Name, composition, and style
The name does not mean anything; it is not an English translation of anything. In Russia, the name is simply the English words "Pussy Riot", and, when written, it is simply written in English or as the Cyrillic transcription: "Пусси Райот"
The group's style seems to be intentionally provocative, shocking, and "in your face". They make use of extremely crude and offensive language, sexual content, and simulated sex acts. This is similar to much of what passes for "art" or "entertainment" in the United States, but Americans are largely accustomed to this as a consequence of free speech. It is not at all well received in traditional Russian Society.
The group makes no claim of having musical talent; they admit that, musically, they are mostly just screaming. Their content is about social protest over a variety of issues, mostly aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin's record on imprisonment of political enemies, corruption, and human rights in general.
The group consists of about a dozen young women. Their signature outfit is brightly colored balaclavas covering their heads. They do not reveal their actual names, except of course when they are arrested, tried, and imprisoned.
History and controversies
In February 2012, they made one of their "performances" inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a very large church in Moscow. No worship service was going on at the time. The performance was a "punk prayer", asking the Virgin Mary to remove Putin from office. Motivated by bigotry toward religion, the group presumably knew that doing this in a church would be deemed particularly offensive.
Three of their members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested, held without bail, tried, and sentenced to two years imprisonment. The charge was "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred". (The term "hooliganism" (хулиганство), while not at all common in the United States, is commonly used in Russia. It roughly means what Americans would describe as "disorderly conduct".)
To the surprise of no one (at least no one in the Western World), this instantly elevated them from obscurity to international fame and celebrity among elitists and social justice warriors on the Left. The arrests were widely protested around the world—at government level on claims of "human rights violation", and by artists and performers on claims of "stifling free speech".
Ms. Samutsevich was released on appeal after a few months, but the other two were not.
The case gave rise to widespread and prolonged protest by the Left around the world and inside Russia. Numerous "Free Pussy Riot" demonstrations were held around the world during the imprisonment, along with the usual T-shirts and such. The Pussy Riot case, along with other human rights violations, such as the imprisonment of Putin's political enemies including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, significantly tarnished Putin's reputation around the world. The incident also cast a spotlight on the mistreatment of inmates in Russian prison camps. Ms. Tolokonnikova went on a widely reported hunger strike over this, and was hospitalized.
In the months leading up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Mr. Putin issued a widespread amnesty for political prisoners (including Khodorkovsky), many people convicted of nonviolent offenses, and the two remaining Pussy riot members Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina. The two were released in December, 2013. This was only a couple of months before their terms would have expired anyway. This amnesty was cynically regarded by many liberals, including the Pussy Riot members themselves, as a "public relations ploy" to improve Putin's public image prior to the Olympics.
- Essay:Pussy Riot - an Anti-Putin Perspective (the same article, but written from a more liberal viewpoint)