Answer to a comment about Pussy Riot

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PUTIN’S SWAP

From Lara
Really they are killing and torturing people in Russia for their sexual orientation and your just as bad as them your a bigot they are just standing up for their rights maybe you should go live there for a while and see how you like not having your rights
To Lara,

Welcome to Unruly Hearts, Lara!

First off, it would have been more productive if your comment about Pussy Riot had included information about the group’s agenda rather than insults.  The article you read was written by Carles of Hipster Runoff and published in our music magazine with the intention of getting our readers to comment about it.  We received many private comments from readers, most of them criticizing PR, others in favor.  Ahhh… I’ve been to Russia several times, to visit friends.

This has been our response to the readers who took the time to respond to the controversial article:

Prof Mark Levine at UC Irvine, hit the nail on the head. According to Levine, “there are hundreds of artists who perform under threat to their freedom and lives, who also deserve our solidarity.” Levine correctly points out “Western artists can and should support their Russian comrades. But the support received by Pussy Riot is sadly an aberration. As a rule, European and US artists have been strangely – and inexcusably – silent when it comes to recognising the plights suffered by their fellow musicians and performers around the world, where freedom of expression receives little protection, censorship is prevalent and artists routinely face the threat of prosecution and jail from their governments, and more dangerously, threats to their physical safety and even lives by conservative social forces. Several American and European artists have come forward in support of Pussy Riot but many others have remained silent when it comes to supporting fellow artists under threat. If you go to the international organisation Freemuse website you’ll find a long list of artists under threat in more than 100 countries. We couldn’t agree more with prof Levine, “It’s easy to support a riot girl band in a country that is a traditional adversary of the “West” and where a primary concern seems to be women’s rights, but when it comes time to support a rapper jailed by a “friendly” Arab monarch, suddenly even the most extroverted singers seem to get stage fright.”

People are being tortured and killed in many countries, yet the West seems to be interested only in those cases were the government is an “adversary”  —  not an “allied”.  In your case, Russia is the United States’ main adversary, the reason why you have received so much attention.  Were any of those artists persecuted, tortured and jailed [See MUSE], received by the Mayor of NYC or the editorial board of The New York Times?  No way.  The hype about Pussy Riot was about degrading Russia, while the host country keeps hundreds of detainees, blindfolded and in the prison in Guantanamo base.  Try asking the Obama Administration to allow you to visit the Guantanamo prison so you can see it by yourself. Did you know that President Obama authorized the killing by drones of American citizens suspected of “terrorism”?  Did you know that gay people are beaten up and even killed in the United States?

We do not agree with Pussy Riot’s style to protest against the Russian government. We think you can achieve much more (your target is the Russian people (first), then the people in foreign countries) if you have better ways to make known your agenda.  Having sex with multiple partners in a public place in front of children will not attract those who, even though agree with your agenda, do not support your style.

We are interested in knowing and learning about Pussy Riot’s agenda, and invite you and your friends to send us a draft for publication. We are particularly interested in the writing of  Yulia Gradskova:
Punk Prayer Politicizing Social Life: Faith, Religion, and the Church.
Women and God.”  [published by Baltic States]  and the following comment:

The politics of the Orthodox Church today, unfortunately is such that what most important [in religion] is forgotten: personality and its immanent freedom. Christianity is not a static doctrine, but a religion of free spirit and free choice. The person in Christianity is not a slave, but a participant of God’s mission, a creator.

Are you sure? Can you elaborate on it?

Thanks,
AA
Unruly Hearts

Interview + New York Gives a Cold Welcome to Pussy Riot delegation.

Masha and Nadya ex Pussy Riots or not

Masha and Nadya ex Pussy Riots or not

New York gives a chilly welcome to Pussy Riot

The charity drive for Amnesty International concert at Barclays Center was a big disappointment.  Very few people attended. The event lasted FIVE HOURS, and was poorly organized.  As soon as Madonna took the stage to introduce the Russian duo,  several guests  left the concert area to float around somewhere at the venue.

Tolokonnikova soon began to read a list of academic quotes.  Her face covered with thick, heavy makeup, her mouth with several layers of lipstick, together with their solid-white robe (Tolokonnikova) and solid-black robe (Alekhina) bearing an insignia with a cross that reminded those of the Ku Klux Klan.   Alekhina limited herself to nodding in agreement to Tolokonnikova’s quotes.

