Advice From Pussy Riot: How to Defy Putin and Trump

What the Russian and U.S. presidents have in common and how to defeat “all those other assholes just like them.”

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Nadya Tolokonnikova, a lead artist of the punk group Pussy Riot, offers her thoughts on how women can fight leaders like Putin and Trump — and win.

Not every comparison between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump works. But when it comes to their craven need for power, their fragile temperaments and inflated egos, and their anti-feminist sentiments, these two men have much in common.

They share some political methods and some psychological deficiencies. It’s cave-man psychology. When they are angry, they lash out. For Trump, it is with tweets. Putin has more power, so he puts his enemies in jail. These are just the knee-jerk reactions of children acting out when they feel rejected or scared.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, a lead artist of the punk group Pussy Riot, offers her thoughts on how women can fight leaders like Putin and Trump — and win.

Not every comparison between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump works. But when it comes to their craven need for power, their fragile temperaments and inflated egos, and their anti-feminist sentiments, these two men have much in common.

They share some political methods and some psychological deficiencies. It’s cave-man psychology. When they are angry, they lash out. For Trump, it is with tweets. Putin has more power, so he puts his enemies in jail. These are just the knee-jerk reactions of children acting out when they feel rejected or scared.

But we shouldn’t underestimate these men. Putin is trying to build a new conservative world order, and Trump is an important piece of this chain. In recent months, both men have implemented new policies — Putin decriminalized domestic violence, and Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule — that simultaneously embrace the religious right and disadvantage the freedoms of women. Both leaders aren’t just anti-feminist; they actually demean women. Putin has said that a woman’s place is in the home; her first role in society is to be a reproduction machine. If a woman wants to be a good Russian patriot and help her country, she must have more children. Trump, meanwhile, has a long history of making derogatory comments about women, not to mention being accused of sexual assault.

Still it’s important to remember that Trump is just a symptom of the terrible conservative tendencies in American society. He is not a great revolutionary or an arbiter of a movement. He can’t change the country in one day. He’s just a stupid ape, and we shouldn’t give him more power than he already has. In fact, Trump is very lucky he can take all this rage that people have about the current system and use it to his advantage. And this is something else he has in common with Russia’s president: Putin also used people’s fears and anger to make himself more powerful.

Now that we can see the obstacles, it’s time to consider Trump’s election as an opportunity for society to no longer hide from this ugliness. And this is actually a gift for activists and feminists.

We shouldn’t panic or be afraid, but instead commit to solving these injustices. That is power. When I was in jail with my friends for nearly two years, we tried our best to be a pain in the ass for Putin. We went on hunger strikes and protested any way we could.

That’s not to say it was easy. I would look around and realize how dire my situation truly was, but I would stop and think about how I could improve the lives of people around me. It’s only then — when you start to find a solution — that you will feel good again. Even in the darkest times, helping others is power.

But don’t expect change to come right away. It takes time to really undo all these super-sexist bullshit narratives that have defined history for thousands of years. And we just have to prepare to fight for it much longer than we probably thought.

Men like Putin and Trump think they can smash people. Putin thought that he could break us. But even in jail we still had our minds, our souls, and our happiness. In the end, we never gave up. And that is how you push back against Trump, Putin, and all those other assholes just like them.

We must not give them our fear.

As told to Reid Standish. This conversation has been edited. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of FP magazine. 

Photo credit: PUSSY RIOT/YouTube

Nadya Tolokonnikova is a Russian artist and political activist and a member of the punk rock band Pussy Riot. In 2012, she was convicted of hooliganism in a Moscow court and sentenced to prison for protesting Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

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