Pussy Riot Anti-Putin Singer and Activist Talks Abortion, Ukraine and NFT

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Pussy Riot is not a band, despite what you may have heard. While it’s true that Pussy Riot is releasing music and playing festivals, including Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas on September 18, singer Nadya Tolokonnikova is quick to clarify that the mission is bigger than that.

Pussy Riot is a feminist protest collective. The group raises funds for Ukrainian creatives, participates in NFT and Web 3.0 projects, and organized a protest for reproductive rights at the Texas State Capitol earlier this summer.

Tolokonnikova, who served nearly two years in prison for an anti-Putin performance in 2012, is more vocal than ever in the face of escalating censorship, as well as her status as a registered foreign agent against Vladimir’s government. Cheese fries.

Newsweek caught up with Tolokonnikova ahead of Pussy Riot’s performance on the final day of Life Is Beautiful 2024. Here’s the Q&A with Tolokonnikova:

Pussy Riot performing in Berlin, Germany on May 12, 2022. Nadezhda “Nadya” Andreyevna Tolokonnikova spoke to Newsweek during the Life Is Beautiful music festival in Las Vegas on September 18, 2022.
Getty Images/Adam Berry

Newsweek: Pussy Riot’s social accounts shared an announcement from Russian singer Alla Pugacheva today, in which she asked the Russian government to designate her as a foreign agent. She said she was doing it to support her husband, as they are both against the war in Ukraine. Can you talk a bit about what that means?

Tolokonnikova: She is one of the greatest artists in Russia. She is a grandmother of Russian pop music. I don’t even know that would be analogous to your country. But I feel like several generations have grown up listening to Alla Pugacheva, and she’s a person who manages to maintain the respect of literally every generation. Normally it’s, you know, kids hate what their parents listened to. And it’s not; somehow she stays cool for everyone.

I also remember listening to his music when I was little. And I woke up today with this news! it’s really exciting for me, because it’s a symptom of growing discontent within the Russian people. The range she has is hard to compare with anyone. So I can see how angry Russians are getting more and more angry about the war. Because in addition to bringing tragedy to Ukraine, it also harms the Russian people. We were no longer welcome in the world. The Russian economy is not doing very well because of the sanctions. The biggest companies left Russia. Nobody wants to buy Russian oil and gas.

For an ordinary Russian who may not have been interested in politics before, all of a sudden he has to – simply because his standard of living has dropped since the start of the war.

Newsweek: You are a foreign agent, according to the Russian government. If you are Alla Pugacheva, is this ad supposed to be some kind of performance?

Tolokonnikova: It’s really dope. I love him for that. It’s incredible. It’s performative. It’s radical.

Newsweek: Pussy Riot does a lot of work outside of music, using NFTs to raise money for those in need, whether in Ukraine or the United States. How do you choose what will have the most impact?

Tolokonnikova: Because I’m an artist, I rely on my emotions and my intuition to lead me to places. But you can’t build an activist empire based on your emotions alone.

So once you’ve analyzed your first impulse, you want to activate the original thing and see what kind of tools and connections you can use to help you. So, last year, I mainly defended two causes, which were helping Ukrainians to fight Russian aggression, which was obviously very close to my heart, very close to home. I was [turning] much to Ukraine to learn from them how to be better activists, how to protect your freedoms. They have always been an inspiration to me, really the first orange revolution in 2004.

And then, in 2014, right after I got out of prison, I came back to Ukraine to connect with people and learn about their second Orange Revolution. And I’m really amazed at how brave they are. They never just want to go back to the status quo; they have always asked for more freedoms and they want to express themselves freely. I truly believe that Ukraine is a leader in the free world today.

So it was obvious for me to try to support them. And I used crypto tools because I built my network over the last two years in the crypto community. And I recognize that there are a lot of fraudulent, terrible and ugly projects, but it can also be used for good, and I think activists should use modern digital tools to improve their work and be more efficient and productive . We’re proving that crypto can be used for good… we’ve raised $7 million for Ukraine in just a few days, and we’re able to scatter that money around the [following] a few days, which is unthinkable if we think of traditional associations.

Newsweek: And the other area of ​​your activism is reproductive rights in the United States?

Tolokonnikova: Yes, and it’s something that has always fascinated me; something that brought us Christ the Savior Cathedral [where we were arrested] in 2012, because Russian Orthodox churches began to become more active. And they were trying to limit the freedoms of Russian women to have access to reproductive rights, which is outrageous because of the past of the Soviet Union – which was not perfect, by the way – but because of the past of the Soviet Union, I grew up in environments where I was 100% sure that my body was my choice.

I personally know women who have had up to 10 abortions, because they thought it was the best way to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy. And that was the case with sex education in the Soviet Union: while abortion was really accessible, I feel like sex education was really lacking. There is this saying: “we don’t have sex in the USSR”.

So I did abortions myself; I don’t have any kind of spiritual issues with it. Sex education is a very big problem in Russia. So even now in most schools you don’t have that. So it’s really just about your family. And if your family is not comfortable talking to you about sex education – my mother was not comfortable talking to me – [you] had to rely only on friends who were also 13, 14 years old. So what do they know?

Newsweek: What is Pussy Riot’s goal in a festival? Is it to make you think, or dance, or both?

Tolokonnikova: I selfishly like when people dance, it just gives me energy. Such an important thing as a performance artist. I started playing in unofficial settings, but in a public square or during a fashion show. Illegally. I was so there. And people have very strong reactions; some people would be angry, the cops would definitely be angry, and some people would be amazed and inspired to pull out their phones. So I’m used to it and I’m spoiled by the big emotional reaction. It’s important to have this emotional connection with the public and it feeds me.

I like when festivals feel like a rally. [At Life is Beautiful] we have, I think, really strong visuals…it’s extremely political, and it’s extremely in your face. So that’s something that excites me about the festival, because it’s kind of like performing in your town’s main square unannounced. You can get new subscribers and you can get new followers.

I don’t call people who follow Pussy Riot our fans; I don’t think that’s accurate in our relationship. I think they are more supporters and followers, and community members.

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