ACTIVISM

Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokno: Julian Assange Is ‘Connected with the Russian Government’

One of the leaders of the anti-Putin punk rock collective Pussy Riot opens up about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks’ ties to the Kremlin, and the group’s anti-Trump anthem.

10.27.16 5:04 PM ET

“This Machine Kills Fascists” was the unmistakable slogan of Woody Guthrie. It traveled with him everywhere he went, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters. He’d proudly plastered the message on his Southern Jumbo as a tribute to his tune “Talking Hitler’s Head Off Blues,” a fiery anti-Adolf anthem about wrangling the “Nazi Snake.” You see, Guthrie hated fascism in all its forms, viewing it as the province of “dumb gangsters” out to exploit the common man. One such charlatan was Fred Trump, the father of Donald and former landlord of Guthrie’s, who became a recipient of the crooner’s ire in “Old Man Trump”—a ballad about how the elder Trump stirred up “racial hate” at his Beach Haven apartment project near Coney Island by denying black folks the right to live there. The tune proved quite prophetic when in 1973, six years after Guthrie’s death, the Justice Department went after Fred and Donald for that very offense.

While there isn’t a young singer-songwriter today who could hold a candle to Guthrie or Dylan in their prime, holding fascist feet to the fire with melodic strums and Nobel-worthy lyrics, one would imagine the cranky poets might be well impressed with the fiery feminist outbursts of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk rock collective whose balaclava-sporting women stage guerrilla gigs in protest of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorial regime.

One of the most visible members of Pussy Riot is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova aka Nadya Tolokno, who was one of three rockers arrested during a performance of the anti-Putin song “Punk Prayer—Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. She was sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism,” enduring harsh conditions, but following her 2013 release has continued her work in the performance art group, and as a vocal critic of Putin and proponent of women’s rights. Recently, Pussy Riot has released a trio of music videos that take on noted misogynist Donald Trump’s anti-women and anti-immigrant rhetoric, the most pointed of which is “Make America Great Again.” The video boasts dystopian broadcasts from the Trump News Network, fascist symbolism, and a take-no-prisoners chorus aimed at the Republican presidential candidate: “Let other people in / Listen to your women / Stop killing black children / Make America Great Again.”

The Daily Beast spoke to Tolokno about the new tracks, the 2016 election, and much more.

Before we get to the songs, I wanted to discuss the 2016 U.S. presidential election with you. Much has been made of Trump’s cozying up to Putin. He’s complimented his leadership, has close business ties with Russia, and was forced to dismiss his old campaign manager due to his shady financial links with the Kremlin. It seems Putin wants Trump to win.

It’s pretty interesting that Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns. It speaks for itself. What Putin is doing right now with information connected to the American election doesn’t surprise me at all because don’t forget that he comes from the KGB and was trained as a KGB agent, and used a lot of the information he culled there for creating his own wealth—which is why he’s one of the wealthiest men on earth right now. He doesn’t need more money right now, he just wants more power over the world.

What sort of similarities do you see between Trump and Putin?

It’s the so-called “strong man” psychology—but it’s not a “strong man” psychology, it’s an asshole psychology. They want to oppress people and don’t want them to raise their voices. Their reaction when it comes to people who try to criticize them is very similar: Putin put us in jail, and Donald Trump wants to put Hillary Clinton in jail if he’s elected President of the United States. So it makes perfect sense that Putin would want someone like Trump to take power. And it’s not just Trump. Putin is also in bed with Marine Le Pen in France, and is supporting Viktor Orban in Hungary. These are people who want to establish a new conservative right-wing oppressive order all around the world, and we need to do everything we can to stop them.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Roast Beef Productions

They both seem to be stuck in their ‘80s heyday.

They’re both stuck in the past. Trump is saying “Make America Great Again,” and Putin is playing a lot of games, saying he’ll restore the Soviet Union and essentially “Make Russia Great Again.” He wants to bring back this Cold War situation where they’re playing games and jeopardizing the rest of the world. But neither of them have any plans for the future. What can they offer people for their future? Nothing.

Both Trump and Putin also don’t seem to hold women in very high regard, to say the least. They possess very patriarchal mindsets and view women as subservient to men.

I definitely see very frightening parallels between Donald Trump and Putin in their treatment of women. The Russian Orthodox Church is a big supporter of Putin, and I believe that’s how we ended up in jail—because the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church was really upset about our actions at the cathedral so he called Putin, complained, and that’s why I spent two years in jail, because of this guy. He also wants to ban abortions, and it scares me that the same thing is happening here where Trump wants to ban abortions as well. There’s also no respect for women in the eyes of Vladimir Putin. He doesn’t feel he needs to show respect for women.

