U.S. News

02.06.14

Pussy Riot And Madonna Slam Putin At Amnesty International Concert

Punk band Pussy Riot made an impassioned appearance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Wednesday alongside Madonna, Blondie and a very chill Lauryn Hill.

There were no balaclavas but there were plenty of blondes, including a certain Material Girl, on stage to celebrate the Russian punk band Pussy Riot at Amnesty International’s 'Bringing Human Rights Home’ concert last night at Brooklyn’s cavernous Barclays Center.

Amnesty is in the business of decrying human-rights abuses around the world, and no recent victims of power have captured the global imagination more fervently, nor won more celebrity attention to their cause, than Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who—along with band member Yekaterina Samutsevich—were found guilty of hooliganism and imprisoned in Russia’s harsh penal colonies for playing a “punk prayer” denouncing President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in February 2012.

PHOTOS: Pussy Riot, Madonna, Lauryn Hill and more stars at the Amnesty International Concert

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(Kevin Mazur/Getty)

That transgressive concert was performed, guerilla-style, in the capital’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, with the musicians entreating, “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away!” On Wednesday night, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina didn’t do any singing, but there was plenty of religious iconography to go around, from the crosses billowing down the front of the women’s filmy dresses to the Madonna herself, who drew fevered declarations of love from the crowd and praise from the Pussy Rioters for her advocacy of their case. 

Indeed, Madonna was one of the first mega-celebrities to speak out against Russia’s treatment of the three artists. She happened to be in Moscow during their trial, and took the opportunity to advocate for their release—a very public message that angered the country’s Orthodox Church. (During the same tour, she spoke out for gay rights, leading authorities to accuse her of promoting homosexuality—"which I am always happy to do,” she told the Barclays crowd—and to arrest 87 audience members for “displaying gay behavior.”) 

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina spoke out for other prisoners in American and at home, including their fellow Russians who have been punished for protesting Putin’s contested re-election.

Two years on, the women of Pussy Riot have been freed, thanks in no small part to the intense spotlight on their cases. Now, Madonna can make quips about how Nadya and Masha helped make ‘pussy’ a “sayable word” in her household (is there no copy of Sex on the Ciccone coffee table?). In a more earnest moment, she said: “America is not perfect, it’s true, but I can speak my mind, I can criticize the government… I do not take this freedom for granted and neither should you.” Now, Pussy Riot can appear on stage in person to get a standing ovation and exchange kisses with the Queen of Pop. 

Before we get to the main event, the concert’s raison d’être, let us give a nod to the other fine performances of the night, from Lauryn Hill—who managed to appear both mellow and fierce—and the exuberant alt-rock cuties of Imagine Dragons to Blondie’s Debby Harry, svelter than a tween in knee-high boots and a sleek dress, whose ultimate rock-star aura inspired tweets along these lines:

But the point of the night was Pussy Riot, and they easily stole the show. With their concentrated intensity, and their Russian language thick as honey, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina spoke out for other prisoners in America and at home, including their countrymen who have been punished for protesting Putin’s contested re-election. “The truth will always win, even if it dies in battle,” the women said. “We demand a Russia that is free, a Russia without Putin.”

They asked the crowd to join them in a chant: “Russia Will Be Free. Russia Will Be Free.”

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Emperor Palpatine prepares his robes for tonight’s opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Games…