"Russia Is Repeating 1968"

A Pussy Riot founder on the occupation of Crimea—and the silence in Moscow

by Maria Alyokhina | March 2, 2014

photo credit: Getty Images

“Russia is sending troops to Crimea.” These are not just words for the whole world to see, but these are actions taken on behalf of my country, actions taken on behalf of the Russian Federation.

Troops are marching through the streets of Crimea today, on Forgiveness Sunday, as the patriarch declares “I hope Ukraine will not resist.” Police forces stand on Manezhnaya Square in downtown Moscow, ready to grab and arrest those who have declared no to war. Detention units are taking out Bolotnaya prisoners for their daily hour-long walk in the prison yard: These people are locked up for having taken to the streets two years ago to demand fair elections. Troops, police, prison guards—they are all following the command, the command to crush resistance. The old prison tactic to set citizens against other citizens, giving one group a mandate to use physical and legal force against the other: This is also the tactic of Vladimir Putin.

There won’t be a record of our resistance in the history books because we will be arrested before we even reach the square to voice our opinions. There won’t be a record of the fact that the decision to send troops was made by Putin, who has seized power and is now speaking on behalf of my country. History will only see the words “Russia," "troops," "indignation from the international community.”

The principle “divide and rule,” which has been preventively implemented in Russia, cannot be justified, just as the stance of people who are actively or passively supporting this principle cannot be justified. Last night, frantic calls were made to those who receive salaries from the state, such as teachers, to order them to take to the streets in a rally supporting the sending of troops. They were paid to go. They went to rally for war. In the afternoon we saw them in the streets and on the squares. And we weren't even surprised, just like we weren't surprised at arrests on Red Square of people who were singing the national anthem.

“Citizens, don’t block the way for other citizens.” These are the words we hear emanating from loudspeakers during the last demonstrations against arrests and war. These words most clearly embody the quiet creeping civil divide in Russia, a divide possibly more frightening than civil war. This is an artificial yet effectively constructed divide of citizens into those who have opinions but have no right to walk along the streets, and those who walk along the streets with empty heads and without a desire to have a say in government.

The habit of standing on the sidelines has become a pillar of life in Russia. Political involvement and a lack of indifference are mocked. Reflection and analysis of current events are simply dismissed as superfluous and unnecessary. Submission is welcomed, and so the state trudges on. (“…Into a bright future,” one might add here.) But this allusion to a Soviet belief in a better tomorrow is no longer a real conviction in contemporary Russian society, where a tired sigh at the end of the day is filled with the weary thought “at least there’s no war.”

For now.

This “today,” survived senselessly, blindly, always proves fatal. Those who have accepted the verdict to live their lives in passive oblivion will repeat history and its mistakes. In this way, standing at the brink of war under banners of a struggle for peace, Russia is repeating 1968.

Those who seek power know how to admit mistakes of the past and the present, to reflect upon them as their own, to take personal responsibility for them. Those who seek to gain power for their own immediate profit never admit to mistakes and do everything they can to make the people forget about their blunders. In Russia, a man has come to power who has chosen a third way: to be proud of mistakes and to erect memorials in their honor.

In Russian penal colony #28 in Perm, all the women prisoners know the number one rule: “Form, norm, and regimen.” They live according to this rule for years. Isn’t this also the rule which all of Russia has followed year in, year out? Isn’t this what our fellow citizens have built with their own hands? The difference between Russia and a penal colony is that in a penal colony your sentence is decided upon by the state, but in Russia we should decide how long we will live like this. Otherwise, the world will watch as the Kremlin will increasingly resembles a prison watch tower, which, on behalf of the Russian Federation, will issue commands, commands to send in the troops.

Maria Alyokhina is a member of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot. In August 2012, she, along with two bandmates, was sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. She was amnestied in December 2013.

Translated by Olga Zeveleva.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/116823/pussy-riots-maria-alyokhina-putins-war-crimea