Pussy Riot wastes no time in getting back to activism

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and you're listening to "The World". In the orbit that is the Russian world so much focus lately has been on Ukraine that I had almost forgotten about Pussy Riot. You know, the punk performance art activist collective from Moscow. They went into the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in 2012, danced and sang, OK chanted, against Putin. The visuals of the women at the alter in colored ski-masks were more impressive than the song, but the Russian authorities were not upset for aesthetic reasons. They put the women on trial and two were sentenced - Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova. Nadya went on a hunger strike at one point. Masha was confronted with enough hostile inmates in prison that she requested solitary confinement. When they were released as part of a blanked amnesty last year, they promptly went back to activism. This time along with their campaign against Vladimir Putin, prison reform is on their agenda. They've taken their fight on the road and wouldn't you know it, they popped up at a symposium a few days ago in my own back yard at Harvard University. I had a bunch of interviews already stacked up and couldn't get out of the studio. They only had enough time to speak before catching a plane to their next stop, so we spoke remotely. Masha Alyokhina: Hi, Marco. It's Masha. Nadya Tolokonnikova: And this is Nadya. Werman: I asked them first - and Mash and Nadya are both talking here - to clear up just what Pussy Riot is. Rebel activists who sometimes sing? Or full on punk rockers with a political agenda? Tolokonnikova: It's not a problem. It's a kind of strategy not to name yourself in one way. Alyokhina: I think people see what they want to see and if they really want to see us as a punk band, they can do it. But if they are, I don't know, a little more interested about what we are, they just can easily check it out and they will know all about us. It's all in the media. Werman: What do average Russians think of you? Tolokonnikova: We have no "average". We don't like this word "average". Werman: The word "average" became a hot potato in our chat. Nadya said there is nothing average about their fans. Tolokonnikova: We have different groups of people. Some of them support us in a very serious way. They do things that need a lot of courage. Especially when we were in prison, some guys who were sixteen or seventeen, they came to the demonstrations and they had real problems with their parents or with the University of Culture in which they studies in that time. But also of course we have pro-Putin people in Russia and they don't care about us a lot. Werman: When I think average Russians these days I guess that was the group I was thinking about - the ones who don't get involved. Like last weekend in Moscow there was a sanctioned demonstration - a rare thing in Russia - where Putin was shouted at and people protested the war in Ukraine. But those average Russians stayed home, didn't demonstrate, and at most are maybe skeptical about Putin and the modicum of economic improvements he's brought them. Do you worry that if you don't let's say in quotation marks the "average Russian" on your side then you're just preaching to the choir in Russia? Tolokonnikova: When we were in prison we had a lot of conversations with the usual people who you name "average", but if someone called you average you will get hurt. And I don't want to call these people average because they are human beings and they are not average. They want to listen and they listened to us, and probably after two days of discussion, they changed their minds about Putin, about power, about protest and some of them were trying with us to find a way to protest. Werman: Note taken. I knew my time was running out with Masha and Nadya, so I asked them one more thing I was curious about - a US celebrity living right in Moscow. He's subverted some serious conventional wisdom just like you. So what you think of Edward Snowden? Tolokonnikova: It's good to have transparent information, because people have a right to know what their governments do. Alyokhina: And it's really sad that Edward Snowden now has no choice and is sitting in Russia where he doesn't want to be. It's a very sad choice, to be in Russia or to be in prison in America. So we hope that probably the American government will change their mind about Edward Snowden. Werman: Do you think Snowden is being used by Vladimir Putin? Tolokonnikova: Of course. Alyokhina: Of course. OK. We have to go, sorry, or we will miss our plane.