You are here:   Madonna > Underrated: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
 
 
It was a striking moment in the history of Russian dissidence. On December 27, 2013, three days after their release from remote penal colonies, Nadezhda  (known as Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Maria (known as Masha) Alyokhina were in a shiny Moscow TV studio, with Vladimir Bukovsky on the line from England. Bukovsky spent 12 years in Soviet prisons and psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s and 70s as punishment for repeated acts of public protest. Since his release in a prisoner swap in 1976, he has lived in Cambridge. In their TV press conference Tolokonnikova named Bukovsky as her hero: a true defender of human rights who never abandoned political activism. In her 21 months in prison, she had read and reread his autobiography, she said, leaving it as a precious gift to a fellow inmate on her release. In Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina Bukovsky recognised his own kind. The elderly dissident spoke with them naturally, as equals. He told them "from the heart" that he knew how hard it would be to adapt to life outside prison, that freedom would bring a mass of cares. He wished them luck. 

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have confronted the challenges of freedom with the same cool demeanour that they displayed during their trial and imprisonment. In their tour of Europe and the US in the days before the Sochi Winter Olympics, politicians, human rights activists and rock stars lined up to bask in their moral authority. The young women make a good double act but Tolokonnikova is the true performer. She combines beauty and charisma with a remarkable mind, and knows instinctively how to take the high ground. The Putin regime "did not just make Tolokonnikova a star, it turned her into a saint," the writer Dmitri Bykov said during her prison hunger strike. "She is now the best-known Russian after Putin himself."

To capture imaginations is to be caught up in other people's fantasies and vanities. On an Irish chat show, the hapless presenter told Tolokonnikova that Madonna had described Pussy Riot as "fellow freedom fighters". Incredulous for a moment, she threw back her head and laughed. Again, she explained (as she had done to the judge who sentenced her in July 2012 for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred") that the "punk prayer", "Mother of God, Drive Away Putin", was not an attack on religion, but a political protest. Days later, at an Amnesty benefit in Brooklyn's vast Barclays Center, Madonna introduced Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina with a foul-mouthed speech about the dangers she herself had faced for the sake of freedom. In T-shirts decorated with the cross of the Teutonic knights, they thanked her graciously and proceeded to read aloud the court statements of Russia's May 6 prisoners, incarcerated for street protests since 2012.

Back home, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina face a tougher crowd. Many believe they are in the pay of the West. More sympathetic members of the intelligentsia cannot reconcile the dazzling moral clarity and erudition of their court statements with the antics in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, never mind Tolokonnikova's participation (with her husband Petr Verzilov) in a notorious sex protest in the State Museum of Biology in 2008. Others wait for the magic to wear off. "Why is everyone so obsessed with those stupid girls?" the Moscow TV anchor and socialite Ksenia Sobchak reportedly complained.  

Other members of Pussy Riot have disowned Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina for succumbing to a cult of personality. Undeterred, the two showed up in Sochi in their Pussy Riot balaclavas. This is the kind of stubborn dissident persistence that Bukovsky taught. The local police obliged: they were first detained, then horsewhipped by Cossacks, creating another colourful spectacle for the assembled global media. They incorporated footage of it all into their song "Putin will teach you to love the Motherland".

In her excellent new book Words will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot (Granta Books, £9.99), Masha Gessen finds evidence enough of genius in the "punk prayer" itself, which she calls "a great work of art . . . a miracle". The dissident priest Gleb Yakunin regards the performance in the cathedral as a miracle in the full Christian sense of the word. Pussy Riot's words "black cassock, gold epaulettes" drove "to the very heart of Patriarch Kirill", he said. During their imprisonment, Yakunin composed a verse cycle in Pussy Riot's honour, The Pussiniad. He too did time in prisons and labour camps in the Soviet period. In 1993, five years after his amnesty, the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him for exposing its infiltration by the KGB. Yakunin had unmasked Kirill as a high-ranking agent codenamed Mikhailov.

