Closing speech of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Pussy Riot)

This is an English translation of Nadezhda’s closing statements at the Pussy Riot trial in Russia. I’m posting it simply because it is an incredible and inspiring speech.

***************

Essentially,
it is not three singers from Pussy Riot who are on trial here. If that
were the case, what’s happening would be totally insignificant. It is
the entire state system of the Russian Federation which is on trial and
which, unfortunately for itself, thoroughly enjoys quoting its cruelty
towards human beings, its indifference to their honour and dignity, the
very worst that has happened in Russian history to date. To my deepest
regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist
troikas. Thus, we have our investigator, lawyer and judge. And then,
what’s more, what all three of them do and say and decide is determined
by a political demand for repression. Who is to blame for the
performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and for our being put
on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to
blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics that draws
upon the forms art has established. In any event, it is a form of civil
action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political
freedoms are suppressed by the corporate state system.

Many
people, relentlessly and methodically flayed alive by the destruction
of liberties since the turn of the century, have rebelled.


We
were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them
in our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to
hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes. The
state’s leaders stand with saintly expressions in church, but their sins
are far greater than ours. We’ve put on our political punk concerts
because the Russian state system is dominated by rigidity, closedness
and caste. Аnd the policies pursued serve only narrow corporate
interests to the extent that even the air of Russia makes us ill.

We
are absolutely not happy with—and have been forced into living
politically—by the use of coercive, strong-arm measures to handle social
processes, a situation in which the most important political
institutions are the disciplinary structures of the state – the security
agencies, the army, the police, the special forces and the accompanying
means of ensuring political stability: prisons, preventive detention
and mechanisms to closely control public behaviour. Nor are we happy
with the enforced civic passivity of the bulk of the population or the
complete domination of executive structures over the legislature and
judiciary. Moreover, we are genuinely angered by the fear-based and
scandalously low standard of political culture, which is constantly and
knowingly maintained by the state system and its accomplices. Look at
what Patriarch Kirill has to say: “The Orthodox don’t go to rallies.” We
are angered by the appalling weakness of horizontal relationships
within society. We don’t like the way in which the state system easily
manipulates public opinion through its tight control of the overwhelming
majority of media outlets. A perfect example is the unprecedentedly
shameless campaign against Pussy Riot, based on distorting facts and
words, which has appeared in nearly all the Russian media, apart from
the few independent media there are in this political system.

Even
so, I can now state—despite the fact that we currently have an
authoritarian political situation—that I am seeing this political system
collapse to a certain extent when it comes to the three members of
Pussy Riot, because what the system was counting on, unfortunately for
that system, has not come to pass. Russia as a whole does not condemn
us. Every day more and more people believe us and believe in us, and
think we should be free rather than behind bars. I can see this from the
people I meet. I meet people who represent the system, who work for the
relevant agencies. I see people who are in prison. And every day there
are more and more people who support us, who hope for our success and
especially for our release, who say our political act was justified.
People tell us, “To start with, we weren’t sure you could have done
this,” but every day there are more and more people who say, “Time is
proving to us that your political gesture was correct. You have exposed
the cancer in this political system and dealt a blow to a nest of
vipers, which then turned on you.” These people are trying to make life
easier for us in whatever way they can and we are very grateful to them
for that…

We
are grateful to all those who, free themselves, speak out in our
support. There are a vast number, I know. I know that a huge number of
Orthodox people are standing up for us. They are praying for us outside
the courtroom, for the members of Pussy Riot who are incarcerated. We’ve
seen the little booklets Orthodox people are handing out with prayers
for those in prison. This shows that there isn’t a unified social group
of Orthodox believers as the prosecution is endeavouring to say. No such
thing exists. More and more believers are starting to defend Pussy
Riot. They don’t think what we did deserves even five months in
detention, much less the three years in prison the prosecutor would
like. And every day, more and more people realize that if this political
system has ganged up to this extent against three girls for a 30-second
performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, it means the system
is afraid of the truth and afraid of our sincerity and directness. We
haven’t dissembled, not for a second, not for a minute during this
trial, but the other side is dissembling too much and people can sense
it. People can sense the truth. Truth really does have some kind of
ontological, existential superiority over lies and this is written in
the Bible, in the Old Testament in particular. In the end, the ways of
truth always triumph over the ways of wickedness, guile and lies. And
with each day that passes, the ways of truth are more and more
triumphant even though we are still behind bars and are likely to be
here a lot longer yet.

