The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Carole Keeney Harrington Headshot

Pussy Riot Welcomed to the Russian Olympics With a Police Beating

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Welcome to the Russian Olympics where beatings are the order of the day. For Pussy Riot, including Nadia Tolokonikova and Masha Alyohkina, who were poised to sing a song satirizing President Vladimir Putin in Sochi during the games yesterday, it is one more trial run going up against one of the world's strong men.

Beaten, thrown to the ground and kicked, the women had been arrested a day earlier while walking together on the street involving a theft at their hotel. Like their new non-profit to work for prison reform, one might ask, "Where is the Justice Zone?"

So far, authorities have avoided making the same judgment call that led to a worldwide outcry for their performance in a Moscow cathedral that led to a two-year prison sentence. They were released in Sochi. The beatings for their attempt to "sing" another protest song was a tune not heard but seen around the world as Russian police again performed in the only way they seemed to know how.

Like Olympians, the women know they may not win the gold but at least they are in the game. What is their game, critics will surely ask? Why would they risk going back to prison? Are they simply desperate for the media attention and can't give it up? To critics, they are simply troublemakers who deserve whatever punishment they receive.

To anyone who is willing to learn the facts about "modern Russia," their actions are akin to those described by an artist in our documentary, PUSSY RIOT -- THE MOVIE -- "like Joan of Arc -- they are reckless and childlike in their execution but adult-like in their purpose and potential results" -- another long prison term.

As producer/writer of the movie having spent weeks in Moscow filming, and as an American who has been a lifelong advocate, I felt the oppression. It seeps into your skin, like osmosis. It alters your behavior. And your behavior alters your psyche so that at first caution creeps in, then fear if you stay long enough and see enough. Or if you are Pussy Riot, young and reckless, anger that this is your life to live for many years to come.

You do not take a camera into the streets. You watch what you say in restaurants. You wait for a knock on the door to see police standing there. And one day, the knock on the door arrives, as it did for our film crew. As we prepared dinner and waited the arrival of Katia Samutsevich, the Pussy Riot member released on appeal, three policemen arrived and, just like in the movies, insisted on "papers" from our director. She produced her American passport rather than her Russian one. Americans out of favor are most often put on a plane for home while Russians can end up in prison.

Earlier in the day, she received two phone calls on the apartment phone (how did they get the number?) from women saying she was disturbing the peace -- hardly true since we were being as careful as possible not to draw attention to our task. We had already moved cameras from the first apartment and were shooting in another location after being warned by a resident our first day in the building that we could not shoot on the street where the president drives to work every day.

Were we paranoid? One gets that way in Moscow. We tried to send our hard drive out of Moscow to the U.S. with a small amount of footage on it to see if it would arrive. It was "held up" by Russian customs due to paperwork problems, we were told. It never arrived. While we were there, police raided the apartment of a filmmaker who had been shooting opposition activities and confiscated all of his footage. We were able to carry all of our work out on two small hard drives from two different airports. The young women who searched my hand luggage were more interested in their smart phones -- a sign of hope that the youth will change Russia?

The scene in Sochi is one that is repeated throughout Russia whenever a crowd gathers in protest. While we were in Moscow, as we show in PUSSY RIOT -- THE MOVIE, a crowd gathered at the memorial to victims of Stalin's gulag to lay flowers on a stone in their honor. They were kicked, beaten and arrested. Our director, who had been apolitical until Pussy Riot, now wonders why there are no centers like the Holocaust Museum in Houston to remember the 20 million Russians killed by the Stalin purges.

In researching the movie, one of the most shocking facts to emerge for me was a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists that more than 198 journalists have been murdered or killed in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000. In the U.S. I cannot recall when a journalist has been murdered while working a story here. When people ask why the women of Pussy Riot continue to risk their freedom, the answer is clear to me. This one fact is enough.

However, Masha Aloykhina has a better answer. She repeatedly says, they are free; it is the society in which they live that refuses to acknowledge their freedom -- their right to criticize and call for the ouster of a leader and a government that tells them they are not free to speak their minds. Like civil rights leaders before them, like all fighters for human rights, they no doubt will continue until they reach their goal or their last breath. If the latter is the case and Russia continues to oppress its people, they will have had a life well lived. If the former is true, others will have a better life because they were young and reckless.

Exclusive photos of injuries sustained by Pussy Riot members after beating by police at Sochi
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide
 
Top Medal Winners
1 Russia 13 11 9
2 United States 9 7 12
3 Norway 11 5 10
4 Canada 10 10 5
5 Netherlands 8 7 9
6 Germany 8 6 5
Latest Medal Results
Ice Hockey - Men
Canada
Sweden
Finland
Bobsleigh - Four-man
Russia
Latvia
United States
Cross-Country - Men's 50km Mass Start Free
Russia - Alexander Legkov
Russia - Maxim Vylegzhanin
Russia - Ilia Chernousov
© STATS LLC 2014.