"Passion, honesty and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, mendacity and false modesty that disguises crime," Tolokonnikova said in court. These are words for a dissident to live by. Yakunin considers Tolokonnikova a person graced with "exceptional gifts". He believes that once they have established their new human rights group, Justice Zone, she and Alyokhina will found a political party — a "genuine Christian democratic party" — that will drive out Putin and transform Russia. That really would be a miracle. 
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 
hegel`s advocate
June 11th, 2014
2:06 PM
I don`t know which Sam Becket character Anon is like. But if he writes sitting in a bin onstage somewhere it`s fitting. Maybe he could mention some "adults" he listens to. As it is he sounds like an old grouch who`s favourite tipple is homebrew ill-will ideology. Adele`s `Set Fire To The Rain` not good enough for him? Anon`s tragic provincial narcissism is not civilised. It could be terminal. He should be thankful Standpoint didn`t publish one of my previous suggestions for him. What was it Schopenhauer claimed about music and words? And Ruskin`s comment (regarding any civilisation) about "the book of it`s deeds,the book of it`s words and the book of it`s art." ? Putin and Pussy Riot art,Prince Charles comparing Putin to Hitler (more like Stalin in others opinion)- speak up,Anon, and leave me,Douglas Murray and Julie Bindle out of it for a few weeks.

Anonymous
June 10th, 2014
12:06 PM
Dear Hegel's Advocate. Yet again you demonstrate your complete ignorance regarding the critical issues of the day. You cite Zizek et as a badge of intellectualism, and an apparent regard for Joy Division as a supreme manifestation of excellence in popular culture. I suggest you wake up. And start to listen to the adults.

hegel`s advocate
June 5th, 2014
4:06 PM
If you want the Prescient of the Month trophy on your mantelpiece,Anon,it`s all yours. Personally I`d like a photo of Pussy Riot in their Knights Templar dresses outside Sir Ken Clark`s "red castle" (the recent BBC Culture Show had a short tour inside). Clark was/is England`s Zizek before Zizek. Over at the Critical Muslims website there`s not a word about Civilisation2. Nor anything about the necessity for a "utopian" world future (in the Zizek sense). It was the `taqiyya` of the `tory` cocaine bankers/oligarchs that caused the recession/robbery of the taxpayers. The lying `muslim brotherhood` of capitalism. Labour will win the next election. When it comes to social media the tory party is totally inept,amateurish and organisationally zombie. In Darwinian evolutionary terms it hasn`t evolved and in religious terms it has no God-given genius - it`s all bad news for the remaining tories from Nature,human nature , culture and God .

Anonymous
June 4th, 2014
12:06 PM
Dear Hegel's Advocate. PREVENT and the CONTEST strategy in the news as the UK Government struggles to determine the most appropriate method to define and deal with extremism in the UK. How prescient was I......lol. ;)

hegel`s advocate
June 2nd, 2014
1:06 PM
I`ve outlived my doctor,Anon. The gruel-propaganda you advance perhaps belongs with Roger Scruton. Of civilisation Ruskin said `the `book of it`s art` is more truthful than `the book of its deeds` and `the book of it`s words`. The `book of it`s art` of the 21st century is getting more popular. I`m the one with a record just out not Anon or Roger Scruton. What was it Schopenhauer claimed about music ? Something about the "ding an sich" ? I don`t write or make music to be coherent or understood by Anon or Scuton. The rich generousity of the English language( since Shakespeare) is reduced by Anonymous and R Scruton to it`s opposite. Inna from Femen was interviewed on BBC radio last week (Outlook).