Madonna
performed yesterday (7 August). She appeared with Pussy Riot written on
her back. More and more people can see that we are being held here
unlawfully and on a completely false charge – I’m overwhelmed by this. I
am overwhelmed that truth really does triumph over lies even though
physically we are here in a cage. We are freer than the people sitting
opposite us for the prosecution because we can say everything we like,
and we do, but those people sitting there say only what political
censorship allows them to say. They can’t speak words like “punk prayer”
or “Virgin Mary, Banish Putin!” They can’t say the lines from our punk
prayer that have to do with the political system. Perhaps they think it
wouldn’t be a bad thing to send us to jail because we are rising up
against Putin and his system as well but they can’t say so because
that’s not allowed either. Their mouths are sewn shut. Unfortunately,
they are mere puppets. I hope they realize this and also take the road
to freedom, truth and sincerity because these are superior to stasis,
contrived decency and hypocrisy. Stasis and the search for truth are
always in opposition to one another and, in this case, at this trial, we
can see people who are trying to find the truth and people who are
trying to enslave those who want to find the truth.

Humans
are beings who always make mistakes. They are not perfect. They strive
for wisdom but never actually have it. That’s precisely why philosophy
came into being, precisely because philosophers are people who love
wisdom and strive for it, but never actually possesses it and it is what
makes them act and think and, ultimately, to live the way they do. This
is what made us go into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and I
think that Christianity, as I’ve understood it from studying the Old and
New Testaments, supports the search for truth and a constant overcoming
of the self, overcoming what you used to be. Christ didn’t associate
with prostitutes for nothing. He said, ‘I help those who have gone
astray and forgive them’ but for some reason I can’t see any of that at
our trial, which is taking place under the banner of Christianity. I
think the prosecutor is defying Christianity. The lawyer wants nothing
to do with the injured parties. Here’s how I understand this: Two days
ago, Lawyer Taratukhin made a speech in which he wanted everyone to
understand that he had no sympathy with the people he is representing.
This means he’s not ethically comfortable representing people who want
to send the three members of Pussy Riot to jail. Why they want to do
this, I don’t know. Perhaps it is their right. The lawyer was
embarrassed, the shouts of “Shame! Executioners!” had got to him, which
goes to show that truth and goodness always triumph over lies and evil.

I
think some higher powers are guiding the speeches of the lawyers for
the other side when, time after time, they make mistakes in what they
say and call us the “injured parties”. Almost all the lawyers are doing
it, including Lawyer Pavlova who is very negatively disposed towards us.
Nevertheless, some higher powers are causing her to say “the injured
parties” about us rather than the people she’s defending, us. I wouldn’t
give people labels. I don’t think there are winners or losers here,
injured parties or accused. We just need to make contact, to establish a
dialogue and a joint search for truth, to seek wisdom together, to be
philosophers together, rather than stigmatizing and labelling people.
This is one of the worst things people can do and Christ condemned it.

We
have been subjected to abuse during this trial. Who would have thought
that a person and the state system he controls would be repeatedly
capable of entirely wanton evil? Who would have thought that history and
Stalin’s Great Terror, in particular, not so very long ago, would not
be taught at all? It makes you want to weep to see how the methods of
the medieval inquisition are brought out by the law-enforcement and
judicial system of the Russian Federation, which is our country. Since
the time of our arrest, however, we can no longer weep. We’ve forgotten
how to cry. At our punk concerts we used to shout as best we could about
the iniquities of the authorities and now we’ve been robbed of our
voice.

