‘Anyone can be Pussy Riot’: Activists share message with Australian audiences

Australia

Members of Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot say they are keen to learn more about the plight of asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore detention centres.

Founding member Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina was jailed in August 2012, along with two other band members, after performing a “punk prayer” criticising Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral.

They were charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

Pussy Riot delivers humans rights message in Australian performance

Maria Alyokhina was sentenced to two years, but was released early.

Ahead of performing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, she told SBS News the experience has made even more determined to spread her message that freedom should never be taken for granted.

“We are here to show the example of what can happen if you forget what you have,” she told SBS News.

“Because freedom is not a constant thing, it will not exist forever. You should fight for it. Otherwise, you have the example of criminal cases like we have in our country.”

Women silenced

Ms Alyokhina said she has defied a ban barring her from leaving Russia to come to Australia, eventually securing Australian visas.

The group has six performances lined up in Australia, culminating in a live concert with Yothu Yindi at the Adelaide Fringe Festival on March 7.

The activist said her time in prison taught her the importance of speaking up.

Activists of the protest group Pussy Riot, believed to be Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina (R), face the media after a recent arrest.

Activists of the protest group Pussy Riot, believed to be Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina (R), face the media after a recent arrest.

EPA

“Being in prison taught me something. It is quite a dramatic experience when you see how many people are afraid to start to speak because in Russia we have a big tradition of mass protest in prison – it is a bit criminalised, but it happens and it is effective,” she said.

“But in women’s prison it is silenced. Women afraid to speak. After that I started to think that outside the prison it is the same. And it is actually a bit the same.”

Formed in August 2011, the band – also described as an artist collective – features masked protesters who have stormed the Olympics and Football World Cup and performed two-minute concerts in shop windows.

Concern over plight of asylum seekers

The group will performing with Indigenous band Yothu Yindi from East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

The theme of the performance is human rights and civil liberties. They are topics Ms Alyokhina is passionate about.

She said she is eager to learn about the Indigenous justice themes explored by Yothu Yindi.

The plight of asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore detention is also an issue of concern for her.

“It is not my first time here. I met some activists before. I cannot say I am a professional on this topic, but I know about Christmas Island, and I know about the quite terrible situation with the refugees here,” Ms Alyokhina said.

Pussy Riot Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Yekaterina Samutsevich (C) and Maria Aliokhina (R) face court.

Pussy Riot Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Yekaterina Samutsevich (C) and Maria Aliokhina (R) face court.

EPA

“So I think this is the main thing. And to speak more about this, I should do a collaboration with local activists here, which probably we will do.”

Australia, world grappling with refugee crisis

The band finished a tour in Europe earlier this month, spreading its message of political activism. Ms Alyokhina said the issue of refugees and anti-immigration push is apparent in a number countries in Europe and around the world.

“This is not the only country that has problems with the refugee crisis. But I think for me, it always start with personal connection. It always start with human relationships.”

The performance, Riot Days, is described as a memoir conveying the learnings of the Pussy Riot members’ time in prison. The show in Adelaide is being billed as the band’s first live band performance “in the southern hemisphere”.

“It is not a documentary story. It is actually a call to wake up. It is a call to riot. It is something which we experience. But I believe anyone can be Pussy Riot.

“Anyone has their own story so probably our example can give people something to do their actions here.”

Pussy Riot: Rioters or pussies? – The Feed

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