The duo flew into Berlin Monday after visiting New York to promote their “new prison rights foundation”, where they played a gig with Madonna.  Appearing at a short  press conference in Berlin, with Tolokonnikova, a self-proclaimed leftist, wearing a jacket with gold epaulettes, a type of ornamental shoulder piece or decoration used as insignia of rank by armed forces and other organizations. In several European armies epaulettes are also worn by all ranks of elite or ceremonial units when on parade.

The two women announced they had received “several offers” for film projects, but won’t reveal more until a deal is confirmed.  The duo couldn’t contain their happiness for the supposedly offers for a Hollywood movie. Tolonnikova  stated that the movie would be something like “Star Wars.”

The pair also announced they had no plans to run for president themselves, but said they might seek elected office in Moscow, where they live. The two also said they would consider working with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s wealthiest man, released a few days before these women were after serving most of his 10-year sentence for theft and fraud.

The only thing Pussy Riot is exposing is themselves advertising a delusional agenda that “sideshow” Western musicians and actors glom onto.  Any person, like the Pussy Riot member, who, at being 8 months pregnant, performs a multiple partner full intercourse orgy in public in front if children needs to see a psychiatrist immediately before she rejoins society. Performance art?  Performance artists? Is this a joke?

Prof Mark Levine at UC Irvine, hit the nail on the head in his essay about Pussy Riot.  “There are hundreds of artists who perform under threat to their freedom and lives, who also deserve our solidarity.” Levine correctly points out “Western artists can and should support their Russian comrades. But the support received by Pussy Riot is sadly an aberration.” Prof Levine states that “As a rule, European and US artists have been strangely – and inexcusably – silent when it comes to recognising the plights suffered by their fellow musicians and performers around the world, where freedom of expression receives little protection, censorship is prevalent and artists routinely face the threat of prosecution and jail from their governments, and more dangerously, threats to their physical safety and even lives by conservative social forces.

Several U.S. and European artists have come forward in support of Pussy Riot but many others have remained silent when it comes to supporting fellow artists under threat. If you go to the website of  the independent, international organisation Freemuse you’ll find a long list of artists under threat in more than 100 countries.

I couldn’t agree more with prof Levine, “It’s easy to support a cool riot girl band in a country that is a traditional adversary of the “West” and where a primary concern seems to be women’s rights, but when it comes time to support a rapper jailed by a “friendly” Arab monarch, suddenly even the most extroverted singers seem to get stage fright.”

 The Interview

 In terms of how this relates to Putin and the government, Putin was and still is popular, but is losing that popularity, especially with the middle crowd that liked some of the stability that had come with him. Rather than standing up for secular principles in this kind of issue, he has aligned himself much more with the Church and with religious fundamentalism, even though he isn’t much of a believer himself. But I think it was politically advantageous, so that’s the backdrop. ~ Maxim Pozdorovkin

Two years after their original performance of “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and their much-publicized arrest and sentencing for hooliganism, the women of Pussy Riot are back in the international news cycle. In December, Putin and the Russian Duma granted amnesty for 1,300 prisoners, including for the still-imprisoned Maria Alyokhina (Masha) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya) of Pussy Riot, along with 28 recently arrested Greenpeace activists and Mikhail Khodorovsky, one of Putin’s political opponents.

Since receiving their pardon, Nadya and Masha have criticized the terms of their release, much of which is detailed in the VICE News documentary “Pussy Riot Goes Back to Jail.” They’ve also transitioned into activists for prison reform, bringing light to abuse and corruption in the Russian penal system [nothing new]. But it hasn’t all been progress since then. Last Thursday, the Pussy Riot collective issued an open letter to The Guardian emphasizing that Masha and Nadya, despite often being billed as “Pussy Riot” in the media, were no longer members of the group. They seemed particularly galled by the Amnesty Benefit Concert in New York, where an announcement claimed attendees would see the first “legal” performance of Pussy Riot.

Maxim Pozdorovkin is one of two filmmakers (along with Mike Lerner) behind Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, a feature-length documentary that details the arrest and indictment of three members of Pussy Riot. Pozdorovkin and Lerner include extensive footage of the the trial, where Alyokhina, Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova, were tried and convicted for hooliganism (although Samutsevich was released on appeal). But the film also provides context for the Pussy Riot protests, informing that the group is a performance art collective rather than simply a punk band, and detailing the cultural conflict between secularism and religious fundamentalism in Russia under Putin’s rule.

