or 15 stories at the office every day – many of them heart-wrenching – and pretty soon I just distance myself from it all. Also,  I’m a little bit embarrassed about having to say the word ‘pussy’ every time I do a story on them.

After spending a few sleep-deprived hours talking to the band members not in jail, however, I am so impressed. They’re so much braver, articulate, and intelligent than I’ve really realized.

Have you been following the story? Pussy Riot is a group of female art activists that were arrested during an anti-Putin protest ‘concert’ inside Russia’s biggest Orthodox Cathedral. They’ve been held in prison since February and are facing jail sentences of up to 7 years. The trial has caused an international outcry, and everyone seems to be leaning in, wondering what the verdict will be, and what that will mean about the atmosphere in Russia for the rest of the time that Putin is in office.

So a lot of my questions, sitting on the floor with a microphone and listening to them talk as they sipped coffee, had to do with Putin and protest and politics.

I don’t agree with everything this group of art activists is doing, but I found myself getting excited by their vision of art and protest; excited by the message of non-complacency that they’re trying to get out; excited that someone is actually doing something to help us all wake up and think about the choices we’re making. I liked this quote by one of the girls:

“This is the same trap that our society is in, when everyone is silent…and thinks ‘If I say something I’ll be left on my own; they’ll persecute me out of society, and I’ll be an outsider. I’ll only say something if everyone else says something first.’ It’s this fear to overcome yourself, fear of leaving this stable situation. And, as we know, development is happens outside your comfort zone. There is this fear of overcoming your comfort zone, leaving it, and starting to speak from your heart, (to say) important things, right things. I hope that, maybe in this trap there are people who share my values, our values – values like freedom…the value of justice, of freedom of creativity, the value of self-expression….and maybe the moment will come when they’ll say something too, because more and more people are talking every day.” -Pussy Riot band member

I don’t really like to talk about politics too much on this blog, but it’s hard for me to stop thinking about it, as my job entails so much thinking, reading, talking, writing and filming about politics.

Anyway, I wanted to share this interview with you, because I found it so inspiring. Tomorrow (August 17) is the verdict, so you can check a newspaper to see what happens.

Other than that I can recommend this background article (with great photo’s) and this transcription of the girls’ closing statements at court.

Have you been following the case? Do you have an opinion?

P.S. The above photo was taken by a Reuters photojournalist and was found online via  the Telegraph

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4 Responses to Interviewing Pussy Riot

  1. Very interesting! Thanks for posting it.

    Hey, your article on friendship disappeared today. I’ll look some more for it. I enjoyed reading it.

    Jennifer Dougan
    http://www.jenniferdougan.com

    • Hey jen! I took the article away on purpose – it’s not supposed to be published until September, but I must have pressed a wrong button and it got published early. Oops! Glad you liked it – I’m trying to do a whole series this fall, so it will be back… 🙂

  2. russialite says:

    This was a very interesting piece ! I think the pussy riot girls are reading one way in Russia and another way abroad — I find this is always the way when something like this happens in Russia – I feel like I’m in one universe and my Russian husband is in a parallel one. He says no biggy on this one, but I think it is, like 1905. Hmmmm….

    • Jennifer, such an insightful comment – so true. Isn’t that so interesting? My husband and I agree on this issue, but some of my Russian in-laws are on an entirely different plane of thinking – they thought Pussy Riot should’ve had a harsher punishment. I read a really good opinion piece on the case that I thought had an interesting point. They said that the Pussy Riot case showed how conservative Russian society really is in many ways. Would you agree?

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