POLITICS

Pussy Riot say Pride events in Toronto, Boston are nothing like home in Russia

06/25/2015 02:07 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The first time Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina witnessed a Pride celebration in North America, they felt a world away from home.

"It was wonderful," said Tolokonnikova, describing the Boston Pride flag-raising.

"I really didn't expect to see so many officials (involved) in gay pride. As you can understand in Russia, we had no idea it can be like this.

"Even the mayor attended this operation of raising the flag — it was quite nice."

Certainly, the celebration's civility stood in sobering contrast to what Tolokonnikova has endured at home.

She particularly remembers 2011, when she was arrested at a gay pride rally and, she says, tossed in the same van as the protesting "Christian guys" who immediately attacked her friend.

"We had like 50 people who attended (the event)— and several dozen people who came there just to beat gay people," she recalled.

Pussy Riot will lead the parade at the 35th anniversary of Toronto Pride on Sunday. It's not their first visit to Canada and the last left them impressed: "I like the health-care system a lot," Tolokonnikova said.

She finds that when she travels to North America, chatty locals always ask the same question.

"They ask if we are afraid of being in Moscow," she said. "But right now I'm in Moscow and I'm not afraid."

Tolokonnikova talked to The Canadian Press about Pussy Riot's activism, new music, and the "House of Cards" cameo that had Russia talking.

CP: After spending 18 months in prison, you launched Zona Prava to protect prisoners' rights. Were you inspired by what you saw in jail?

Tolokonnikova: We have really bad conditions in our prisons, and we went through several hunger strikes because we wanted to help people around us.

If you talk about rights in prison, you have a really big problem. You will be punished.

You can talk about rights only if you have a lawyer — and that's what our organization does, we give lawyers to prisoners.

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CP: "I Can't Breathe," your first English song, was written after Eric Garner's death.

Tolokonnikova: We came to New York to record some English songs, and we found ourselves in the middle of the protests.

We spent the whole night at this rally. We were inspired by these people, their dedication to this case, and we decided to make our own statement.

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CP: In the video, you're buried alive. What was shooting that like?

Tolokonnikova: It wasn't the worst experience we've had in our life. Arrests, two years in prison — that's not so good an experience also.

This was like, OK, compared to Russian prisons.

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CP: The band had a cameo in "House of Cards" during a season that referenced (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. I hear the show's big in Russia?

Tolokonnikova: "House of Cards" is quite popular in Russia.

It was an interesting way to reach Russian people, through "House of Cards," because the show has a really good reputation here.

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CP: What was the reaction like?

Tolokonnikova: Some of them were quite critical about our acting ability — but we are not actors at all!

It was, to them, quite surprising. Russia isn't like the West — in Russia we are still a little underground band.

Because of TV propaganda on the main channels and our court case, people say we are witches and we are against Christian people, we want to destroy Russia — and some people really do believe it. Not all, but some.

It was quite surprising to these people to see us in a huge TV show like "House of Cards."

I hope it can help them understand how things really are, and that Putin is not so good as he wants to appear.

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CP: Are you comfortable in Hollywood?

Tolokonnikova: It's just Hollywood. I'm comfortable because it can help us.

It can help to reach our goals — and our goal is to get rid of Putin.

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Answers have been edited and condensed.

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