Anonymous
June 1st, 2014
2:06 AM
Dear Hegel's Advocate. On the basis of your posts I can only suggest that you seek help and (possibly) look for stronger medication. This is the only possible explanation for your continued lack of intellectual coherence, and willingness to throw around citations to replace the originality and relevance of your (apparent) thought. Best regards.

hegel`s advocate
May 28th, 2014
5:05 PM
I`m including print-outs of these comments in what I send to Janice Hadlow next week so if Anon wishes to elaborate on how PREVENT will somehow determine the content of the new Civilisation series he`s free to do so. "western Buddhism" is the perfect philosophy for Nazis , uber- capitalist careerists and peaceniks alike(as Zizek explains clearly). What then is Anon`s definition of `Nazi` that the BBC and Zizek should know about ? TJ Clark (art historian/ex-Situationist International) in his `Capitalism Without Images`lecture (Youtube) edges towards Zizek`s "the 20th century is over". The "book of art" of the 21st century is not popular at the Vatican,Kremlin or Mecca. The "book of it`s words" and "book of it`s deeds" are broadcast 24/7. David Cameron is a `fan` of Tracey Emin. Labour MP Kerry McCarthy supports the Pussy Riot artists. Workaholic Ms Emin self-exiles herself into the cult of her own personality (or lack of it). Michael Gove once saw a film about the band Joy Division and commented without mentioning the music! Was Factory Records a conduit for great art to reach the people ? Yes. Is Will Self still miserly about Tony Wilson? Probably. Self`s psychogeographical walks in London have not yet discovered the roof garden at MayDay Rooms,88 Fleet St ? As an advocate of Debord`s book `The Society of the Spectacle` Self is about as situationist as Michael Gove! Mannequin Records of Berlin are releasing some early Factory recordings of mine next week. Welcome to the cabaret ?

Anonymous
May 27th, 2014
11:05 PM
Dear Hegel's Advocate. You see you expose the limits of your thought in your reply. Given the apparent restrictions on public financing I would have thought that a closer inspection of the PREVENT methodology and funding criteria would have been of interest, especially given the notable turn after the election of the UK coalition government. I will keep it simple for you to increase your likelihood of understanding: The PREVENT policy of the UK government amounts to little more than: A Nazi. But there are good Nazis. And if we ask the good Nazis to talk to the bad Nazis everything will be okay. All the while ignoring (for political expediency) the definition of 'Nazi'. :)

hegel`s advocate
May 27th, 2014
5:05 PM
Anonymous,the Spectator and Standpoint should be contacting Janice Hadlow at the BBC with their criticism and ideas for it. Passive nihilism is not expressive. I`m sending her some cd`s,pics and info about who and what I think should be included in the new Civilisation series. Ken Clark starts by quoting Ruskin`s " the book of their deeds,the book of their words and the book of their art...the only trustworthy one is the last." On the whole Clark thought this is true too. The only feminist `fan` of Ken Clark is Camille Paglia. Neither Zizek nor Paglia have even mentioned each others works yet but the BBC could easily invite them. Zizek`s `The True Blasphemy` and Paglia`s `Glittering Images` book have not met. Ruskin had no Femen website to contact. If the BBC prove themselves to be just like the idle rich of Clark`s time "as ignorant as swans" about the book of (conceptual) art then (with the exception of some great comedy) the BBC really is "the life of what is dead moving within itself". To its credit it broadcast the Pussy Riot film. Miracles happen. Russia`s got one with Pussy Riot artists. Prince Charles has compared Putin to Hitler. "Monarchs don`t do that " and artists don`t do that,says Putin in denial and swan ignorance. There Is No Alternative to Utopia. " The future ( of civilisation) will be utopian or there will be none" (Zizek)

Anonymous
May 25th, 2014
6:05 PM
Dear Hegel's Adocate. The reason any attempted re-make of 'Civillisation' will fail is utterly predicatable, as the BBC struggles to represent and re-imagine an all embracing psot-1968, with all the essential 'isms' necessary to ensure that it can justify the funding. Oh well. At least Bindell, Penny et al will be consumed with providing an appropriate commentary. :)

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.