The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia
Screenshot from Tolokonnikova's interview with TV Rain

Pussy Riot Speaks: Interview With Nadiya Tolokonnikova

Tolokonnikova will not leave Russia or stop campaign for human rights.

On 23 December, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was freed. This morning Mariya Alyokhina was also released from the Nizhegorodskaya Colony. Both members of the punk group Pussy Riot were sentenced for an action at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Tolokonnikova announced in particular that she would provide every support to those who are imprisoned.

Earlier, Mariya Alyokhina announced that she intends to fly to Krasnoyarsk in the near future to meet with Tolokonnikova. She also described her attitude toward the amnesty timed for the 20th anniversary of the Constitution. As she put it, if she could, she would have refused “Putin’s mercy.”

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have been in custody since late February 2012, after an attempt to conduct a punk-prayer at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The third participant in the action, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released earlier than her two friends, in October 2012; her actual sentence was replaced with a suspended one. In an interview with TV Rain, Samutsevich said she did not rule out that Alyokhina may become involved in human rights activity.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, member of the punk group Pussy riot: The measures that are taken now, without a doubt, are insufficient. It is ridiculous; they must release people on a much larger scale. In any event, the European countries could review their opinion regarding the Olympics, and I urge them to do so. I call for a boycott, I call for honesty, I call for not buying oil and gas which Russia may offer. I call for applying all the humanitarian standards, traditions and rules which Europe speaks about. That would be really honest. I am for truth and honesty. Nothing has changed in me since I went to prison. I have become stronger, harder. I hope that now I can change the situation in the country for the better. I will try to do that.

TV Rain: Are you going to leave the country?

NT: Not at all. Those people who occupied Russia should not be here in any event. I don’t know what else you could intimidate a person with who already served almost two years of prison. My determination has only increased.

TV Rain: Have any of the patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church come to you with an offer of reconciliation? Do you plan to get into contact with them?

NT: If they approach me I will talk with them. I don’t have any hard feelings.

TV Rain: Are you going to meet with Mariya Alyokhina? When, and what are your future plans, your joint activity?

NT: I intend to meet with Alyokhina in the near future. We have a project which we must discuss. This is a plan for a human rights organization to help prisoners in Russia.

TV Rain: Nadezhda, will she really fly to Krasnoyarsk to meet with you?

NT: We did have plans for this. Since I just came out of the gates two minutes ago, I can’t say definitively that we will. She and I have to meet as soon as possible in order to work together and use our experience which we acquired in these two years, not to leave that time just like that. I don’t consider this time lost for myself. I acquired a unique experience. Therefore, it will be much simpler to be involved in concrete human rights activity than before. I have become more mature and have come to know the state from inside; I saw this little totalitarian machine, what it is like from inside. Russia is really built on the model of the colony. Therefore it is so important to change the colony now, so as to change Russia along with the colony. The colony and the prison are the face of the country.

TV Rain: How do you feel about the officers of the FSIN (Federal Corrections Service)? Are they all alike?

NT: Not at all. There are decent and honest officials of the FSIN, but there are people who violate our rights daily, the rights of the people who may wind up there. You can’t avoid poverty or prison, as the Russian saying goes, therefore every person must fight so that the conditions are really decent, both living and psychological. The treatment of a prisoner must be the same as for an ordinary, normal person, perhaps even more careful, more attentive, but it shouldn’t be the attitude that these are the dregs of society, was the case in the region from which I have left, and as well as in Mordovia. I want you to understand that I do not paint all the officials with the same dirty brush. During my imprisonment, I saw that some officials can be real, they can honestly perform their jobs. I would like there to be more such people.

A lot depends on the head of the region in which the criminal corrections system is located. In particular, in Krasnoyarsk, the situation is much better. The Krasnoyarsk situation is managed by a woman, but in Mordovia, by Simchenkov. To be honest, I would very much like to work toward getting Simchenkov replaced. Because I fear that as long as Simchenkov remains in power, nothing will change in Mordovia, people will be beaten both morally and physically, this will also be concealed, because protectionism flourishes in the region. The prosecutor comes and says that he didn’t see anything, although for several days before that, a large Moscow commission visited, and it said that it had discovered an insane number of violations. And what cynicism, when a prosecutor comes and says he didn’t see any violations. Unquestionably, I will fight for that, so that all these violations are acknowledged. I have come out, but people remain behind who are dear to me. I would like to stand up for them.

TV Rain: Is there anything that you are afraid of?

NT: No.

TV Rain: And are you afraid for your life, if you continue to fight with FSIN?

NT: I am not afraid for my life, that would not be decent, that would not be right. A person is given life in order to act, to change the world for the better, as he believes, listening to people around him. Being afraid is not right.

TV Rain: When do you plan to see your daughter?

NT: I plan to fly to Moscow and see her there in the near future.

TV Rain: Well, now you’re going to see your grandmother…

NT: Now, of course, my grandmother waited for me a long time, she really wanted to see me, therefore I think that just now I’ll head out to see her. Perhaps I will be glad to meet with someone later, but now I am heading out.