I had a chance to talk to Maxim from New York on Friday, the day after Masha and Nadya appeared on stage with Madonna at the Amnesty International Benefit Concert at the Barclay’s Center.

So when did you first become aware of Pussy Riot and end up filming this movie?
MP: I was actually doing pre-production on another film and I started attending the trial. The thing is, I had heard about them before and I was interested because I grew up playing punk rock and being into Russian avant-garde art and things like that in Moscow. Mike and I, we had been trying to make something with someone else and we weren’t sure where that was going so we sort of teamed up.

Did you know anybody involved with the band when you got involved?
Well, they’re not a band… I actually knew one of them, but without knowing it, because they’re anonymous. Later I found out through a mutual friend in common, but no, not before.

Yeah, I understand what you mean when you say they’re not a band. Pussy Riot is more of a collective that does performance, right?
They see themselves as performance artists, and ultimately the whole story is a lot more interesting if seen through the perspective of art. And that also points to the misconceptions about the story that exists in the West. In the West, the story they tell is that Pussy Riot is this punk band that sang a song against Putin and that’s why they’re in jail—which is absolute idoicy. If you look at what they did before, they sang “Putin pissed himself” in the Red Square and had nothing done to them. What happened in the Cathedral is this collision of two ideologies. One is this idea of performance art—using performance art to provoke public conversation—and then there are people who are resenting that on religious fundamentalist grounds and other reasons. It was really this perfect storm of different cultural layers. I just wanted to unpack that.

So in Russia, was there an understanding that this is an artistic protest, as opposed to just a punk band disrupting things?
In Russia, they were portrayed as vulgar hooligans more than anything else. They were called a punk group, but I think people understand it a little bit more because the other performance art groups and Moscow—conceptualist stuff from the 90s that they were influenced by—is a little bit more well-known. And some of the actions of Voina [a Russian performance art collective that Nadya was a member of prior to Pussy Riot] and with the performances of kissing a cop or the orgy [Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!] or any of those things, people knew that there was some sort of an overlap between the groups. As a result, they knew that these people were provocateurs and were trying to provoke society. So I guess they were a little bit more informed.

So do you think people offended by the blasphemous nature of lyrics like “God is shit,” were aware of the intellectual basis underlying the performance?
They’re really “brainy”. Pussy Riot are like these immediate, savvy, “post-modern” media artists. In part it’s very theoretical and when you think about them, they are kind of bohemian intellectuals. Of course, people didn’t understand that, they thought it was just someone being rude. But even if you explain it to them, I think that a lot of people think that what art is, is the song. So people dismiss it saying “Oh yeah, terrible song blah, blah, blah.” But the whole point is that the art is the video they made and the public response. They’re trying to find alternative ways to protest. It’s something that confuses the officials and forces them to overreact, and by overreacting you expose some of the repressive tendencies that are part of the system.

I think a lot of people in the West didn’t realize the extent of the role of the Orthodox Church in the controversy. Can you tell me a bit about the conflict between religious fundamentalism and secularism in Russia?
On the “left”, Pussy Riot and a lot of their circle really represents this very radical activist sort of sect and it’s probably at odds with mild liberalism as it exists. At the same time, a lot of the religious fundamentalists on the Christian side saw these things as an affront. That segment of the population saw themselves as a political voice for the first time. It kind of activated them, and that’s what the Biker Priests you see in the film are. For the first time, these people who had been significantly oppressed during Soviet times see themselves as having a voice and it’s a voice that can be represented on a major platform in government.

In terms of how this relates to Putin and the government, Putin was and still is popular, but is losing that popularity, especially with the middle crowd that liked some of the stability that had come with him. Rather than standing up for secular principles in this kind of issue, he has aligned himself much more with the Church and with religious fundamentalism, even though he isn’t much of a believer himself. But I think it was politically advantageous, so that’s the backdrop.

Let’s talk about those Biker Priests, supporters of the Church who wear black shirts with skulls and crossbones and engage in demonstrations to support the Church. How did you get involved with them?
They were around the trials and they were easy to get. In a way they’re like a bizarro world Pussy Riot. They’re sort of performance artists in a way. One of the things I had to cut from the movie was a video of them performing a sacrificial burning of a Madonna poster and describing how the poster was resisting the flame, with a supporter narrating it. It was just so absurd and so surreal. Later, I was on NPR, and I got in trouble with some people for referring to them as the “bizarro world Pussy Riot,” so I called them the Dick Squad. Apparently, you can say “Pussy Riot” on NPR, but you can’t say “Dick Squad,” which is a really funny double standard when you think about it.

