Yekaterina Samutsevich: Closing Statement at the Pussy Riot Trial

Yekaterina Samutsevich, defendant in the criminal case against the feminist punk group Pussy Riot:

In the closing statement, the defendant is expected to repent, express regret for their deeds or enumerate attenuating circumstances. In my case, as in the case of my colleagues in the group, this is completely unnecessary. Instead, I want to voice my thoughts about the reasons behind what has happened to us.

That Christ the Savior Cathedral had become a significant symbol in the political strategy of the authorities was clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyayev took over as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, Christ the Savior Cathedral began to be openly used as a flashy backdrop for the politics of the security forces, which are the main source of power [in Russia].

Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic? After all, he could have employed his own, far more secular tools of power—for example, the state-controlled corporations, or his menacing police system, or his obedient judiciary system. It may be that the harsh, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; that otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more persuasive, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the pinnacle of power. It was then that it became necessary to make use of the aesthetic of the Orthodox religion, which is historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.

How did he succeed in doing this? After all, we still have a secular state, and any intersection of the religious and political spheres should be dealt with severely by our vigilant and critically minded society, shouldn’t it? Here, apparently, the authorities took advantage of a certain deficit of the Orthodox aesthetic in Soviet times, when the Orthodox religion had an aura of lost history, of something that had been crushed and damaged by the Soviet totalitarian regime, and was thus an opposition culture. The authorities decided to appropriate this historical effect of loss and present a new political project to restore Russia’s lost spiritual values, a project that has little to do with a genuine concern for the preservation of Russian Orthodoxy’s history and culture.

It was also fairly logical that the Russian Orthodox Church, given its long mystical ties to power, emerged as the project’s principal exponent in the media. It was decided that, unlike in the Soviet era, when the church opposed, above all, the brutality of the authorities towards history itself, the Russian Orthodox Church should now confront all pernicious manifestations of contemporary mass culture with its concept of diversity and tolerance.

Implementing this thoroughly interesting political project has required considerable quantities of professional lighting and video equipment, air time on national TV channels for hours-long live broadcasts, and numerous background shoots for morally and ethically edifying news stories, where the Patriarch’s well-constructed speeches would in fact be presented, thus helping the faithful make the correct political choice during the difficult time for Putin preceding the election. Moreover, the filming must be continuous; the necessary images must be burned into the memory and constantly updated; they must create the impression of something natural, constant and compulsory.

Our sudden musical appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with the song “Mother of God, Drive Putin Out” violated the integrity of the media image that the authorities had spent such a long time generating and maintaining, and revealed its falsity. In our performance we dared, without the Patriarch’s blessing, to unite the visual imagery of Orthodox culture and that of protest culture, thus suggesting to smart people that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch and Putin, that it could also ally itself with civic rebellion and the spirit of protest in Russia.

Perhaps the unpleasant, far-reaching effect from our media intrusion into the cathedral was a surprise to the authorities themselves. At first, they tried to present our performance as a prank pulled by heartless, militant atheists. This was a serious blunder on their part, because by then we were already known as an anti-Putin feminist punk band that carried out their media assaults on the country’s major political symbols.

In the end, considering all the irreversible political and symbolic losses caused by our innocent creativity, the authorities decided to protect the public from us and our nonconformist thinking. Thus ended our complicated punk adventure in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. Once again, the world sees Russia differently from the way Putin tries to present it at his daily international meetings. Clearly, none of the steps Putin promised to take toward instituting the rule of law have been taken. And his statement that this court will be objective and hand down a fair verdict is yet another deception of the entire country and the international community. That is all. Thank you.

• • • • • •

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Astakhova. Original text in Russian published here. You can view video of the closing statements by Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova here and here (in Russian).

This translation was slightly revised on August 13 for republication elsewhere.

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109 Comments

Filed under feminism, gay rights, international affairs, political repression, protests, Russian society

109 responses to “Yekaterina Samutsevich: Closing Statement at the Pussy Riot Trial

  1. Nicole

    Thank you so very much for posting this.

  2. Jonfu

    No First amendment in Russia and that’s honestly too bad… :(

  3. Michael

    Brave and truthful. Thanks to all of you who have spread the word about pussy riot and this farce of a trial.

  4. Stanley Whitney

    Speak truth to Power, very brave, FREE PUSSY RIOT!!!!!!

  5. shane

    there´s force of law in what you are stating about the actual -russian- anti-democratic specter of state

  6. Jess

    Thanks for posting- inspiring, yet heartbreaking. We should all be doing our part to ensure this tragic farce remains in the public eye.

