09.30.12

Pussy Riot Witch Hunt by Kremlin-Backed ‘Youth Movement’

A Kremlin-backed ‘youth movement’ has tracked down six more women said to be members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot. But is it all for show? Anna Nemstova reports.

Konstantin Goloskov, the leader of the special-investigation division in the Kremlin-created youth movement Nashi, claims to have identified what he calls the remaining six members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot. Last month, three of the band members were sentenced to two years in prison for staging an anti-Putin performance on the altar of Russia’s main Orthodox cathedral.

Earlier this week, Goloskov offered a $1,600 fee in exchange for the names of band members said to be hiding from police. He did not have to wait long for replies; within a few hours, Goloskov received the first email with a list of names, addresses, and even passport information of the remaining six girls. Dozens of other lists with names from those willing to help Nashi hunt down the musicians followed.

Yesterday Nashi delivered the list to police in an effort to lock up all “inadequate hooligan girls” famous for their brightly colored minidresses and balaclavas. Putting them behind bars was Goloskov’s personal, powerful desire—the money came out of his own wallet, he said in an interview with The Daily Beast. Everything about “the West’s project” irritated the pro-government activist and his team of investigators, he said, beginning with the name of the band, “invented purely for a Western audience,” and ending with their behavior. “Note that they constantly smile, like in Dostoyevsky’s Demons. They respect no holy values.”

Originally created in 2005 by Vasily Yakimenko—famous on Russian YouTube for saying that Putin got his power from God—in reaction to the Orange Revolution that took place in neighboring Ukraine the year before, Nashi has become part of Vladimir Putin’s internal and foreign political machine. During the movement’s peak years from 2006–2008, Nashi mobilized caravans of buses packed with up to 100,000 young people from the closest towns to Moscow to march in support of Putin. Each mass gathering involved well-organized rows of youths dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with Putin’s face or wearing quasi-military uniforms in honor of World War II veterans. Some of the young people joined in simply to get a free ride to and accommodations in the capital; others were motivated by the outside chance of gaining a future political career, perhaps even a high post in Putin’s United Russia party. The luckiest and most devoted of Nashi commissars have enjoyed the benefits of municipal and even national parliament seats.

Hunting down the final six musicians was a matter of dignity for the 26-year-old movement’s commissar, who is currently also investigating Russian opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Gennady Gudkov. His success will help president Vladimir Putin keep face. “If authorities did not give the hooligans prison sentence, that would mean that Pussy Riot won. Crowds of enraged believers would have been on the streets,” Goloskov insisted. It was reported by church employees—witnesses of the performance now heard round the world—that a total of five girls took off their winter coats to sing a song mocking Putin and the church last February, not the nine Goloskov has indicted or tracked down. “Let police figure out who on my list is guilty,” Goloskov said.

Putting Pussy Riot behind bars was Nashi commissar Konstantin Goloskov’s personal, powerful desire—the money came out of his own wallet, he said in an interview.

Now when the band’s name is mentioned, it stirs up strong and mixed emotions of Russians and activists around the world. But Putin’s internal reputation continues to benefit from the hunt for holed-up band members, so on it marches. “A majority of Russian society is in favor of punishing all guilty members of the band,” Nashi leader Nikita Borovikov insisted.

To young and talented Russians seeking political changes in the country, the new campaign by Nashi is a bad sign. Alyona Popova, a start-up entrepreneur, did not see the new Pussy Riot campaign as a patriotic move. “The witch hunt—a Russian version of McCarthyism—would result in the radicalization of informers, everyone telling on each other,” Popova said. “Nashi is provoking a fight between Russians.”