So, you can say “Pussy” but you can’t say “Dick”? Did they give you those guidelines?
No, I said it, and then I looked and the producers in the booth were like “No!” and I looked at Leonard [Lopate] and his face went ashen. I was like, geez, he was really annoyed by that. I don’t even think they bleeped it because I don’t think they got it in time. But obviously you can say “Dick,” like I think you can say Dick Armey, or if it’s a proper name…

One of the “Dick Squad” calls Tolokonnikova a “demon.” Did she ever see that?
Yeah. They’ve heard it all, they’ve seen it all. One of the things I was going to mention in response to your earlier question is that Russian Orthodoxy is a great deal more Pagan than Western Christianity.  One of the ways its more pagan is that the idea of tarnishing a holy place, or if you see why people carry icons, it’s this idea that objects can be holy and they can be tarnished. They can be tarnished by demons, and that’s why he was talking about demons. There’s a certain sect of the population that will speak of demons in this way. So it’s ludicrous, but it’s not quite as ludicrous as it sounds.

What did the group think about the extreme, high-level public response to their art, like the international reaction to the case and Madonna saying “Free Pussy Riot” at a concert in Moscow?
They were really happy for all the international attention because it brought so much attention on them and what they were doing, what their words were, and the messages they were espousing. So they’ve really been able to push these ideas of prison reform and prisoner rights both in jail and now out, as a result of the public support and media attention that they get anywhere.

On Friday, the Pussy Riot collective issued an open letter to The Guardian distancing themselves from Nadya and Masha, who are no longer a part of the collective, claiming that ticketed events like Thursday’s Amnesty Concert were antithetical to Pussy Riot’s existence as an anti-capitalist group. What do you think is causing the rift there? Is the collective not happy with the level of exposure that Masha and Nadya are getting?
I’d almost rather not answer this question… My feeling is that it’s actually Nadya and Masha figuring out how they can continue to work together and what that means. Originally, Pussy Riot was this idea of a project that was basically open-sourced. Everyone that wanted to do it could partake in it. But once it became so huge, a lot of the original members felt a claim to it, because there were all these imitators and people who were doing it for different reasons than the initial intention of the group and promoting their own agendas, so there was an urge to rein that in. Masha and Nadya came out of prison with a clear sense of what they wanted to do in terms of human rights work, and like the letter says, it wasn’t really clear how that fit in with their performance art background. What they’ll say is that since they’ve basically had their masks removed, they almost can’t be members of Pussy Riot. But, of course, when they’re billed anywhere in a news story or a TV show or anything else, they’re represented as Pussy Riot.

What do you think is the motive behind Putin’s decree that released Masha and Nadya?
What happened was the Twenty Year Anniversary amnesty bill was discussed for a long time, probably even before the Olympics. Of course, it was a PR move to a certain extent, but it was also that this was discussed for a long time, I think especially [former tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky was a bigger gamble, but then it wasn’t clear whether amnesty would cover hooliganism, which is what both the Greenpeace people and Pussy Riot were charged with. So the decision to include them was an addition to appease Western criticism.

Pussy Riot duo in NYC to promote Amnesty International concert @ Barclays Center

At Barclays Center, the sentiment was more bittersweet and tangible than anyone might have realized.

“Live Aid co-organizer Bob Geldof also added his input by addressing the dwindling crowd:  “This is supposed to be a concert to ensnare the youth of America but I don’t see anyone under the age of 60,” he complained, before dedicating his short set to the memory of Pete Seeger.”

With more Marxists in New York than in Moscow, Pussy Riot should expect a chilly reception from New Yorkers.

Two members of the Russian  feminist punk collective who were jailed by their home country for ‘hooliganism,’ held a press conference at Amnesty International’s headquarters to promote yesterday’s event ‘Bringing Human Rights Home’ concert in Brooklyn.  The two members of the punk collective were joined by Madonna, The Flaming Lips, Lauryn Hill, and Cold War Kids, among others.

Members of the Pussy Riot collective and Madonna

Members of the Pussy Riot collective and Madonna

The two women were convicted of “hooliganism” in 2012 after staging a protest against President Vladimir Putin at a Moscow church.

