Why a new Pussy Riot video is more surprising than you might think


(Screen-grab from the video  by Pussy Riot/YouTube)

No more than a day after getting whipped by Cossacks for a performance in Sochi, the Russian political art protest group that calls itself Pussy Riot has released a music video that features the incident.

Featuring a song titled "Putin Will Teach You How To Love," the video is a return to the "Putin's Prayer" performance-style that got three members of the Pussy Riot group sentenced to prison in 2012. The video features all the Pussy Riot motifs -- neon balaclavas, loud guitar music and vehemently anti-Putin lyrics.


It's a clearly provocative video, taking aim at what the artists involved see as the colossal corruption and waste of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, widely believed to be the most expensive ever. The video itself is dedicated to 
Evgeny Vitishko, a Russian environmental activist recently sentenced to three years in prison for damaging a fence, and the song's lyrics are a clear message against Russian President Vladimir Putin: They mention not only Sochi's enormous cost but also the problems faced by independent television station TV Rain, plus a reference to "two-ass" toilets.

Still, what's perhaps more interesting is that the video exists at all. The two clear stars of the video are Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, two of the Pussy Riot members jailed in 2012. When the two were unexpectedly released just before Christmas last year, however, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina told reporters that they were "not Pussy Riot now" and instead indicated that they were planning to form a human rights organization focusing on the protection of prisoners. Andrey Tolokonnikov, the father of Nadezhda, later wrote in the Huffington Post that "Pussy Riot no longer exist."

Things got more complicated when the pair visited New York earlier this month for a whirlwind publicity tour (during which they were routinely billed as "Pussy Riot") and an open letter was published that claimed to be from other members of the Pussy Riot collective, who said that the pair were not only "no longer members of the group" but also refused to have any contact with other members of the group. Buzzfeed's Miriam Elder, who has covered the group for years, wrote about the controversy in a long profile of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina. It was titled "What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now?"

So, it's getting a little confusing. While the impact of the Pussy Riot protests on Russia itself is debatable, it's clear that the concept of "Pussy Riot" has become a global brand, and this video is evidence of that: It's a powerful, resonant statement. What's become less clear in the past few weeks, however, is exactly what, or who, Pussy Riot is.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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