  7. jm

    “Not the Only Song” by Jono Manson and Brain Hardgroove, bass player for Public Enemy.
    The song was written in response to the arrest of three members of the feminist punk band “Pussy Riot” in Russia, for singing an anti-Putin song in a church.
    The women are facing up to seven years in prison. Two of them are mothers of young children. The song is sung from the perspective of one of these children.

  8. Perhaps jealousy, and certainly applause for your actions engaging the simulation face to face.

  9. Thomas

    Thanks for the post; keep up the good work!
    Best from A’dam to all of Chto Delat,
    Thomas

    • Thomas

      Dear Dmitry et al, know that I very much admire your courage to stand up and speak out in support of Pussy Riot!

      I agree with Yekaterina that though they might be punished for not having repented or expressed regret, that they have won the case by staying true to what they believe in. She is right in her assessment that the world sees that the criminal case agains them has been fabricated.

      Yekaterina by speaking out and you by giving her a platform on your page, are showing the world that there is a new generation – at least in the Russian Art world – with a will and a drive to stand up and speak out!

      With respect,

      Thomas Peutz
      director SMART Project Space

  10. peter smith

    the only freedom of speech in the USA is the freedom to say what everyone else is saying. – james steele

  11. Music and freedom are good. Oppression is bad. Free Pussy Riot!

  12. Did you really need to italicize the whole thing?

    • hecksinductionhour

      Do you really need to be such a total asshole? Or have you done lots of hard prison time for protesting your country’s tyrannical government?

      • There are blog templates that automatically italicize text when the designer clicks on the “quotation mark” tool. This may have happened here. But the larger question is, how could anyone think for a moment about typography when people’s lives and freedom are at stake? Ralph, your own logo says “Building a Better Tomorrow,” and you have some interesting projects going, but how would you feel if someone decided not to read your magazine titled “Put A Egg On It” because of the grammatical error (A Egg instead of An Egg)? Sometimes design and grammar are secondary to style, humor, and humanity. I hope you understand that now. It will improve your design and life to understand such things. Be well.

      • hecksinductionhour

        Thanks for the support.

        We consciously italicized the text to emphasize that these were Katya’s words and not ours.

    • KnowItAll

      Amidst, and truly basking in light of preceding brilliance, manifested in the diatribe of one scared yet brave girl about to be shackled for years, comes the writing one Ralph McGinnis. An individual, so concerned with his fragile ego, that instead of commentary on the subject, means to switch the narrative to center on himself; as he cannot bear to see an italicized font style applied…for he is too weak to be able to read the meaning in it.

      • Martin

        Ok, hey, settle down everyone. You want this text to be read in it’s entirety by as many people as possible, that is what is important. In that situation good typography plays a role. If it is hard to read, fewer will that’s all.

      • hecksinductionhour

        You white people are funny. First of all, given the veritable avalanche of folks who’ve read this post over the past three days, it would seem that its allegedly wretched typography is no impediment to understanding. Second, over the past five years we’ve written here, with much better typography, about all sorts of Russian grassroots activists and campaigns just as worthy of support and attention as the brave women of Pussy Riot, but for some odd reason “the world” was not nearly as overwhelmed by these stories as it is now by Katya, Masha and Nadya.

        For example, there’s the story of Yakutia trade-union activist Valentin Urusov, who was given hard prison time a few years ago for the mere crime of trying to organize workers at the giant Russian diamond-mining concern Alrosa. What happened to him is so harrowing it makes the treatment dished out to Pussy Riot by the authorities seem positively “friendly” in comparison. And Valentin is still serving out his sentence today, totally ignored by the “world community,” not to mention most of Russian society.

        So typography is clearly not the problem.

  13. pure gold. what a levelheaded, brave young woman

  14. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” Martin Luther King,Jr.

  15. thanks you for sharing this — knowledge is power

  16. Solidarity from Australia.

  17. Moritz Gaede

    well let’s not forget how repressive our western goverments have become. it’s always easier to point fingers..

    • hecksinductionhour

      Yes, but since in this case (as in so many others described on this blog over the past five years) we’re pointing fingers at our at our own government, I don’t really see your point.

      • Daws

        I point my finger toward the Kremlin in solidarity with the Russian citizenry and have some still to show toward my own governments and people, for whom locking people in cages for minor infractions are everyday business. Ya’ll blog is really helpful definitely digs out some of my ignorance.

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  27. Firsalani

    A very well-crafted closing statement. I have a very good idea of what she thinks of the church and what it represents. But that’s beside the point. In fact, 90% of the arguments I have been reading here and elsewhere are beside the point.

    However romantic and lofty her ideals are – she should not project or force them upon an unwitting audience in a place that should be protected by the state. Human rights should also exist for those who earnestly use that place as a house of worship – regardless of whatever political and corporate fireworks are going on over their heads.

