Here's the Meaning of the Scathing New Song Pussy Riot Debuted on 'House of Cards'

Russian punk art collective Pussy Riot debuted a new song over the weekend, "Don't Cry Genocide." The band released the song in an episode of Netflix's political drama House of Cards; in the episode, members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina make their acting debut as themselves.

Source: YouTube

The House of Cards episode centers around the fictional U.S. President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and Russian President Viktor Petrov, clearly modeled after Vladimir Putin. Underwood hosts a state dinner for Petrov, and Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are honored guests at the dinner. 

After a tense speech from Petrov, the Pussy Riot members make a toast of their own, saying in Russian, "To Viktor Petrov, whose loyalty runs so deep he's given his friends half of the country, who's so open to criticism that most of his critics are in prison, the commander-in-chief who is not afraid of anyone except gays."

Pussy Riot's new song is especially relevant after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was mysteriously murdered last week. Thousands of Russians took to the streets over the weekend, echoing Pussy Riot's driving sentiment, "Russia without Putin." It's bold, though, because it implicitly connects the political situation in Russia with the U.S.'s own struggles.

In a (non-fiction) interview with the Russian opposition magazine the New Times, Pussy Riot said "Don't Cry Genocide" is "devoted to the militarization of society and to American drones in particular." This new song comes on the heels of Pussy Riot's latest protest anthem, "I Can't Breathe," in which Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina sing about the death of Eric Garner in particular, and the power of political protest in general. 

"This song is for Eric and for all those from Russia to America and around the globe who suffer from state terror — killed, choked, perished because of war and state sponsored violence of all kinds — for political prisoners and those on the streets fighting for change," Pussy Riot wrote in a statement released with "I Can't Breathe."

The band is branching out from their original function as a vicious check on Russian political power. In August 2012, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were arrested for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," and were held in prison for two years. The charges came after Pussy Riot performed on the steps of Moscow's Christ Savior Cathedral, and were dragged away after screaming, "Mother Mary, please drive Putin away." Watch that performance here:

Source: YouTube

After she was released from prison, Tolokonnikova shouted at reporters, "Russia without Putin!" She went on to tell the crowd, "I'm in the mood to work after getting out from prison. My exit from prison is only just the beginning, as far as the line between freedom and bondage remains very narrow in Russia, in an authoritarian state." 

Not wasting any time, Pussy Riot founded two organizations shortly after their release: Zona Prava, which provides legal aid to people in camps and prisons, and Media Zone, an independent Russian news service. The band has been intensifying its presence of late, working forcefully across the globe to make political change. Nothing, it seems, can discourage them.

"It's extraordinary what Pussy Riot have done," wrote the Guardian in 2012. "How they have taken feminism to one of the most macho countries on Earth. How they have revealed the fault lines at the heart of the Russian state, the moral bankruptcy of the Putin regime. It's hard to reconcile that with the women I met, with their skinny shoulders and thin wrists and lack of any weaponry bar guts and wit. The word 'absurd' has been worn thin with use, but there's no other way to describe what is happening in Russia today." 

Pussy Riot is showing us, now, that the same applies to America. The problems they protest aren't isolated.

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Kate Beaudoin

Kate is a staff writer for Mic's music section. With an M.A. in journalism from NYU, she's written for Salon, NewYorkMagazine.com, and RollingStone.com. Kate hails from Montana, but eats pizza like a New Yorker—often and aggressively.

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