People’s Insights Volume 1, Issue 33: Free Pussy Riot


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What is Free Pussy Riot?

Free Pussy Riot is a social media led movement by supporters of Pussy Riot – a Russian feminist punk-rock band and anti-Putin activist group – to protest the detention of three band members and to attract international intervention.

Supporters at the Russian Consulate in New York City, via FreePussyRiot.org

Launched in March 2012, the movement gathered momentum in the weeks leading to the court trial and has led to widespread international coverage, discussion and controversy.

Pussy Riot – protest group

The Free Pussy Riot website described the group as:

“An anonymous Russian feminist performance art group formed in October 2011. Through a series of peaceful performances in highly visible places, the group has given voice to basic rights under threat in Russia today, while expressing the values and principles of gender equality, democracy and freedom of expression contained in the Russian constitution and other international instruments.”

Pussy Riot got together to rejuvenate the culture of protest in Russia and bring about social change. One of the band members, who goes by the pseudonym Kot, explained their tactics on the Pussy Riot Facebook page:

“We wanted to create a new form of protest – maybe not such a huge one, but we compensate for that with the bright, provocative and illegal nature of our performances.”

The group has 15 members, and is characterized by the bright neon coloured ski masks they wear during performances.

Reason behind the arrest

Five members of the group staged an illegal performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Church the Savior as a protest against the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for Putin.

The released a statement that announced:

“Our performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was a political gesture, which concerns the problem of merging of Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Putin government. Patriarch Kirill has repeatedly spoken about of clearly not the holy figure of Putin and urged his parishioners not to participate in protest rallies… Therefore, we have introduced an new element in our performance – a prayer – and called our performance punk public prayer “Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away.”

The performance was documented in a short video, under two minutes, that showed five masked women playing punk music at the altar, dancing and singing the ‘punk prayer.’

See also: English translation of the song

Following the release of the video, the Russian Orthodox Church charged three members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samucevich, with ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,’ a charge that carries up to 7 years imprisonment.

This led to outrage amongst human rights activists who called the punishment “excessive” and “personal revenge” of Putin.

Vladimir Lukin, Human Rights Commissioner of Russia, expressed his misgivings:

“[Their act] is a misdemeanour that in a normal, civilised European state is handled in administrative rather than criminal proceedings. That’s why I think the ruling on those women is excessive.”

Hugh Williamson, a director at the Human Rights Watch, was more direct:

“The charges and verdict against the Pussy Riot band members distort both the facts and the law…These women should never have been charged with a hate crime and should be released immediately.”

Activists and Pussy Riot supporters were also enraged that the women were denied bail for the five months leading to the trial, and that the Russian Orthodox Church had launched a public smear campaign targeting the women.

A purpose inspired movement

United with a shared purpose to protest the violation of the women’s right to protest and a fair trial, supporters came together and created the Free Pussy Riot movement. The movement called for the freedom of the women, and had three objectives: to collect donation to fund women’s legal defense, petition authorities to free the women, and create awareness of the unfair trial.

The website FreePussyRiot.org was set up as the central platform for the movement.

Supporters could make donations online via PayPal, FundRazr and wire transfers, or in cash by contacting one of the Pussy Riot lawyers in Moscow. Online donations exceeded the $30,000 the group asked for, with additional donations coming in from efforts including a benefit concert at a bar in London, and sale of t-shirts online.

Petitions were set up by various individuals and organizations. Amnesty International directed their message to Russian persecutors, and a group of German activists targeted the Russian ambassador to Germany.

Source: Amnesty USA

The Free Pussy Riot movement also brought attention to the  torture and death of Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. 486,000 people signed a petition asking the EU to impose a travel ban and freeze assets of the people responsible for his death.

The movement to create awareness caught on, with supporters discussing the trial online an organizing rallies and concerts in over 60 cities across Europe, North America and Australia.

Niche communities amplified reach

A survey found that only 6% of Russians sympathized with Pussy Riot, and that 41% were averse to the cause. The majority of support came from Europe and North America, as the plight of the women raising concern among anti-Putin groups, human rights activists, feminists and musicians.

Ukrainian feminist protest group FEMEN, resonated with the anti-Putin protest and condemned the charges filed against the Pussy Riot members:

“It is apparent that the criminal case initiated following your performance in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, is only a pretext for the Kremlin to punish the band-members for their previous performance in the Red Square, while covering it up with the offense of religious feelings.”

