“You can sometimes not be sure that you have enough internal power to just keep doing what you are doing. And when you hear people’s words, when you receive letters, when you feel the difference, you can,” Alyokhina said. She also expressed that performing outside of Russia infuses the group with renewed purpose, since they carry out demonstrations in Russia when they return.
Fairness, solidarity with the oppressed, and a unified sense of strength with those around the world fighting for democratic transparency are what keeps Pussy Riot’s spirits up and maintains their commitment to using music as a weapon.
“I believe that art is changing the world because art is the only field and the only sphere which is asking uncomfortable questions,” Alyokhina said. “Art is reflecting the reality because it can create another reality.”
Pussy Riot’s performance that night in April had a raw feel: Dark red lighting in the venue on the Danube River accompanied a multipanel screen behind the members, with pictures of Russians jailed for, among other things, treason, along with English subtitles of the collective’s lyrics.
Their storytelling prowess is powerful, and they’ll get in your face about making sure their message is heard. One of the male collective members sprayed the crowd repeatedly with water when he felt there were too many cellphones taking video and not enough eyes on the lyric subtitles, as if to say, “Put down the phones and think about how speaking the truth can land you in prison.”
For Alyokhina, there is no difference between the collective’s call for freedom of expression and calling for equality for women. “Feminism is not like a special thing. It’s very inside politics,” she said. That’s one of the reasons the collective is named after a female body part: Not just to shock, but also to empower women in their country by making feminism a bit brash.
As an example, she explained how, in 2017, Russia passed a law decriminalizing some forms of domestic abuse against women, children, and even other family members.
“We have this dark Russian joke: Woman is calling to police [saying], ‘He is beating me.’ The policemen are like, ‘When he kills you, call us,’” Alyokhina quipped. “It’s a joke, but it’s real. It’s what they’re really saying to women.” The collective’s lawyers have been working on instituting tougher sentences for domestic abusers in response to the amended law, and she noted that international media exposure is valuable in putting pressure on Russia to revisit the law.
The collective has also been holding secret concerts in Russia in order to collect donations for survivor support groups, because, when it comes to providing for those efforts, Alyokhina said, “It’s feminists or the church. It’s just two groups of people who are taking care of women who are in danger, who can be killed at any moment.”
The church and organized religion in Russia might seem an unlikely ally to Pussy Riot’s efforts, given that three of the group’s members were imprisoned for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” but Alyokhina said it is not so strange given that oppression often makes for strange bedfellows.
“I think it’s quite a huge stereotype that we are fighting with the church,” Alyokhina tells Teen Vogue. “Especially in Russia, this is important because we are the country where the church and the whole Christian religion was repressed almost the whole century.” During the Soviet Union’s existence, the government set the goal of eliminating religion and persecuted several religious groups.