Nadya Tolokonnikova interviewed in the Guardian: "I suppose we have nothing more to lose"

Nadya Tolokonnikova spent 18 months in jail after Pussy Riot’s protests against Vladimir Putin. She is feted across the West but now she just wants to concentrate on the real work of reform in Russia.

If Nadya Tolokonnikova wanted to abandon protest and flee Russia for a life of quiet exile in the west, it wouldn’t be so surprising. Although she was freed, by presidential amnesty, last December after serving 18 months in prison for participating in an anti-Putin punk protest, the Pussy Rioter remains under the close watch of the Russian state. Naturally, her emails are monitored; more disturbingly she recently discovered that state security agents dropped by a cafe she regularly visits to install bugging devices. She has been horsewhipped by police in Sochi and had green paint thrown in her eyes by plain-clothed officers in a regional branch of McDonald’s.

This month we publish Comradely Greetings - a full collection of the prison letters exchanged between Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Žižek: “constrained at times by the presence of a censor, stripped of detail about prison life, and concerned with serious theoretical analysis of Tolokonnikova’s protest work... The two discuss how peculiar it was that Pussy Riot found such instant support in the west, given that Pussy Rioters have voiced concerns about global capitalism alongside their criticism of Putin.”

“All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous,” Žižek writes.

Here Amelia Gentleman interviews Nadya in the Guardian on life since her release and her focus on reform in Russia:

Although Pussy Riot as a movement is “absolutely still alive”, Tolokonnikova and her fellow group members have been sobered by events in Ukraine. “We’re not planning anything for the moment, because it feels very difficult to protest against the main thing on the agenda in Russia right now with our carnivalesque performances. Pussy Riot exists as a group to react to political events, but it would look a bit cynical to comment on the war, where people are dying every day, by putting on brightly coloured balaclavas and launching into an irony-infused performance. It doesn’t feel appropriate. That doesn’t mean we won’t again in the future.”

... A year ago, in an open letter from the women’s jail, Tolokonnikova described “slave-like conditions” where prisoners were forced to work 16-hour days sewing police uniforms. “At best, we get four hours of sleep. We have a day off every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners ‘voluntarily’ apply to work on weekend. In fact, there is nothing ‘voluntary’ about it.” She describes how prisoner seamstresses who don’t keep up are undressed and forced to sew naked, how (before she arrived) prisoners beat another inmate to death. She writes of a prisoner who got such bad frostbite that her fingers and one of her feet had to be amputated.

... Her decision to focus on the narrower goal of prison reform is not prompted by fear of rearrest, she says, pointing to the 26 February action in Sochi. It is more about deciding how she can most be useful. The ultimate goal remains an end to the Putin era. “Whenever we talk about prison reform, we realise that we can only achieve [anything] once Putin has left power – so our basic goal remains unchanged,” she says. “We want to achieve that, we will achieve it, somehow or other. Those demonstrations that we can attend, we attend – it’s just that there aren’t very many of them at the moment.”

The shift into journalism – the website Mediazona follows court cases, reports on prisons, but steers away from politics more broadly – in a country where campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya is only one of many reporters killed since Putin came to power in 1999 does not alarm her. She still travels alone on the Moscow tube, unencumbered by security guards. “It’s probably not that safe,” she says. “But to surround yourself with bodyguards is expensive, it’s money that could much more usefully be spent on the causes we’re working on.

“I think that Pussy Riot is an even more unsafe so-called profession, so I don’t think we’ve made our situation any more dangerous. I suppose we have nothing more to lose.”

Visit the Guardian to read the interview in full.

Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj
is out now (with a 40% discount and free shippinh when you buy from our website). You can read some extracts from these letters in the Guardian.

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