The duo came to New York City with a political agenda: A brighter future for Russia which includes the overthrow of Vladimir Putin because “We don’t want a shirtless man on a horse leading us.” They also want to visit prisons in the United States.

They did better with satirist Stephen Colbert, but the interview was so bizarre that the answers given by the duo might have left viewers wondering about whether Russia will be better if led by the Pussy Riots.

Welcome to the United States. Have you been to an Olive Garden yet?” That’s how Stephen Colbert opened his interview with Pussy Riot on Tuesday night’s episode of The Colbert Report. Despite speaking through a translator, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina  were laughing along as Colbert made jokes about being a personal friend of Vladimir Putin and rolling their eyes when he threatened to search them following the taping of the episode. ”We’ve had two years of practice hiding things from searches,” Nadya replied.

When Colbert asked the women why they were against Putin, someone “who’s just trying to preserve the peace and bring Russia to a brighter future,” Masha responded, ”We have different ideas about a brighter future. We don’t want a shirtless man on a horse leading us.” They also intend “to look at prisons in the United States, talk to human rights activists, and learn from their experience.” Following their release, the women have called for reform of the prison Russian system.

Nadya and Masha said they were released early from prison because “[Putin and other government officials] were fed up with us.” Asked if they believed it was a publicity stunt ahead of the Olympic Games, they replied, “We don’t think it was a successful stunt; we don’t think it improved the image of Russian. Maybe Putin made a mistake and should throw us back in jail.

As for why they came to America, Nadya and Masha said they intend “to look at prisons, talk to human rights activists, and learn from their experience.” Following their release, the women have called for reform of the prison Russian system. The duo did not say if they intend to visit the Guantanamo Base prison.

Lastly, Colbert asked about the origins of Pussy Riot and how one (such as himself) could become a member. “Even you” could be in Pussy Riot, they told him. “We could even come up with an honorary Pussy Riot tradition for youbut we’ll only talk to you about this after you call Putin.” Well, ask and you shall receive and by episode’s end, Colbert was sporting some bright new head wear: Colbert Pussy Riot

And if you’re wondering why they call themselves Pussy Riot and why they use the English translation, it’s because “we wanted to let English-speaking people enjoy themselves,” explained Nadya. (???)

Amnesty International Concert @ Barclays Center

Brooklyn’s Barclays Center has hosted everything from boxing matches to pop concerts, but until last night, the venue’s premises hadn’t been used as a recruitment station for the Revolutionary Communist Party. The unique occasion was Amnesty International’s Bring Human Rights Home Concert, the Jingle Ball of charitable giving, a show hyped in the States for its very special guest stars: two of the formerly jailed members of Pussy Riot.

The concert itself, however, didn’t launch with a ton of revolutionary energy. The first hour’s highlights only included Colbie Caillat’s performance of “Brighter Than the Sun” and the Fray’s extended take on — but of course — “How to Save a Life.”

After an introduction from once-jailed Iranian blogger Kianoosh Sanjari, Blondie finally made the concert feel like one, keeping the crowd on its feet even through their 2013 track “A Rose By Any Name.” Before “Call Me” ended the set, Debbie Harry announced the determined message of “One Way or Another” was “especially appropriate for this event.”

If Blondie managed to unite all the disparate fans in the arena, Cake could barely bring together the Cake fans in the building. Fortunately, their set was followed by the most anticipated portion of the night, when Madonna (black coat, Grammys cane, Comme des Fuckdown beanie) introduced recently freed Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, recalling how the Russian leg of her latest tour was threatened for encouraging of “gay behavior” before Nadya and Maria themselves addressed the crowd.

Speaking through a translator, the duo opened with the sort of truisms we had been hearing all night – “We have to remember that freedom is not a given,” for instance – before offering the sort of specific, goal-oriented call-to-action that had heretofore been missing, reading closing statements of trials for political prisoners currently awaiting sentencing. “This is our last chance to say something to them before they are locked up for five or six years,” they explained. And though many had hoped for a performance of some sort, what we received instead was undoubtedly more appropriate, a nod to Amnesty, a “thank you for the support” and an account of ongoing struggles back home. As another member of the collective had told Vice nearly two years ago, “We’ll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space.”  Yeah…

The crowd’s chants of “Russia will be free” seemed like a perfect cap for the night, but instead marked only the halfway point of the show, and Imagine Dragons began to make their way toward the stage. If the Pussy Riot collective envision rock & roll as a way to disrupt and even change society, Imagine Dragons use it to slowly chip away at the world’s surplus of drum sticks. Lead singer Dan Reynolds snapped the first one midway through their opening song, and by the time they got to the end of “Radioactive,” four of the five band members — everyone but the bassist — was hitting some sort of percussion.