This whole trial refuses to hear us and I mean hear us,
which involves understanding and, moreover, thinking. I think every
individual wants to attain wisdom, to be a philosopher, not just people
who happen to have studied philosophy. That’s nothing. Formal education
is nothing in itself and Lawyer Pavlova is constantly accusing us of not
being sufficiently well-educated. I think though that the most
important thing is the desire to know and to understand, and that’s
something people can do for themselves outside of educational
establishments, and the trappings of academic degrees don’t mean
anything in this instance. Someone can have a vast fund of knowledge and
for all that not be human. Pythagoras said that ‘the learning of many
things does not teach understanding’. Unfortunately, that’s something we
are forced to observe here. It’s just a stage setting and bits of the
natural world, bodies brought into the courtroom. If, after many days of
asking, talking and doing battle our petitions are examined, they are
inevitably rejected.

The
court, on the other hand—and unfortunately for us and for our
country—listens to the prosecutor who repeatedly distorts our comments
and statements with impunity in a bid to neutralize them. There is no
attempt to conceal this breach in an adversarial system. It even appears
to be for show. On 30th
July, the first day of the trial, we presented our response to the
accusations. Prior to that we were in prison, in confinement. We can’t
do anything there. We can’t make statements. We can’t make films. We
don’t have the internet in there. We can’t even give our lawyer a bit of
paper because that’s banned too. Our first chance to speak came on 30th
July. The document we’d written was read out by defence lawyer Volkov
because the court refused outright to let the defendants speak. We
called for contact and dialogue rather than conflict and opposition. We
reached out a hand to those who, for some reason, assume we are their
enemies. In response they laughed at us and spat in our outstretched
hands. “You’re disingenuous,” they told us. But they needn’t have
bothered. Don’t judge others by your own standards. We were always
sincere in what we said, saying exactly what we thought, out of childish
naïvety, sure, but we don’t regret anything we said, even on that day.
We are reviled but we do not intend to speak evil in return. We are in
desperate straits but do not despair. We are persecuted but not
forsaken. It’s easy to humiliate and crush people who are open, but when
I am weak, then I am strong.

Listen
to us rather than to Arkady Mamontov talking about us. Don’t twist and
distort everything we say. Let us enter into dialogue and contact with
the country, which is ours too, not just Putin’s and the Patriarch’s.
Like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that in the end, words will crush concrete.
Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the word is more sincere than concrete, so words
are not trifles. Once noble people mobilize, their words will crush
concrete.”

Katya,
Masha and I are in jail but I don’t consider that we’ve been defeated.
Just as the dissidents weren’t defeated. When they disappeared into
psychiatric hospitals and prisons, they passed judgement on the country.
The era’s art of creating an image knew no winners or losers. The
Oberiu poets remained artists to the very end, something impossible to
explain or understand since they were purged in 1937. Vvedensky wrote:
“We like what can’t be understood, What can’t be explained is our
friend.” According to the official report, Aleksandr Vvedensky died on
20 December 1941. We don’t know the cause, whether it was dysentery in
the train after his arrest or a bullet from a guard. It was somewhere on
the railway line between Voronezh and Kazan. Pussy Riot are Vvedensky’s
disciples and his heirs. His principle of ‘bad rhythm’ is our own. He
wrote: “It happens that two rhythms will come into your head, a good one
and a bad one and I choose the bad one. It will be the right one.” What
can’t be explained is our friend. The elitist, sophisticated
occupations of the Oberiu poets, their search for meaning on the edge of
sense was ultimately realized at the cost of their lives, swept away in
the senseless Great Terror that’s impossible to explain. At the cost of
their own lives, the Oberiu poets unintentionally demonstrated that the
feeling of meaninglessness and analogy, like a pain in the backside,
was correct, but at the same time led art into the realm of history. The
cost of taking part in creating history is always staggeringly high for
people. But that taking part is the very spice of human life. Being
poor while bestowing riches on many, having nothing but possessing
everything. It is believed that the OBERIU dissidents are dead, but they
live on. They are persecuted but they do not die.

Do
you remember why the young Dostoyevsky was given the death sentence?
All he had done was to spend all his time with Socialists—and at the
Friday meetings of a friendly circle of free thinkers at Petrushevsky’s,
he became acquainted with Charles Fourier and George Sand. At one of
the last meetings, he read out Gogol’s letter to Belinsky, which was
packed, according to the court, and I note, with childish expressions
against the Orthodox Church and the supreme authorities. After all his
preparations for the death penalty and ten dreadful, impossibly
frightening minutes waiting to die, as Dostoyevsky himself put it, the
announcement came that his sentence had been commuted to four years hard
labour followed by military service.

