Q&A: Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich on Their Fight for Freedom

From Rolling Stone:

Four days after jumping into a red Honda to escape a mob of journalists crowding outside of a Moscow court, Pussy Riot punk rocker Yekaterina Samutsevich has had little time to celebrate her new freedom. She has been fielding back-to-back interviews and trying to get back to her normal life after nearly seven months in jail.

Pop music blared in a small, packed McDonald’s far from the Kremlin as Samutsevich, peppy as ever, sat down with Rolling Stone on a chilly October night. She talked about her surprise release, continuing the revolution, political art, Pussy Riot wannabes and the group’s new tactics to avoid arrest.

How does it feel to be free?
I don’t see a big difference between being in jail and out. There are as many police on the streets as there were in jail; OMON [special police], everything is guarded, there are white cars monitoring phone conversations. The atmosphere of control. And these anti-citizen laws that were passed this summer. Everything is turning.

How have you been spending your newly free time?
I went to see my relatives. My friends gave me flowers and cake, which is actually not very feminist. And they made fireworks. Mainly I am solving problems, picking up my things from the detention center. It’s notable that the guard at the detention center who gave me my things, after congratulating me on my freedom, said, “Don’t get into any stupid things, and have children.” The problem is, people don’t remember why we are against Putin. They think, “Why? He’s a normal man, he’s not a maniac.” It’s not a personal problem with him, but a problem with the system of government and society. There is still something to fight for.

How does it feel to be famous?
I don’t especially feel famous. I remain the same as I was before. I still treat all people equal to myself. I don’t feel any fame. We [Pussy Riot] are against that. We are for democracy and equality. The only thing, I wasn’t expecting so many cameras when I was released. They all pounced on me, and I had to escape.

I am interested in seeing how I am represented. I see a certain misrepresentation on Russian channels. The Western, they are surprisingly accurate. Unfortunately, with Russian television, Russian publications, there is a problem. They cut out, manipulate and change the context. There is this view that is being pushed that I am just an ordinary girl that doesn’t understand anything. Without political views, just a regular girl. A standard view of women in Russia.

Everyone is talking about Pussy Riot. Was your performance successful?
In this way, yes. We raised this problem. There is a comeback of so-called traditional values . . . There were many people with progressive views, but with the advent of this totalitarian regime it’s all gone away. It’s very upsetting to see how anti-progressive values are being propagated. Marriage only between man and a woman, and women must always give birth. Even adopting is frowned upon. Any deviation is considered a sickness – a person is not considered normal. Our performance has forced people to talk about this. Unfortunately, the church has become a tool of propaganda of these conservative views.

The problem is, our government has been manipulating public opinion very skillfully. We don’t have such influence. If we talk, our words are distorted. I noticed my interviews are manipulated, some parts are cut out. Even the opposition channels do it. It’s the pressure of the propaganda machine.

Why do you think there such a difference between how Pussy Riot is perceived in the West and in Russia?
I understand why in the West we are so well-received. There have been several generations of the feminist movement. There are many people that understand it. They know what is LGBT, civic society, freedom of speech. It doesn’t mean that in the West there is an ideal situation. There are many problems in the U.S., where there is a harsh government that constantly violates human rights. But there are traditions of protest culture. In Russia, our social policies and education teaches people to be passive. People are taught not to think critically. You must not protest, because if you do, you go against society. There is a constant positioning of the individual against the society. In our society of authoritarian totalitarianism, of power verticals, harsh boundaries, any individual activism is seen negatively.

What did you think of the trial?
Many people watch television. In general, most of Russia aren’t active Internet users. That is why the public opinion is that it was hooliganism and deserves to be punished, and our trial was accompanied by this campaign. Unfortunately, we weren’t heard. Nobody talked about feminism, the rights of the LGBT, the system that we are fighting against. Instead we always heard about the rights of believers, that they were insulted. And anytime we tried to say something ourselves, we were stopped.

We had good lawyers – [Mark] Feygin, [Nikolai] Polozov, [Violetta] Volkova – but unfortunately our position regarding feminism, regarding our views, did not coincide. They said their own opinion that was different from our opinion. Many people didn’t understand that it was their opinion and not our opinion. They made us look like teenage girls that went against Putin, without even understanding why they are doing it. I know what the lawyers were trying to do, but unfortunately because of this difference in view there was a distortion. They weren’t doing it maliciously, and we don’t have any complaints toward them.

Is that why you decided to change your lawyer?
There was not a specific reason or a conflict. It was a totally formal move. I wanted to again accent on mistakes on the verdict of the Khamovniki Court. I thought that the lawyers had the best intentions, but for some reason, maybe they didn’t have enough time to emphasize the obvious mistakes. I chose lawyer [Irina] Khrunova from Agora. She had a solid political reputation. She defended [Russian billionaire Mikhail] Khodorkovsky. She found these mistakes in the verdict. And strangely enough, there was a result.

Was it worth it?
We did not think we were going to be arrested. It’s not something that is a crime. All three of us don’t consider ourselves guilty. We didn’t want to end up in jail. Why is it that if you’re not in prison you are not being heard? It’s a warped understanding of protest and political art, in general. I think that Nadya [Tolokonnikova] and Masha [Alyokhina] will agree that we are completely against this. Political artists must be free. I will try to avoid arrest, but if we have this crazy government that is ready to jail people for any action, then I won’t be quiet. We won’t be quiet. I will not renounce my beliefs.

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