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Putin Jailed My Wife: Pussy Riot Member's Husband Speaks Out Putin Jailed My Wife: Pussy Riot Member's Husband Speaks Out

Putin Jailed My Wife: Pussy Riot Member's Husband Speaks Out

by Yasha Wallin
September 22, 2012


In February, members of the feminist collective Pussy Riot staged a brief anti-Putin performance in a Moscow church, leading to the swift arrest of three members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, on grounds of "hooliganism." Their sentencing—two years in prison for their 40-second performance—sparked protests across the globe calling for their release and for freedom of expression in Russia.

In anticipation of an October 1 appeal of their sentence, GOOD spoke to Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov about what happened, and what we can do next.

GOOD: How is your wife doing? Have you seen her?

PYOTR VERZILOV: Yes, with our daughter Gera, who is four years old. We had a meeting with Nadezhda in the prison yesterday. We had an hour-and-a-half long conversation and it was just wonderful. For Nadezhda it was her first chance to speak to Gera in the six months since she’s been arrested. It was very emotional and very productive for both her and Gera.

GOOD: Did your wife have any idea that she might be incarcerated for doing a performance like this?

PYOTR VERZILOV: No one in the world had any idea. That in part explains the amazing amount of attention and public outcry in Russia and the world, because everyone thinks that this punishment for the girls is hugely disproportionate. No one would have expected that this kind of action would land anyone in prison. 

GOOD: Do women in general have a harder time creatively expressing themselves in Russia? Was the sentencing harsh for them because they are women? 

PYOTR VERZILOV: The girls were punished harder than if they were men because Russia is a very patriarchal and conservative country. The people in government, and most likely Putin personally, were shocked to see women take on such a bright, effective, and loud protest position.

Women in Russia are usually seen playing more conservative roles. The girls are very outspoken politically, and are feminist activists. They’ve been doing these kinds of things—not just as Pussy Riot—for years. When women are seen as leaders of an avant-garde, anti-Putin protest, the government reacted to show that these kinds of actions would not be tolerated. 

GOOD: How has the media in Russia portrayed the events and the case as it stands now?

PYOTR VERZILOV: We have some very professional journalists who portray the actions correctly and fight for the cause. But this media would be labeled “opposition journalism,” because anything that’s not a public entity gets this label.

In Russia we have very powerful state-run media outlets. The TV channels are very heavily controlled by the government, and have had a number of shows showing the girls in a bad light. They are called “anti-Christian,” but they are definitely not anti-Christian or anti-religion. So we have this state-run media program that completely twists the girls’ ideas and portrays Pussy Riot as a horrible, God-tainting collective who aims to tarnish Russia and it’s thousand-year-old conservative values.

GOOD: How is your daughter coping with all of this?

PYOTR VERZILOV: For her it’s been quite hard for not seeing Nadezhda for six months. She tells everyone that Putin has put Nadezhda in prison and that we have to find an effective way to bring down the prison walls to free her. She’s drawing diagrams with busses, tractors and other types of mechanical equipment to break down the walls and set Nadezhda free.

GOOD: You and your wife have both mentioned smiling as a necessary act through all this. Is this what is getting you both through the ordeal? 

PYOTR VERZILOV: A lot of people describe how the girls were smiling when they received their sentence. The best possible reaction to throw in the face of a dictator when he’s giving you this brutal sentence is to simply smile. It’s unexpected—the government expects you to cry and pray for forgiveness. And when you intellectually answer questions and just smile, that’s a very powerful response.

GOOD: What happens on October 1st?

PYOTR VERZILOV: The Moscow City Court will review the appeal of the sentence. About a week ago Prime Minister Medvedev said he thinks the sentence is disproportionate—that the girls don’t deserve to go to prison. In Russia, Medvedev’s comments are taken quite lightly, although a lot of people in the West considered that as a signal that they will be set free. But no one knows. We expect the sentence will somehow be changed, which of course won’t happen. Putin has set his word and the sentence has been given.

GOOD: What can we as individuals now do to help this cause?

PYOTR VERZILOV: Protest must continue. People should talk about the case through shows, artwork, and rallies. We’re incredibly happy to see any creative and powerful reactions in any form, for example the music video by Peaches, Madonna writing Pussy Riot on her back, or the reading of the girls’ last work in New York. Any of these actions are wonderful and they must continue to remind everyone of the girls’ fate.

To take action, visit Amnesty International

Image (cc) flickr user somiz

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