‘If you hear someone talking about the humane treatment of women in Russian prisons, it is a total lie’
Most of us hadn’t heard of the group Pussy Riot until February 2012. Do you remember the anti-Putanist punk rock group who burst into The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow to film a guerrilla performance of their provocative Punk Prayer? Yes, that was them.
The satirical performance was a political protest, with the three women calling on Virgin Mary to ‘be a feminist’ and ‘banish Putin.’
The short demonstration (and viral 40-second video clip) saw three of its members Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova arrested, with the former two charged for ‘organised hooliganism’, spending two years on a Russian prison camp.
A 21-month prison sentence later, Pussy Riot are a household name, with its members going straight back into activism.
Maria Alyokhina, known as Masha, served her sentence in a remote prison colony in the Urals Mountains, something that she details in her new memoir, Riot Days, which lands on book shelves today.
‘Whenever we hear “Attention!”, we have to stand up and say, “Good day!” in chorus,’ Masha recalls in Riot Days. ‘These are the rules. It is the first lesson in politeness, which I must master, because to reform is to know and fulfil the orders. Politely. So we stand up. Forty women run to their assigned spots.’
She goes on to detail every aspect of her prison sentence from the night raids and identical uniforms to the rules she had to follow.
‘Sleeping is a violation of the rules’, the 29-year-old activist explains in her book, recalling how she had fallen asleep while reading the prison regulations for three hours, something the guards responded by screaming, ‘This is not a holiday resort! This is not a health spa!’
‘“Masha,” one of the women says to me in a whisper, while we are warming tea in the kitchen. “If someone comes to visit you – you know, from Moscow – tell them,”’ the activist recalls. ‘“Don’t be silent. Tell them how we live here. You’re a political. We have rights. We may be prisoners, but we’re still people. Tell them.”’
So that’s what she’s doing.
Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina, and published by Allen Lane it out now for £16.99.