Monday, July 16, 2018

In Moscow, Pussy Riot Protest at the World Cup Final

The 2018 FIFA World Cup concluded yesterday with France’s victory against Croatia, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. The image of President Macron of France and President Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia soaked to the bone, receiving players from their respective countries, alongside an umbrella-shielded Russian President Vladimir P. Putin dominated the Twittersphere.

The image I couldn’t get out of my head was four associates of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rock group, storming the pitch dressed in police costumes during the second-half of the game. Olga Kurachyova, a band member of Pussy Riot, was amongst the pitch invaders.

Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova provided Dazed Digital with a statement this morning. She said that “the protesters were being held by Russian police in Luzhniki. Their lawyer, Nikolay Vasilyev, has not yet been allowed in, but believes they’re being charged on two misdemeanour counts.”
Photo Credit: Sky News

Pussy Riot staunchly opposes the Russia that President Putin has created. They protest against police brutality, state surveillance, the unlawful deaths of Putin’s critics and the current regime. One of their songs is called “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away,” which they famously performed in opposition of Putin’s reelection in 2012 at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Russia. Of course, acts like these have amounted to arrests and charges—on the grounds of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” “moral damages,” and “theft.” 

The group claimed responsibility for the World Cup incident on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. “Hello everyone from the Luzhniki pitch, it’s cool here!”

The outfits should be noted. They called to mind the poetic oeuvre of Dmitri Prigov, a man who objected to Soviet authority. (He died in 2007. Sunday marked the 11th anniversary of his death.) In one of his 36,000 poems, he wrote about a “policeman, a carrier of the heavenly nationhood, in the Russian culture,” according to Pussy Riot’s Facebook statement.

The members of Pussy Riot were attired in a white shirt, black trousers, black dress shoes, a gold-pin accented tie and a beret-style hat. The outfits likely facilitated their movement within the stadium, allowing them to intercept proceedings by edging as close to the pitch as possible before enacting their political ploy.
Photo Credit: Evening Standard

The concept is based on two policemen. One, the “earthly policeman,” dispels rallies and suppresses its citizens and the other “talks on the two-way with the God Himself.” They starkly contrasted the two in their Facebook statement. “The heavenly policeman gently touches a flower in a field and enjoys Russian football team victories, while the earthly policeman feels indifferent to Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike,” referring to the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker. 

They dressed to visualise a different future for Russia and to highlight a society afflicted with malaise. But there was hope within their message, their crisp white shirts, and heavenly aspirations are the product of a focused political campaign that the Russian government has struggled to silence. 

What Pussy Riot displayed was not only a rogue protest against a political regime but a correlation between appearance and politics. They utilised fashion to convey a political message. The fashion here was in service to the activism. This is something they are well-versed in. They famously donned neon balaclavas in 2012 to conceal their identities during protests. 
Photo Credit: NME

With the policeman uniform, the obvious connotations are in its meaning. It is an ensemble rooted in law enforcement and protection and not suppression. The future of Russia, as seen through the eyes of Pussy Riot, is not a society which features wrongful imprisonment and persecution of political prisoners.

Security teams pursued the invaders as they aimlessly ran around the field. The players watched on, bemused, for the most part. Croatian player Dejan Lovren disapproved of the interruption to the game; he shoved one of the invaders to the ground. French star Kylian Mbappé, who scored the goal which sealed France’s victory, high-fived one of the women. The security caught the members of Pussy Riot and dragged them off the pitch.

Pussy Riot's demands were later posted on Instagram. “Let all political prisoners free. Not imprison for “likes.” Stop illegal arrests on rallies. Allow political competition in the country. Not fabricate criminal accusations and not keep people in jail for no reason. Turn the earthly policeman into the heavenly policeman,” the conclusion referring to Prigov’s poem. At the time of writing, the post garnered upwards of 30,000 likes.

The caption was accompanied by a photo of one of the uniform-clad protestors. She wore a devilish grin as security personnel trailed behind her. She achieved her goal of disrupting proceedings, alerting viewers of the underbelly of Russian politics, and not the perfectly-manicured football pitches, the architecturally-impressive stadiums, and the tony hotel lobbies which have serviced guests of the World Cup. In wearing a police uniform, she enforced political awareness.

How did President Putin react? Well, he was probably indifferent to them. 
Photo Credit: @wearepussyriot on Instagram

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