'Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer Documentary' — A Brilliant Democratic Message

“Nadia” has the thousand-yard stare of a shell-shocked Vietnam vet.

As she uses it to burrow into the soul of her interrogator, after forcing him to enunciate the word “riot” and telling him not to fear it, he asks, “what’s the translation?" She begins to subtly sway back and forth with a sly grin on her face that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is right in her beliefs, and she knows it: “Uproar, pogrom, uprising.”

Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin's new documentary about the feminist punk activist group, Pussy Riot, is quite possibly one of the best portrayal’s of what appears at first glance to be a seemingly rag tag, half baked group of over privileged twenty-something’s-cum-activists with vague ideology I have ever seen.

But there’s more to them, so much more.

The three girls arrested for singing punk songs with antagonistic lyrics at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow — Nadia, Masha, and Katya — are highly educated activists with long histories of peaceful and smart protest. When I typically hear about activist groups bitching about something, although I get their point, I can’t stand behind them since they are clueless as to how to express themselves meaningfully without making a mockery of the very cause they claim to represent — FEMEN anyone?

But Pussy Riot is brilliant in their message, deeply self-critical, and is in no way smug about their movement. They do it for evolution, not attention.


On the surface, the film illustrates the group’s conviction for feminist ideals, human rights, government transparency, and democracy in general, but it does more than that. The entire film has a subliminally charged tone of mockery for the entire system. Whether it’s the absolute lunacy of the Orthodox Church that bashes their beliefs without bothering to understand them, the maddening ineptitude of the group’s lawyers, and general three-ring circus atmosphere of the Russian legal system, all Pussy Riot had to do was show up to prove more than the act they were arrested for could ever have: the system is sick, on life support, and nothing short of shock therapy will fix it.

Take “system” to mean what you want, but based on the international reaction from the group’s arrest, trial, and current incarceration, “system” is global. The group has sparked outrage by forcing others to look within themselves and to decide whether they are part of the solution or the problem; something most people wouldn’t do in a thousand life times. Clearly many people around the world see a reflection of Russia’s unjust system whenever they look at their own country’s flag.

Pussy Riot will not be the spark that foments democracy in Russia, but they’ve done a remarkable job of proving that peaceful, smart, shock doctrine protest can still be effective if those utilizing it have a strategy and a burning desire for change, no matter the cost.

Sit back, put on your pink balaclava, and get fired up by “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.”

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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