Next up, Lauryn Hill used her time onstage to play a single song suite, one that began with “Ready or Not” and concluded with some liberationist reggae, providing the only performance that seemed truly revolutionary.

Bob Geldof nearly spoke for longer than Cold War Kids had played, then continued to play three songs that left the arena emptier than it had been since that band’s opening set.

Tegan and Sara were short and sweet, giving those remaining the first refreshing dance songs that had been heard in hours, and the Flaming Lips closed with Wayne Coyne dressed in a tinsel cape, standing on a small tower of amps and asking if we realize that everyone we know someday will die. With Pussy Riot — who’ve bravely suffered at the mercy of the Russian legal system — in the building, the sentiment was more bittersweet and tangible than anyone might have realized.

“Globally, there are hundreds of artists under far greater threat to their freedom and lives who deserve the same attention.”

Pussy Riot members. Photo: Misha Japaridze, file/ AP

There are hundreds of artists who perform under threat to their freedom and lives, who also deserve our solidarity.

After Pussy Riot, artists everywhere must stand up for each other

By Mark LeVine

It’s impossible to know yet whether the wave of international support received by the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot during their just completed trial impacted the verdict in any way. But it’s clear that the plight of the three young women who each now face the remainder of two years’ imprisonment has ignited the passion of US and European artists, from Sting to Madonna, who have publicly called for their freedom.

Western artists can and should support their Russian comrades. But the support received by Pussy Riot is sadly an aberration. As a rule, European and US artists have been strangely – and inexcusably – silent when it comes to recognising the plights suffered by their fellow musicians and performers around the world, where freedom of expression receives little protection, censorship is prevalent and artists routinely face the threat of prosecution and jail from their governments, and more dangerously, threats to their physical safety and even lives by conservative social forces.

Ole Reitov, of the international NGO Freemuse, which advocates on behalf of freedom of expression for musicians and composers – including Pussy Riot – believes the problem is rooted in the reluctance of managers and lawyers to encourage political engagement by their A-list artists. “But even when you reach them, a lot of ‘great names’ have a blind spot in terms of freedom of expression for fellow artists, which was in fact one of the motivations for creating Freemuse.”

System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian agrees, declaring that “too few organisations organise just around musicians”. In his view, “Artistes should boycott performing in countries that do not allow free expression of their opinions. This is one reason System of a Down has never played in Turkey. If we can’t use the word genocide on stage without threats of arrest or worse, it is not a conducive venue for artistic expression.”

In focus: Russia’s Pussy Riot

Certainly, the right to artistic freedom is one of the most basic human rights, enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declare in part: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers… Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

Human rights, but not for artists?

Well-known artistes, including Bono, Adam Yauch, Bruce Springsteen and others, have long lent their name to human rights organisations and campaigns such Amnesty International and the Campaign to Free Tibet. But many have generally remained silent when it comes to supporting fellow artists under threat. If musicians are all “from the same tribe”, as the world music pioneer Manu Dibango put it, the richer members of the tribe have not been nearly as kind to their poorer relations as they ought to be.

And so even now, as artistes – most recently, including Madonna – are flocking to support Pussy Riot, they continue to ignore the plight of other artistes presently in jail. If you go to the Freemuse website, you can see how many artists are under threat and how broad the range of countries is in which their rights are repressed. According to their latest estimate, violations are occurring in some 120 countries, with Afghanistan, Cameroon, China, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Somalia, and Turkey among the most repressive.

As I discussed in a column last month on the plight of Moroccan rapper El Haked, well-known artists continue to perform in countries where others have been jailed in much the same manner as the members of Pussy Riot, without saying or doing anything on their behalf. It’s easy to support a cool riot girl band in a country that is a traditional adversary of the “West” and where a primary concern seems to be women’s rights, but when it comes time to support a rapper jailed by a “friendly” Arab monarch, suddenly even the most extroverted singers seem to get stage fright.