    This is a small case but a big issue. The case should only focus on whoever was inside the church during the time of the protest. If rights were violated then the punishment should fit the crime.

    But the issue – regardless of the aim of the protest – is broad ranging because the church – ANY church – should be regarded as a personal space for worshipers and protected as such. That is what should be focused on during this trial, NOT whether or not the cause for protest is just.

    Ms. Samutsevich has a marvelous vocabulary for someone who is still, at heart, an adolescent. And I distrust political protesters who lack the compassion to respect the rights of their fellow citizens.

    • F5F5F5

      Isn’t that a large part of her point? The point she made was the church is being used by Putin for his own political means?

      • Firsalani

        You’re getting her point and completely missing mine, F5. Reread paragraphs 2 and 3. So, do people in Russia have the right to worship in peace at a church? Should that right be defended? If not, what is the point of having churches?

      • Firsalani

        Oh, just figured out your screen name, F5. I suppose you’re the wrong person to discuss the right to worship with.

    • Despite the fact you seem to not wish a debate but rather to support Putin and the Orthodox Church’s actions and expect us all to align with your wisdom, tell me how a brief interruption of a service is a violation of a right to worship when said interruption is a usage of free speech. Would you have someone who coughed loudly during a service prosecuted for hooliganism? Where do you draw that line? Putin has made examples of Pussy Riot to enforce the system Samutsevich spoke of in her closing argument. You read like you pander to totalitarianism in the name of religion. When the church is the symbol of the state, where else shall they protest and when?

      • Firsalani

        I’m supporting human rights just like you are. If we can’t count on the state to protect human rights (which includes the right to worship in peace, by the way) then we have mob rule. Which do you prefer?

        This is a tug of war between two basic rights that certain segments of the population hold at different levels of value. The line needs to be drawn somewhere. As long as bigotry exists on both sides, that line will always be blurred and crises like this will continue to happen.

      • hecksinductionhour

        Fuck off!\

      • Firsalani

        Heck – I’m assuming that’s directed at me since you can’t reply to a reply. Sorry for having the minority opinion and/or disagreeing with you. And no, you can’t scare me off. I like conflict.

        But I’m not going to stick around because you are neither interesting or articulate, and this topic has run its course with me.

    • they interrupted a service for a few minutes and are being locked in prison for years, dude.

      would you ‘draw’ so restrictively for the people of Russia that the state may enjoy both the influence and immunity of the church in their collusion under its auspices?

    • Charles van Bassen

      How absolutely you miss the point which is that there is nothing sacred in posturing and hypocrisy. To sound the warning bell that what should be sacred is being perverted and used to manipulate and perpetuate an unholy tyrant, is sacred, and you whoever you are disgust me.

  28. Any political institution that does not allow political participation for and against its activities is oppressive. There are degrees and ranges of defacto political institutions, including the church, and the girls have measured the potential harm of their protests against the weight of the church’s defacto participation in politics. There was no significant public harm in the protest itself, except to higher sensibilities than shown by bad church leaders. The point is to show that the lower cannot hide behind the higher when a carefully planned and well explained protest exposes them, because the higher can easily understand what is going on if they are true to their principles. No harm done, and public learning achieved. Well done. You would be released without charge or given a suspended sentence in Australia and, like many, I will be very annoyed if you are jailed.

  29. Chris Moylan

    Free Pussy Riot. Respect freedom of speech everywhere.

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  33. Such honesty and bravery is rare in this time and age. An age of injustice, repression, greed and power. What amazing words!

    I am standing in solidarity with the courageous women of Pussy Riot.

    As for Ralph McGinnis and his compatriot Martin, shame on the both of you. Where does it state that people’s posts cannot be entirely italicized? There is nothing wrong with italicized text. As you can see, it does not deter many readers. It could be because most of us write in cursive in any case *shrug*

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  40. Andreas L

    Thanks for translating this closing statement and posting it. I am amazed by these heroines and their courage. Let us know how we can support in this battle for justice.a

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  43. more than just a pretty face eh? thanks for posting this

  44. all pussies worldwide keep rioting

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  46. zsun

    pussy riot a symbol for free life & rights!!!

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  49. Solidarity Punk

    Let’s all riot in support! This book is a must-read: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674034808 as it shows how Pussy Riot form part of a much longer history of protest. More power to them!

  50. Thanks for posting the translation. Both this statement and the one from Nadezhda Tolokonnikovat are wonderfully eloquent contributions to the literature of opposition. Living through history.

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  70. That guy Putin is just an utter scumbag, but death smiles to us all.

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  77. I hope Ms. Samutsevich will be free soon again.

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