It’s scary for me that people still support Trump knowing the fact that he’s called women “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals.” He’s ruined women’s lives by telling them they’re not beautiful. Look, I’m a confident person and don’t give a fuck what Donald Trump thinks about my shape, but for a lot of young girls it could be very dangerous. They’re following the election on television and the social networks and they hear all this crap, and then they start to hate their own bodies because of that. That is unacceptable. So even though Donald Trump will not be President of the United States, I can’t even express how much harm he’s already caused to so many people around the world.

So then I assume you’re supporting his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

I wish that Hillary Clinton will win this presidential election, and if I had the option to go and vote, I would vote for her. Everyone needs to vote for her because it will save a lot of lives. I know people are apathetic right now because everything surrounding this election has been pretty ugly, but it’s really important to go out and vote and stop Trump.

What’s your take on the current state of WikiLeaks? It’s an organization that’s done a lot of good, but they do seem to be doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding when it comes to influencing the U.S. presidential election.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!
By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason

It was a tough conversation between me and Julian Assange about that when I came to the Ecuadorian Embassy two years ago. We had the conversation and you can’t really blame people for having another position. I understood his position: he’s in a state of war with the American government. He’s smart and charismatic and will use any means to destroy the American government. And we had a conversation if it was really the ethical thing to do that with the hands of another government [Russia] which is, in fact, much worse and a real authoritarian government. Julian Assange is a really good diplomat, so he can basically just dodge direct answers from my questions on that, and gives other answers—as Putin usually does when people ask him directly about some uncomfortable things.

So Julian Assange didn’t deny that he was working with the Russian government?

He couldn’t deny it. On the next day after I visited the Ecuadorian Embassy, the head of Russia’s biggest propaganda network, Russia Today, the editor-in-chief came to him and they had a project together. He often works with the Russia propaganda machine, and doesn’t try to hide it. Julian Assange doesn’t try to hide that fact because he hosts at the Ecuadorian Embassy the editor-in-chief of the Russian propaganda team, Russia Today, and has projects with them. Russia Today has nothing to do with truth. They get tons of government money, so instead of that money going to healthcare or education, it serves these propaganda goals—which is disturbing for a lot of Russians because they’re undergoing a huge economic crisis. But Julian Assange, he openly works with [Russia]. It’s not a secret. He’s connected with the Russian government, and I feel that he’s proud of it. And with Julian Assange, I really like a lot of the things that he’s done, too.

How can you support Assange if he’s supporting Putin?

I wouldn’t say that I support him, I just support a lot of the work that he’s done and I feel that information really should be open. I generally support the work that WikiLeaks is doing, but I’m not that thrilled about his decisions that are unethical, in my view, concerning his connections to the Russian government.

It does seem that, during this presidential election, WikiLeaks is only releasing documents on the Democrats and Hillary Clinton—and no documents connected to her opponent, Donald Trump. So it seems to indicate that the organization wants to tip the election in Trump’s favor.

It sucks, for sure.

How do you feel about Melania Trump? She recently did a few strange interviews defending her husband’s admittedly predatory behavior.

I have a lot of compassion for Melania Trump. When I saw her speech at the Republican National Convention, it was a really sad thing to watch. I believe she is smarter than she appears right now, but she can’t really express herself because she is so oppressed by her fucking husband. You can see that she always wants to look nice for somebody, she always wants to say words that someone told her to say, and she can’t really express herself, so that’s why she’s repeating phrases that are not that bright. If she would just allow herself to say what she really thinks, we’d see her in a very different light… I know that she is suffering.

Pussy Riot’s music video for “Make America Great Again” opens with clips from the fictional TNN—standing for Trump News Network. And now Trump’s launched a newscast on his Facebook and seems to be planning his own TV network post-election.

[Laughs]  It’s fascinating—not the fact that he’s launching this fucking network, but the fact that it’s in our video that we shot back in May. We wrote the treatment in April, too.

What message were you trying to get across with the video?

Donald Trump is very aggressive to people who don’t look like Donald Trump, so that’s why everyone in our video is wearing these stupid wigs. It seems like Trump can only accept people who look like him, and if he sees some difference, he’s like, “No. We have to deport them.” So, President Trump would get rid of all people who don’t look like Trump. Today it’s Mexicans, tomorrow it’s Muslims, and the day after that it might even be people with black hair. So we wrote this song to channel our political rage.