“We should be free rather than behind bars"

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's closing statement

The Russian state is tightening its grip over the church, the media and the courts. Russia claims to be a democracy, but the sentence against the three members of the punk band Pussy Riot could not possibly take place in a democracy. Here we publish an extract from Nadezhda Tolokonnikovas defence speech from the trial on August 8—a speech that already is considered a classic rhetoric achievement.

September 27 2012 Text: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Translation from Russia: Eja Werner

Essentially, it is not three singers from Pussy Riot who are on trial here. If that were the case, what’s happening would be totally insignificant. It is the entire state system of the Russian Federation which is on trial and which, unfortunately for itself, thoroughly enjoys advertising its cruelty towards human beings, its indifference to their honour and dignity, the very worst that has happened in Russian history to date. To my deepest regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist troikas. Thus, we have our investigator, lawyer and judge. And then, what’s more, what all three of them do and say and decide is determined by a political demand for repression. Who is to blame for the performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and for our being put on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics that draws upon the forms art has established. In any event, it is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed by the corporate state system. Since the turn of the millennium many people, relentlessly and methodically flayed alive by the systematic destruction of liberties, have rebelled.

We were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them in the holy foolishness of our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes. The state’s leaders stand with saintly expressions in church but, in their deceit, their sins are far greater than ours. We’ve put on our political punk concerts because the Russian state system is dominated by rigidity, closeness and caste and the policies pursued serve only narrow corporate interests to the extent that even the air of Russia makes us ill.

We are absolutely not happy with—and have been forced into acting and living politically by—the use of coercive, strong-arm measures to handle social processes, a situation in which the most important political institutions are the disciplinary structures of the state—the security agencies, the army, the police, the special forces and the accompanying means of ensuring political stability: prisons, preventive detention and mechanisms to closely control public behaviour. Nor are we happy with the enforced civic passivity of the bulk of the population or the complete domination of executive structures over the legislature and judiciary. Moreover, we are genuinely angered by the fear-based and scandalously low standard of political culture, which is constantly and knowingly maintained by the state system and its accomplices. Look at what Patriarch Kirill has to say: “The Orthodox don’t go to rallies.” We are angered by the appalling weakness of horizontal relationships within society. We don’t like the way in which the state system easily manipulates public opinion through its tight control of the overwhelming majority of media outlets. A perfect example is the unprecedentedly shameless campaign against Pussy Riot, based on the distortion of facts and words, which has appeared in nearly all the Russian media, apart from the few independent media there are in this political system.

Even so, I can now state—despite the fact that we currently have an authoritarian political situation—that I am seeing this political system collapse to a certain extent when it comes to the three members of Pussy Riot, because what the system was counting on, unfortunately for that system, has not come to pass. Russia as a whole does not condemn us. Every day more and more people believe us and believe in us, and think we should be free rather than behind bars. I can see this from the people I meet. I meet people who represent the system, who work for the relevant agencies. I see people who are in prison. And every day there are more and more people who support us, who hope for our success and especially for our release, who say our political act was justified. People tell us, “To start with, we weren’t sure you could have done this,” but every day there are more and more people who say, “Time is proving to us that your political gesture was correct. You have exposed the cancer in this political system and dealt a blow to a nest of vipers who then turned on you.” These people are trying to make life easier for us in whatever way they can and we are very grateful to them for that …

We are grateful to all those who, free themselves, speak out in our support. There are a vast number, I know. I know that a huge number of Orthodox people are standing up for us. They are praying for us outside the courtroom, for the members of Pussy Riot who are incarcerated. We’ve seen the little booklets Orthodox people are handing out with prayers for those in prison. This alone shows that there isn’t a unified social group of Orthodox believers as the prosecution is trying to assert. No such thing exists. More and more believers are starting to defend Pussy Riot. They don’t think what we did deserves even five months in detention, much less the three years in prison the prosecutor would like.