Manipulating Pussy Riot Letters Show Division in Punk Group

By and in Moscow

AP

Part 2: Betrayal?


In court, she likened herself to the dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Like Feigin, who had marched at the front of anti-Putin demonstrations, she wanted a "political trial." The attorneys considered founding a Pussy Riot party and also sought to use the trial to settle scores with the Putin system. And the longer the trial went on, the more Pussy Riot -- charged with "hooliganism, motivated by religious hatred" -- became a symbol of the resistance to the Putin regime, at least abroad.

But then Samutsevich foiled the strategy. On Oct. 1, the first day of the appeal hearing, she informed her two co-defendants, on the drive to the courthouse, that she wanted to part ways with their shared attorneys. Samutsevich presented it as a minor issue, a mere "formality," as Tolokonnikova later wrote. Soon afterwards, in the courtroom, Stanislav Samutsevich, Yekaterina's father, made a last, futile attempt to dissuade his daughter from the "stupid idea" that would "divide your group" and "benefit your enemies."

At first the court turned a deaf ear to Samutsevich's request for a new attorney. But then a clerk whispered something to the judges, and after a brief pause they relented. It was as if they had received an order, and as if the judges were not in control of the trial but in fact someone behind the scenes.

The new attorney argued that Samutsevich had not taken part in the performance, because guards had overpowered her beforehand. Although this was already known, it now resulted in Samutsevich being released on probation on Oct. 10.

Exploiting the Pussy Riot Brand

Was it betrayal? In a letter to Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova questions whether Samutsevich's "conscience is truly clean." "I very much believe that the whole thing isn't just a present for Yekaterina, but a political trap." Alyokhina writes that she is so sad that she would get drunk if she had the chance. "I can't get the idea out of my head that Cat made a deal. The lies and the drama with the cops, that's what gets to me."

While her two friends were still having their discussion in prison, Samutsevich launched into a bout of mud-slinging on the outside that was almost as useful to the Kremlin as a confession of guilt. In remarks directed at the attorney, she said: "You said the whole time that we had done everything because of and against Putin. That's not true. We are feminists above all." She even filed a complaint with the bar association, sought to have the defense attorneys disbarred and accused them of trying to secure the trademarks for Pussy Riot behind the women's backs.

But the letters show that the two other incarcerated women gave a great deal of thought to the exploitation of the Pussy Riot brand. In one letter, Alyokhina wrote to Tolokonnikova: "We spent a lot of time discussing business with the lawyers. I think we have to do this. I don't think we'll be portrayed as political scum. Why do you think that this is junk? We will decide for ourselves who we want to sue. And the most important thing is that we can do good things with the money."

Tolokonnikova also wrote: "The whole thing is worthwhile if we manage to get everything done in secret, without media attention, and that Pussy Riot will make some dollars. If not, to hell with it. I don't want to ruin my reputation and that of Pussy Riot for a few dollars. I'd rather be so dirt-poor that I just sit around on my naked ass than not be able to look at myself in the mirror anymore."

Several months earlier, the imprisoned women had hired a Moscow firm to register Pussy Riot as a trademark. Ironically, the owner of the company is the wife of attorney Mark Feigin. The contract is dated April 5, 2012 and is signed by the three women. "My signature seems to be genuine," says Samutsevich, "but I've never seen the contract before."

Attorney Feigin, since fired by his clients, insists that the contract is genuine. He owns an apartment worth €5 million on Moscow's "golden mile," he says. "I don't need the money. At 20, Feigin fought for the Serbs in the Yugoslav civil war, at 22 he was a member of parliament, and at 28 he became the deputy mayor of Samara, a city on the Volga River. Then he joined the opposition. As far as the band and its members are concerned, he says, the Kremlin achieved its goal. "Pussy Riot's reputation in Russia has been destroyed."

Everything that's happening helps the government, says Feigin, including the dispute over money and contracts, the firing of the attorneys, the suspicions and the rumors of betrayal. Media organizations aligned with the Kremlin are using the accusations leveled by Samutsevich to discredit Pussy Riot. In a poll, more than three-quarters of Russians support the harsh sentences.

For Putin, the Pussy Riot scandal has been worthwhile, in three respects. On the eve of the presidential election, the band's performance in the cathedral mobilized his conservative supporters. It divided the opposition, partly because many of Putin's opponents saw the performance as the desecration of a church. And now Putin can successfully portray the West, which stylizes the women as icons of freedom, as decadent and anti-Russian. The fate of the two women in prison camps will also discourage copycats.

Harsh Conditions

Tolokonnikova is incarcerated in penal colony 14, in Mordovia, 400 kilometers southeast of Moscow. In a letter from the camp dated Nov. 7, she writes: "Today is my birthday and my first day in the brigade. I am trying to cheer up the prisoners. They are all so sad. I hope that I will succeed and that I won't become sad myself. Everyone accuses me of being naïve. I think naiveté is a powerful weapon."

Newspapers recently printed a photo of Tolokonnikova, the pretty one, looking haggard from life in the prison camp, trudging through the cold with a wool scarf wrapped around her head. She was transferred to the sick ward in early February, and she has complained about headaches for weeks. She is only allowed one hot shower a week. There is only cold water in the pipes on other days.

Alyokhina is even worse off. She is imprisoned at the Beresniki penal colony, a prison for 1,200 women in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. At outside temperatures of -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), it's no more than 19 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) inside. The women are ordered to get up at 5:30 a.m., and they spend their days sewing fur jackets. When human rights activists visited the penal colony in January, they noted that there were four toilets for 100 prisoners, and that two were broken.

The woman convicted of staging a performance with guitars and neon-colored stocking masks is serving her prison sentence in a division with felons. After being harassed by her fellow inmates, Alyokhina denounced two of them, a drug dealer and a murderer, with the prison warden. After that, one of the women said to her: "We will make your life a living hell."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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