Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot

You can’t be a self-respecting feminist without reading this book. I was somewhat clueless about the inner workings of Pussy Riot and their political art until Gessen laid it all out for me. The title comes from a quote from Solzhenitsyn used by Nadya in her closing statement during the sham trial. The three women (Nadya, Kat, Maria) were charged with essentially hurting the feelings of the religious people who witnessed their action at the Orthodox church in Moscow. Kat’s sentence got commuted, but Nadya and Maria got a few years in jail, but let’s not forget that this is Russian jail, where human rights are particularly overlooked. Maria became quite the jailhouse lawyer and continued fighting for better conditions at each penal colony she was sent to. Nadya philosophized and sent out various speeches through any channels she could. Fortunately, there was enough media attention on the women and jailers were forced to treat them somewhat well. They exited the system in 2013. Sadly, my own interest in their story is heightened by the fact that conditions in the U.S. are teetering towards those of Russia, so all outspoken feminist art warriors should read this as a cautionary tale but also for inspiration.

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

This is a scary book to be reading in the early days of 2017 as we find out more and more about the current administration’s deep ties to Russia. Published five years ago, it clearly lays out how a low-level KGB agent wafted his way into the power vacuum Yeltsin left and submerged Russia back into repression. Chapters like “The Day The Media Died” and “The Dismantling of Democracy” are not pleasant bedtime reading for anyone living during Toxic T’s administration. It was probably the easiest thing in the world to infiltrate their campaign and meld their minds. Other similarities? The protests/rallies at the end as Gessen tries to point a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not convinced.

Putin is painted as the thug he is, a runt picked on in school who learned judo and other martial arts, who lurked around the KGB headquarters trying to get recruited. On his first day of power, he signed a set of bills that began dismantling the country’s fragile democratic structures.

There are lots of bodies, as expected. Am I naive to think that our own intelligence community racks up fewer civilian killings? When one of Putin’s early connections (Sobchak) didn’t get in line with the new Putin, and also talked too much, he was eliminated. Interestingly, there’s a theory that journalist Arkady Vaksberg put forward that Sobchak was killed by poison placed on the electrical bulb of a bedside lamp, so the substance heated and vaporized when the lamp turned on. “This was a technique developed in the USSR.” A few months after Vaksberg’s book was pub’d, his car was blown up in Moscow; luckily without him in it.

Lots of lessons to be learned… Ekaterina Podoltseva successfully fought off the brass band brought in to drown out the pro-democracy speeches by having everyone pull out lemons and eat them in front of them, because when people see someone eating a lemon, they begin producing lots of saliva, making it impossible to play. One dissident says she always told people there was no point in going to jail voluntarily, better to leave the country. Another announced, “what a shitty time we’ve lived to see… We once lived in a totalitarian state that had two main features: totalizing terror and a totalizing lie. I hope that totalizing terror is no longer possible inour country, but we have now entered a new era of the totalizing lie.”