Writers take the lead

We can compare the lack of uniform support for fellow musical artists to the far more developed and coherent support for writers world-wide by fellow members of their craft – as embodied in the organisation PEN, the world-wide association of writers, which for ninety years has acted “as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views”.

PEN is run by journalists and writers, who are generally more articulate and well connected to their writing colleagues than musicians. Musicians have neither the organisation nor social and political power (or often education) to similarly promote their interests. Even the most political artists, from Marcel Khalife to Rage Against the Machine, focus on broader political issues rather than their fellow music-makers.

At the level of the music business, it’s even harder to get people involved, since, as a “business” – especially one whose century-old model is crumbling beneath it – music industries in most countries need airplay on government-controlled radio stations and support to fight against piracy, to stay afloat. This situation provides little incentive to rock the political boat.

As one activist put it, rarely you might get a music executive such as Richard Branson who will sign the Sex Pistols and use their political “infamy” to help sell records and brand his company as hip and cutting edge, but such figures are increasingly rare these days in the mega corporate-dominated music industry.
Putin weighs in on Pussy Riot case

The problem is that, as long as long as artists, and the music industry more broadly, don’t take this seriously at the organisational and institutional levels (when is the last time that the Grammy Awards, ASCAP, BMI, SECAM, or even the X-Factor or American Idol ever mentioned artists under threat?), musicians will continue to face the same and even graver threats to their freedom as Pussy Riot, without anyone in the wider world taking notice or helping to publicise their plight.

A uniform code of conduct, now

In order to change the dynamics, musical artists, singers, composers, producers, arrangers, engineers, DJs, managers and music industry professionals need to together adopt a universal code of conduct that will ensure that they are aware of the situation in all countries in which they work, perform and sell their products and provide a standard set of guidelines and references for behaviour to prevent the continuation of the present situation, in which some artists get global attention to their plight while others suffer in silence.

Such a code could include the following provisions:

A declaration of support for all artistes who engage politically. As Madonna put it in supporting Pussy Riot, “art should be political”, and even artists who aren’t willing to put themselves on the line benefit when there is greater freedom for their colleagues to do so. The musical community must no longer sit idly by and allow fellow musicians to face such challenges and threats alone.

Artists need to stay abreast of developments affecting fellow artists and music industry professionals around the world and use their often extensive social media, concert and other appearances to help publicise specific threats or actions as they arise.

They should develop much more coordinated relations with organisations, such as Freemuse, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, to ensure that they are aware of threats to artists in countries in which they are touring, recording, or otherwise appearing professionally, and to use all means available to support them and call attention to their plight while in these countries.

Artists need to encourage their fans to become more involved in the plight of musicians globally and in their own countries, and educate them about the dangers of censorship and how to fight it.

Most important, artists need to support all artists who are being persecuted because of their race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political affiliations, non-violent social and political activities, or expression of personal, social or political views, even when their views might not agree with their own.

Boycotts, a divisive issue

There is one issue that will no doubt divide artists and that is the call to refuse to perform in a country in response to its policies on various issues. Here the obvious example is the BDS, and specifically boycott, campaign against Israel, which has led some big name artists to cancel performances in the country in protest of its ongoing occupation.

Russian Orthodox Church organises against Pussy Riot punks

As of now, there are few if any calls for artists to boycott performances in a country besides the Palestinian BDS call, and artists such as Tankian, who have a special commitment to a particular issue such as the Armenian genocide or Tibet. As one A-list manager explained to me: “The most important thing for most artists first is to be heard, and boycotting goes directly against that.”

While politically engaged artists such as Jello Biafra came to support BDS after examining all the arguments, less militant artists have been turned off by the sometimes aggressive attempts to persuade them. For the record, Pussy Riot supporter Madonna played Israel on May 31, while the Chili Peppers are scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv in September.

But if calls for boycotts were to multiply – if, for example, there was a call to boycott Russia by activists in response to the jail sentences handed down against Pussy Riot – artists would be in a very difficult situation.

Today more than ever, artists survive on touring rather than selling records. If a group tours globally the chances are high that they will perform in a fair number of countries with problematic records on issues such as freedom of speech (China, Russia, Morocco, Poland, Dubai, Turkey, Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Cameroon and many other countries come immediately to mind).

And of course, for “anti-imperialist” artists there would be little choice but to boycott the US and most NATO countries – some 50 countries presently contribute troops to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, for example – as well as Russia and China, given their clearly imperialist foreign policies.

