Conflict & Justice

Two members of Pussy Riot are attacked by Russian thugs while eating breakfast at McDonald's

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Credit: YouTube

Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina show the side effects after being attacked in Nizhny Novgorod by a group of Russian thugs. The attackers barged into the McDonalds where they were having breakfast and attacked them with pepper spray and green antiseptic.

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina travelled to the city of Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia to visit a local jail with members of a local prisoners' right group. They didn't get exactly a warm welcome.

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They were attacked while eating breakfast in a McDonald’s cafe at the train station. The attack on Thursday was captured on video and posted on YouTube (see below).

Russian journalist Masha Gessen, the author of a book about Pussy Riot called Words Will Break Cement, says the video is chilling.

"Maria and Nadia, two members of Pussy Riot who served two years in jail, went to Nizhny Novgorod where Maria served out the last few months of her prison sentence, to document some prison violations at the prison there. They were not there to do a Pussy Riot action," Gessen says. "They were in a local McDonald's talking when they were attacked by a group of young men, wearing orange and brown ribbons that symbolize Russia's victory in World War II. They screamed 'get out of town' and various sexist and offensive epithets."

Then they attacked them.

"First they sprayed them with a green ointment commonly used to treat infections. They screamed some more, then one of them approached Nadia and sprayed some kind of acid in her eyes. She says she couldn't see anything for about ten minutes," Gessen says. "They also lobbed a metal jar at Maria who had to go to the hospital and get stitches on her head."

Gessen says the fact that the thugs put on the war ribbons before the attack indicates "they thought this was a patriotic attack, that they were somehow defending Russia from these women, which is very much the official rhetoric and Putin's rhetoric."

Human rights activist Olga Sadovskaya echoes that point. She's works in Nizhny Novgorod with the organization Committee Against Torture.

"It is a group of radicalist people saying that they are true patriots of the country," she says. "They are used to attacking human rights defenders artists, and people who are trying to promote democratic issues." 

Whether there's any connection between this kind of attack and current Russian attitudes toward unfolding events in Ukraine and Crimea, Gessen says the issues are "all apparently lumped together in these attackers' minds. I would suspect in these young men's imaginations. Beat up the protesters, chase the gays and lesbians, takeover the Crimea — all of this in the name of a greater Russia."

Gessen says she's worried about Maria and Nadia's safety. "The entire state propaganda machine has worked to portray them as enemy number one of the Russian people, of the Russian Orthodox Church, of the Russian State. It's an extremely violent country and considering that message of hatred, we shouldn't be surprised at all when that translates into violence." 

Does Russian President Vladimir Putin bear any responsibility for promoting violence of the sort on display in this incident? Gessen says he's created an environment where some people are outside the law.

"It's open season on some people," Gessen says. "That is why we have seen a lot of the political murders, the murders of journalists, all of these murders have gone unsolved. Do I believe that Putin personally ordered most of these murders?  No. He just made it very clear that those people could be killed and attacked with impunity and he created a system in which impunity was guaranteed. Nadia and Maria are marked women. They belong to a part of society on which it’s open season. Nobody has to order the attacks in order for attacks to happen."

Sadovskaya met with the Pussy Riot members after the incident in Nizhny Novgorod. She described Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina as "really very frightened" by what happened.

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