The Know-Nothing's Guide to Pussy Riot, the Realest Punks Alive

After enduring five months of delays and attracting worldwide attention, the Pussy Riot trial finally began in Moscow this week. But what is Pussy Riot? Why is it on trial? What is Moscow? All your questions will be answered here.

What is Pussy Riot?

Pussy Riot is a Russian punk collective founded in September of last year in the wake of Vladimir Putin's announcement that he would seek election for a third presidential term. (Putin, currently the prime minister, stepped down from the presidency in 2008 due to limits on serving consecutive terms; the current president, Dmitri Medvedev, is a Putin ally.) "[A]t that point," Pussy Riot's Serafima (members use pseudonyms) told Vice in February, "we realized that this country needs a militant, punk-feminist, street band that will rip through Moscow's streets and squares, mobilize public energy against the evil crooks of the Putinist junta and enrich the Russian cultural and political opposition[.]"

Okay, but... what do they do?

I mean, what have punks ever done? Mostly the women of Pussy Riot wear colorful clothes and balaclavas and stage Situationist-style guerrilla performances in public spaces like the Red Square. It was one such performance — a "punk prayer" called "Our Lady, chase Putin out," undertaken in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral — that got three of the group's members in so much trouble.

What happened?

On February 21, Five Pussy Rioteers took to the church's altar and performed a mock prayer, begging the Virgin Mary to chase Putin out of power. They lasted about 30 seconds before being removed by security guards, and the footage was later used in a music video, which you can see here.

That's it? [Rolls eyes.]

Well, where the U.S. has successfully neutralized the protest possibilities of punk rock through a careful combination of commodification and fashionable cynicism, Russia doesn't fuck around: two weeks after the prayer, three women in Pussy Riot — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich — were arrested and charged with hooliganism, which can carry a sentence of up to seven years. They've been languishing in jail since then, denied bail and waiting through several delays; two of the women are mothers and haven't seen their young kids since the arrest.

Holy shit.

Yeah. Who's punk rock now, huh? Their lawyers say they've been denied food and sleep; today, a doctor had to be called when Alekhina became sick in court. The prosecutor is making all kinds of nutty accusations, according to The New Yorker's Masha Lipman:

In an interview, one said that the incident could "soon escalate into events comparable to the explosion of the twin towers on September 11th in America… It was proven that the act had been committed not by the American government or by the C.I.A. but by forces above them. For instance, all the employees of the shopping center" — the lawyer referred to the W.T.C. as torgovy tsentr, the Russian for "mall" — had been informed through secret masonic channels that they should not report to work on September 11th." When the interviewer asked, "Do you mean that the Pussy Riot act and the terrorist attack in the U.S. were organized by the same people?," the lawyers responded, "In the first instance it was a satanic group, and in the second it was the global government. But at the highest level both are connected-by Satan." Who else?

Uh.

Yeah, the Orthodox Church is being unsurprisingly intense about this — the Orthodox Patriarch and other church leaders have roundly condemned them ("a sin that will be punished in this life and the next") — and the government seems to be using the prosecution as a way to strengthen its alliance with the conservative church. "Piety and faith for their own sake do not appear to be Putin's concern, however," Lipman writes. "Instead, the government is drawing on the traditionalist and anti-western attitudes of the Russian Orthodox Church as a way of cracking down on the regime's liberal opponents."

So what happens next?

The trial will last a couple of weeks. All three women have pleaded not guilty; at worst, they could be sentenced to seven years in prison.

What are their chances of being acquitted?

It's unclear. If nothing else, they have a great deal of support both at home — tens of thousands of Russians have signed an online petition demanding their release — and abroad — Amnesty International has taken up the Pussy Riot cause, as have a number of famous musician-types (Sting, Peter Gabriel, Anthony Kiedis).

So... why Pussy Riot?

Pussy Rioterr Kot tells Vice: "When cops and FSB agents interrogate us and ask, 'What the hell do these English letters on your banner stand for' (we put out a banner during some of our illegal performances and hardly any of these jerks speak any foreign language)-then we usually say something like 'Oh well, Mr. Secret Policeman, it's nothing special, those words just stand for "Pussycat rebellion."' But, of course that's a brutal lie. In Russia you should never tell the truth to a cop or to any agent of the Putinist regime."