Tom Watson, a journalist at Forbes, pointed out that the movement went viral due to efforts of niche communities including feminists and human rights activists:

“Let’s not forget that two of the band members are young mothers who would be separated from their children by the Putin government… Like the Occupy movement, it involved a small group that magnified its attention through other nodes: Amnesty International, feminist bloggers, the foreign policy press, and a vast mob of supporters on Twitter and Facebook.”

Musician Frank London called the charges filed against the women a “crime against artists.”

Musicians across Europe and North America condemned the treatment of the Pussy Riot members, and offered their support. The involvement of high-profile musicians especially helped spread awareness and recruit supporters for the Free Pussy Riot movement. Madonna voiced her support at a concert in Moscow, and Paul McCartney tweeted a message of support:


Paul McCartney’s tweet itself was broadcast to nearly a million followers, and was re-tweeted 1,968 times.

Transmedia storytelling fuelled the movement

Free Pussy Riot supporters made use of transmedia including videos, web games, photos from protests, tweets and even the  women’s closing speeches at court to fuel the movement. These forms of content pushed out stories from supporters across the world, and were designed to evoke emotions and build hype.

Pussy Riot themselves followed these storytelling tactics. The arrested women used the coverage of the court trial to their advantage, posing defiantly for photos and sharing letters from prison. The women even used their closing speeches as a forum to discuss art, philosophy and the hardships they faced since their arrest.

Source: Avaaz.org

A few hours after the three women were sentenced to three years imprisonment, the remaining group members released a new single, “Putin Lights a Fire.” This song was picked up by The Guardian who used it to create a video montage with multimedia from the trial and fan protests. This in turn was published in sites including the Huffington Post, thereby reaching a larger audience.

The group also succeeded in maintaining media coverage post the sentencing, with a tweet about the other two members who participated in the “Punk Prayer” performance:

*Translation courtesy Google Translate

Role of social media

Social media ensured news about the movement spread in real-time, and contributed to the speed at which the movement grew. Supporters leveraged this by posting constant stream of updates, including live tweets from the court house, to their community of 103,000 Facebook fans and 16,000 Twitter followers.

Inspired by the courage and resilience the women showed throughout the trial, people shared their opinions on Twitter using #pussyriot.

Swedish philosopher Alexander Bard expressed his political stance:

Twitter user Russian_market tweeted about the unfairness of the trial:

Russian social network VK and Facebook also played a role, enabling supporters to organize and promote events taking place in  74 cities to commemorate August 17, the day the sentence was pronounced – as the “Global Day of Solidarity for Pussy Riot.”

Source: FreePussyRiot.org

Criticism and controversy

Not all people supported the arrested women. Videos on YouTube have as many dislikes as likes, and people voiced their misgivings about the “Punk Prayer” performance in comments.

Many agreed with the charges of religious hatred and felt that the women deserved to be punished, though they had different opinions on the severity of the punishment.

As YouTube user armija commented:

“This church is place of worship, and also it is national monument. They made vandalism on that place with intent to provoke and insult others. As a religios guy (not orthodox christian though) I think that their punishment should be even bigger…”

Several people also questioned the international outrage, stating that the same act would be punished similarly even outside of Russia. As Italian journalist Enza Ferreri stated:

 “They have simply violated the law. Any civilized country has the law that protects feelings of religious people being offended.”

Indeed, a copycat stunt in Germany has led to the German Catholic Church charging protestors with disturbing a religious service, punishable by three years imprisonment.

Some bloggers even criticized western media and accused them of supporting the movement simply to use any opportunity to attack Putin. Blogger Andre Anglin analyzed this in a blog post titled:

“Western Media’s Pussy Riot Narrative the Most Transparent Example of Organized Manipulation of Public Opinion in History/”

Impact of the movement

Unsuccessful at freeing the women, the Free Pussy Riot was successful in bringing attention to the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin, and issues surrounding human rights. Russia’s action against the women helped Pussy Riot dominate international news for a few months and sparked public debate globally about the act of protesting.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the arrested Pussy Riot members, stated that despite the way events unfolded Pussy Riot had succeeded in its original goal:

“Whatever the verdict for Pussy Riot, we and [Russia] have already won.  Because we have learned to be angry and speak politically.”

*

(MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

As an example, 50+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on corporate citizenship, crowdsourcing and storytelling on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the iPad-friendly People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at pascal.beucler@mslgroup.com.)

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi is Director of Research and Insights at MSLGROUP. She tracks digital consumer trends for People’s Insights and is community manager of MSLGROUP’s insights community SPRINT. Tweet her at @nidhichimnani

2 Responses to “People’s Insights Volume 1, Issue 33: Free Pussy Riot”

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