The members of Pussy Riot in the Red Square in Moscow.
(photo credit: ALEXANDER SOFEEV)
Just a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from Moscow, two of Russian President Vladimir Putin's most outspoken critics took the stage in Jerusalem.
Maria Alyokhina and Olga Borisova, two of the ten members of the women's activist band Pussy Riot, sat down with Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli on Thursday night as part of the International Writers Festival. For close to an hour, the three discussed art as a form of activism, the role of a free press and the experience of being in a Russian prison.
At one point in the evening, Michaeli asked the duo if they have ever considered leaving Russia entirely; both immediately said no.
"It's our country, too, and we have all rights to be happy and be safe in our country," said Borisova. "We have a constitution - yeah everyone forgot about it, but we have rights, we have rights for demonstration we have rights for free speech...we have hope."
Alyokhina was one of three Pussy Riot members who were arrested, tried and convicted of hooliganism after a 2012 performance at the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. She eventually served more than a year in a Russian penal colony. Borisova, who joined the group later, was detained last year in Siberia, and again in February in Crimea, where all her electronics and equipment were destroyed by police.
Michaeli, who is known for her activism on behalf of women's rights, asked the women what it was like to be feminists in Russia.
Alyokhina agreed that "feminist" is a dirty word there, and that "the place for women there is as a mother or a whore," she said. Last year, she noted, a law was passed that essentially decriminalized domestic abuse in Russia.
Later, Michaeli asked the duo how - after all the setbacks they have experienced - they still have hope that they can make an impact.
"Each gesture which each of us can do - nobody expected any criminal case, international attention, nothing," said Alyokhina. "We just we did what we felt we need to do in this moment. If you live in this moment you always will find a way."
Borisova said she never thinks about giving up the struggle.
"The most important thing is to remind people and explain to people that they have voices, that they have a choice," she said. "This moment - when you decide to start to do something - I think this is more important [even than the outcome] - to show people that they have a choice in a different way."
The evening was also proof that it was not BDS which motivated the cancellation last month of their scheduled concert in Tel Aviv. According to local PR for the show, it was cancelled due to technical restraints. But Walla News reported that the group's producer signed a deal and then later demanded more money. Neither report stopped boycott activists from celebrating the cancellation
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