Such a list would, of course, leave very few countries left to tour.

Because of this, it is unlikely that most artists will begin agreeing to boycott systemic human rights violators; nor is it that clear that citizens in such countries would prefer artistes to stay away until the situation improves (in Morocco, for example, most activists I’ve spoken with do not advocate boycotting its famed festivals – with the exception of the giant Mawazine festival, which is clearly used as a propaganda tool by the government).

Moreover, artists from smaller global south countries who literally must survive on a few prestigious festivals each year would find it practically impossible to boycott them on political grounds, no matter how sympathetic they might be to the plight of local artists.

Ultimately, individual performers will have to determine whether the situation in a particular country is serious enough for them to sacrifice the income and experience of performing there in order to support fellow artists or oppressed citizens or occupied peoples.

But particularly today, when the internet and social media have made it so much easier to spread the word about oppression to fans and the broader public, it’s no longer excusable for artists to remain silent most of the time, and only lend their support when the world is already watching or the artists involved are particularly media-friendly. Certainly many Russian artists feel this way. As dance-pop artist Sasha Gradiva explained when she heard I was writing this column: “I feel a deep connection with these girls… and would welcome the creation of a community of artists and musicians whose aim was supporting artists who have been persecuted because of their art.”

I’m sure the members of Pussy Riot were thrilled that Madonna wore a balaclava in their honour at her Moscow concert, and that Red Hot Chili Peppers donned Pussy Riot t-shirts at their Russian concerts (we’ll see if the Chilis show a similar concern for Palestinian prisoners – inclusing artists – when they perform in Israel). But, globally, there are hundreds of artists under far greater threat to their freedom and lives who deserve the same attention.

It’s time to pull the mask off music censorship globally; if the trial of Pussy Riot can encourage greater attention and solidarity from privileged Western and global artists to the plight of their comrades living in the cultural and political trenches, the group will truly have earned their place in the pantheon of musical, and political, heroes.

Published by Al Jazeera

About the author:

Mark Levine is professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine and distinguished visiting professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and the author of the forthcoming book about the revolutions in the Arab world, The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharaoh.

His book, Heavy Metal Islam, which focused on ‘rock and resistance and the struggle for soul’ in the evolving music scene of the Middle East and North Africa, was published in 2008.

In focus: Russia’s Pussy Riot

Published on Aug 7, 2012 by AlJazeeraEnglish

In Moscow, the trial of the activist-feminist group known as Pussy Riot continues into its second week. The case has captured both domestic and international attention, with the Russian opposition rallying around them as an anti-Putin symbol. Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan takes a closer look at what these women are all about.

Russian Orthodox Church organises against Pussy Riot punks

Published on Apr 22, 2012 by AlJazeeraEnglish

Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers have turned out in the Russian capital Moscow for a prayer to support the controversial Church in what it perceives to be an attack on its authority.

They refer to a confrontation involving Pussy Riot, a local punk rock band who took over the capital’s main cathedral to sing their songs in a political statement in February.

Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton reports from the Russian capital.

Pussy Riot desperately tries to keep their dead meme alive with dumb Westerners – Via Hipster Runoff

Pussy-riot-feminism

Note: The following comments contain language that readers may find offensive.

Hipster Runoff
Thu, 2012-09-20 12:46 | by Carles

Pussy Riot are some punk bitches from Russia with daddy issues, ‘acting out’ against Vladdy Putin to try to get male attention. No1 in Russia actually cares about them or respects them because they are just spoiled kids and aren’t even doing anything to connect with the working class who are actually the most miserable ppl in the former USSR.

Now Pussy Riot is just trying to ‘appeal to the West’ so that they can ‘franchise’ with their main broads in jail and begin to play music festivals in America and Europe. It’s gonna be the lamest thing ever. In this video, they just try to namedrop the ‘famous bands’ from the West who ‘supported them’ and their ‘free speech’, even though supporting them was just a meme fad that mostly dying bands/brands did for attention/blog coverage.

This video is intolerable. If I wanted to hear angry Russian women yelling all the time, I would have ordered a bride from a catalog and made her life miserable for several decades.

THANKAH YEW MADEWNNA!
THANKAH YEW REDDAH HAUTTAH CHEELLEE PEEPPERR!
THANK YEW DUMB BLOGOSPHERE WHO THINKS WE ARE A STORY/REAL BAND!
THANK YEW INTERNET FEMINISTS