Socrates
was accused of corrupting youth through his philosophical discourses
and of not recognizing the gods of Athens. Socrates had a connection to a
divine inner voice and was by no means a theomachist, something he
often said himself. What did that matter, however, when he had angered
the city with his critical, dialectical and unprejudiced thinking?
Socrates was sentenced to death and, refusing to run away, although he
was given that option, he drank down a cup of poison in cold blood,
hemlock.

Have
you forgotten the circumstances under which Stephen, follower of the
Apostles, ended his earthly life? “Then they secretly induced men to
say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and
against God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders and the
scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him
before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This
man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law.’” He was
found guilty and stoned to death.

And
I hope everyone remembers what the Jews said to Jesus: “We’re stoning
you not for any good work, but for blasphemy.” And finally it would be
well worth remembering this description of Christ: “He is possessed of a
demon and out of his mind.”

I
believe that if leaders, tsars, elders, presidents and prime ministers,
the people and the judges really understood what “I desire mercy not
sacrifice” meant, they would not condemn the innocent. Our leaders are
currently in a hurry only to condemn and not at all to show mercy.
Incidentally, we thank Dmitry Anatolievich Medvedev for his latest
wonderful aphorism. If Medvedev gave his presidency the slogan: “Freedom
is better than non-freedom”, then, thanks to Medvedev’s felicitous
saying, Putin’s third term has a good chance of being known by a new
aphorism: “Prison is better than stoning.”

I would like you to think carefully about the following reflection by Montaigne from his Essays written in the 16th
century. He wrote: “You are holding your opinions in too high a regard
if you burn people alive for them.” Is it worth accusing people and
putting them in jail on the basis of totally unfounded conjectures by
the prosecution?

Since
in actual fact we never were, and are not, motivated by religious
hatred and hostility, there is nothing left for our accusers other than
to draw on the aid of false witnesses. One of them, Motilda Ivashchenko,
was ashamed and didn’t show up in court. That left the false witness of
the expert examination by [Vsevolod] Troitsky, [Igor] Ponkin and Mrs
[Vera] Abramenkova. And there is no evidence of any hatred or enmity on
our part other than this expert examination. For this reason, if it is
honourable and just, the court must rule the evidence inadmissible
because it is not a strictly scientific or objective text but a filthy,
lying bit of paper from the medieval days of the inquisition. There is
no other evidence that remotely hints at a motive.

The
prosecution is reluctant to produce excerpts from the text of Pussy
Riot interviews because they are primary evidence of this lack of
motive. For the umpteenth time, I will quote this excerpt. I think it’s
important. It was from an interview with “Russky Reporter”, given the
day after the concert at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: “Our
attitude toward religion, and toward Orthodoxy in particular, is one of
respect, and for this very reason we are distressed that the great and
luminous Christian philosophy is being used so shabbily. We are very
angry that something beautiful is being spoiled.” It still makes us
angry and we find it very painful to watch.

The
lack on our part of any show of hatred or enmity has been attested by
all the witnesses examined by the defence. And by the evidence of our
characters. In addition to all the other character statements, I’d like
you to consider the findings of the psychiatric and psychological tests
the investigator ordered me to undergo in detention. The expert’s
findings were as follows: the values to which I am committed in my life
are justice, mutual respect, humanity, equality and freedom. That’s what
the expert said, someone who doesn’t know me and Investigator Ranchenko
would probably have very much liked him to write something different.
It would appear, however, that there are more people who live and value
the truth, and the Bible’s right about that.

Finally,
I’d like to quote a Pussy Riot song because, strange as it may seem,
all our songs have turned out to be prophetic, including the one that
says: “The KGB chief, their number one saint, will escort protestors off
to jail” – that’s us. What I’d like to quote now, however, is the next
line: “Open the doors, off with the shoulder-straps, join us in a taste
of freedom.”

(Project team: Agnes Parker: translation/Eja Werner: coordination)

*******

By the way, is that a Sun City Girls t-shirt she’s got on there?

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