Six weeks before eyes everywhere turned to Russia, two members of the country’s most notorious protest-art collective, Pussy Riot, were released from prison, which could spark further protests in the already turbulent circumstances that have surrounded the Winter Olympics. In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, they explained that they were jailed because they “sang a fun song at a church.”
Pussy Riot is known for staging public protests in which they play loud punk rock, wear brightly colored ski masks, and wave banners. They’re anti-Putin feminists who oppose their country’s oppressive authoritarianism and champion equal rights.
The stunt that really got them into trouble, though, was in February of 2012. They staged a protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral, which caused the Russian Orthodox Church to denounce the act as “blasphemy.” At the religious institution’s insistence, three members of Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with “hooliganism,” which galvanized protesters everywhere.
Amnesty International declared that the three were being held “solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs,” and that they were “prisoners of conscience.” After two years of prison time, the Pussy Riot members have been released, and their freedom is seemingly causing just as much trouble as their arrests did.
U.S. and Russian diplomats tersely shot remarks back and forth over Twitter. Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted about meeting the members of Pussy Riot, saying “I asked #PussyRiot if they were afraid of prison. Response: No. In prison we could see the terrible conditions. It’s human rights fieldwork.” Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, responded to the tweet in a press conference by saying that Power should join the band and invite them to play at Washington’s National Cathedral, in reference to the protest which got them arrested.
Power then replied over Twitter, “”Ambassador Churkin, I’d be honored to go on tour with #PussyRiot — a group of girls who speak up & stand for human rights. Will you join us?” She then added: “I can’t sing, but if #PussyRiot will have me, Amb Churkin, I say our 1st concert is for Russia’s pol. prisoners. #LiveFromMatrosskayaTishina,” in reference to the notorious prison where opposition activists are jailed.
The women’s release might have been intended as a bit of a PR stunt to improve Russia’s image before the Olympics, but it’s not entirely worked. If anything, it’s only served to make things seemingly worse.