Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot gave a rousing speech at Belarus Free Theatre's flagship tenth anniversary celebrations, Staging a Revolution I'm with the Banned, held at London's KOKO and broadcast worldwide on BBC Arts.
The radical underground company from Belarus brought together a unique line-up of musicians and performers to stand up for artistic freedom of expression and against injustice with a star studded line up including David Gilmour, Kim Cattrall, Neil Tennant, Sam West, Jeremy Irons, Boombox and Brutto. Twitter was awash with the hashtag #ImWithTheBanned and #StagingaRevolution as thousands watched both online and at KOKO in London.
Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot gave a striking speech about importance of sturdy institutions, something she sadly knows much about.
Tolokonnikova's speech at #ImWithTheBanned kicks off with I am angry, I'm not beautiful. I’m not ugly. I'm angry.
Full speech as follows.
I’m not beautiful.
I’m not ugly.
I'm really angry due to the fact that the main political institutions of my country, Russia, are the law enforcement, the army, police, intelligence agencies, and prisons. But the main political institution of my country is composed of just one man - Putin.
By working together, we can build better institutions.
I’m angry, because I do not want to live in a world where you can get sent to prison for speaking a word.
Only in prison I did finally understand how valuable words can be. If you’ve been through prison you say a word and think not only about it’s meaning and value, but about the big consequences that your words can have.
I’m angry because I know too many people that went to jail for saying words or reading a speech.
I’m angry because our governments - and not just in Russia, but in Europe as well, especially in the last weeks - still believe in the power of razor wires, fences and jails.
You are in London - you might feel that razor wires, watch towers and camp-like prisons are a universe apart from you, somewhere in Belarus, Russia or Syria. But right here in the centre of London you have Julian Assange who is spending his fourth year locked up in the embassy of Ecuador for uncovering serious war crimes to the world.
You are in London. You might think that authoritarian and conservative pigs are further away from you then you think. But they are very close - and we have to resist them with our warmth and solidarity.
You have thousands of people prepared to die daily under the wheels of trucks to cross the Eurotunnel from Calais, just because the British government is not creating a way to process asylum applications so that people don’t die.
Every gesture you make is meaningful, even if you are clueless about it. Every gesture you make sets rules. There is no decision you make yourself alone.
I have some great advice for politicians in authoritarian countries - what it the best way to get rid of a political enemy?
Jailing your enemy is a bad idea. He will only grow stronger and his voice will become louder. I used to never be able to do push-ups like a man. But after Putin sent me to prison I learned how to do push-ups in prison and now I can do them.
So if you are Putin and want to get rid of Pussy Riot the worst idea is to put them to prison and give them a voice. You will only make Pussy Riot stronger. If you’re the Chinese government - jailing and prosecuting Ai Weiwei means that we’ll probably be making him the best known Chinese artist alive.
I’m not beautiful.
I’m not ugly.
The first person who empowered the word “Revolution” was Nicolai Copernicus.
He figured out that the earth revolves around the sun and wrote a book titled On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which provoked shock, outbursts, and hysteria.
Burning me does not refute me, repeated Giordano Bruno as he made his way to the fire.
It is only revolutions that make the heavenly spheres move. People who ask themselves and others tough questions are responsible for progress. If there is no one asking questions, the future will be a paradise for conservatives and hell for everyone else.
I’m not beautiful.
I’m not ugly.
Both Tolokonnikova and her husband Pyotr Verzilov joined the Voina art collective in 2007 and participated in several of their provocative art performances. In February 2008, they were involved in the "Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!" performance in which couples were filmed engaging in sexual acts in the Timiryazev State Biology Museum in Moscow. The performance was apparently intended as a kind of satire of then President Dmitry Medvedev's call for increased reproduction. She was in the late stages of pregnancy at the time. Tolokonnikova also took part in a series of actions Operation Kiss Garbage, (Russian: "Лобзай мусора", roughly translated as "Kiss a pig") from January through March 2011. This project comprised female members' forcibly kissing policewomen in Moscow metro stations and on the streets.
Following the "Punk Prayer" incident in February 21, 2012, a criminal case was opened on February 26 against the band members who had participated. On 3 March, Tolokonnikova and two other alleged members of Pussy Riot were arrested by the Russian authorities and accused of hooliganism. All women at first denied being members of the group and started a hunger strike in protest against being held in jail away from their young children.They were held without bail and were formally charged on June 4, with the indictment running to 2,800 pages.
Tolokonnikova was serving the remainder of her two-year sentence in the IK-14women's penal colony near the settlement of Partsa (Russian: Парца, Явасское городское поселение), Republic of Mordovia. On September 23, 2013 she went onhunger strike over prison conditions and alleged threats against her life made by prison staff. Her letter on the conditions of the women in the penal colony asserts that the women have no rights. The prisoners must work 16–17 hours and sleep 3–4 hours a day; they have a day-off every 8th week. If they complain, they are punished. If they complain over the treatment of other prisoners, they are punished even harder. Collective punishment is frequent but the prisoners may also be beaten up with particular focus on hitting the kidneys. Another punishment consists of keeping a prisoner outdoor in the cold without sufficient clothing. Most of what she reports is confirmed from other sources.
See the performances of David Gilmour with Boombox and the rest of the Belarus Free Theatre's I'm with the Banned Solidarity Concert on BBC Arts online and Belarus Free Theatre's Staging a Revolution continues with a two week festival 2nd-14th November 2015, at the Young Vic Theatre and in underground locations around London and will be LIVE STREAMED ON MINISTRY OF COUNTERCULTURE HERE.Subscribe to our mailing list: