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Pussy Riot members announce split with freed duo

The anonymous collective says Nadya's and Masha's activism goes against feminist radical politics of Pussy Riot

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (left) and Maria Alekhina (right), members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, attend a press conference Feb. 5 in New York City.
Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Members of Pussy Riot’s collective published a letter Wednesday in which they distanced themselves from Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova and Maria “Masha” Alekhina and said “they are no longer Pussy Riot.”

“It is no secret that Masha and Nadia are no longer members of the group,” six anonymous members of the group wrote on their blog, “and they will no longer take part in radical actionism.”

They said they said they were “very pleased” with Tolokonnikova’s and Alekhina’s release from prison, and proud of their resistance against the ordeals they suffered, but said the collective could not support the inclusion of “institutionalized defenders of prisoners' rights.”

“Yes, we have lost two friends, two ideological teammates, but the world has acquired two brave human rights defenders — fighters for the rights of Russian prisoners.”

The message follows a much-publicized concert organized by human rights group Amnesty International where the two women made an appearance alongside Madonna, and spoke to reporters at a press conference on the importance of music as a tool in the struggle for social change.

Alekhina said Pussy Riot has "turned into an international movement" and that now "anybody can be Pussy Riot” and put on a mask and stage a protest against something that “you consider unjust.” When the band was first started, Tolokonnikova said, they thought a musician should bear social responsibility. They were particularly inspired by Riot Grrrl, a feminist punk rock movement from the 1990s.

"Punk music is so accessible to everyone. We didn't know how to play, like so many people, but we wanted to get our message across as loudly as possible so everybody could hear us," she told reporters.

But the anonymous collective accused Tolokonnikova, 24, and Alekhina, 25, of behaving in ways that are irreconcilable with the feminist, radical leftist ideology that informs Pussy Riot’s activism.

“Unfortunately for us, they became so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group,” the message read.

They also wrote that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have become “institutionalized advocates” for prisoners’ rights, and that such advocacy is “hardly compatible” with the kind of radical, feminist activism the women’s band embraces.

Amnesty’s concert charged people $27 and more per ticket, but anti-capitalist ideology says no fees be charged for viewing artwork, they wrote, adding, “We never sell tickets to our ‘shows.’”

They authors also said the duo is betraying the feminist principles that underlie the creation of Pussy Riot, and slammed the concert’s promotional poster, which depicted a man wearing a balaclava and playing the guitar.

“We are an all-female separatist collective — no man can represent us either on a poster or in reality,” they wrote. And in an apparent rebuke to Tolokonnikova and Alekhina’s international fame over their imprisonment, they wrote, “We cover our heads, because we oppose the very idea of using female faces as a trademark for promoting any sort of goods or services.”

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were unavailable for comment at the time of publication of this article. Amnesty International did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment.

But asked by a reporter at Wednesday’s press conference about how they were feeling about participating in a big pop cultural event while their art and activism has been very much born of the counter-culture, Tolokonnikova waved off the question and said, “I think that’s insulting to all the musicians who are present here,” drawing laughter from the audience.

The duo also said they weren’t representatives of Pussy Riot, but simply two people who were jailed at a protest of the band. “We’re not here as leaders of Pussy Riot or determining what Pussy Riot is, or what it does, or what it says; we are just two individuals that spent two years in jail for taking part in a Pussy Riot protest action,” Alekhina said.

On Tuesday, however, she said that “there will be performances, and they will be connected to our new activities and to our former activities as Pussy Riot as well.”

The anonymous letter concluded with a call to the media and others to stop referring to the duo as Pussy Riot.

“Since Nadia and Masha have chosen not to be with us, please, respect their choice. Remember, we are no longer Nadia and Masha. They are no longer Pussy Riot.”

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