Pussy Riot, Feminism and International Relations

The Politics and Applied Global Ethics festival last week provided a welcome opportunity for both academic staff and students to take a break from the usual schedule and to broaden their engagement with a variety of issues central to PAGE teaching and research. In a week that saw news stories of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova disappearance in prison, the showing of the BBC’s documentary ‘ Storyvillle: Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer’ as part of the Festival proved a timely reminder the contributions of feminism and critical approaches to understanding both the internal political economy of Russia and the broader study of International Political Economy and Relations.

In the teaching of theoretical approaches of International Relations, key concepts such as anarchy, strategic bargaining, the security dilemma, or that “institutions matter” are readily understood and frame traditional IR approaches and in turn IR as a subject area. However students often have difficulty in moving move away from state centric approaches to ones which take alternative starting points to understanding the international – be those class relations or patriarchy. The Storyville documentary and its portrayal of feminist activists fighting against an authoritarian regime and their treatment by the judiciary, helped students to understand the concept of patriarchy within the state –church nexus and how this informs the construction of gender identity and relations. Furthermore it developed students’ appreciation of how this focus on gender relations within state-society relations shapes understandings of the international via the contextualisation of these within the collapse Communism and its replacement with a particular form of authoritarian, oligopolistic capitalism, through to the centrality of networks of support and solidarity facilitated through international media and ICTs. In turn it made apparent how the international shapes this particular form of activism and expression, and opens up questions about how the global social media support for Pussy Riot might offer incipient support to the notion of a global civil society.

The documentary explored how liberalisation in Russia brought the resurgence of patriarchal religious orthodoxy supportive of and supported by Putin and hence provoked the feminist ‘Punk Prayer’ at the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Similarly the tensions of transition from communism to a post glasnost social order were highlighted in the experience of novel forms performance art that were not embedded within liberal understandings of that art form.

On Thursday 7th November the news broke that Tolokonnikova had gone missing, presumed in transit to a penal colony in Siberia to continue her 2 year prison sentence. Her whereabouts is still unclear, however reports suggest she is in a prison clinic, having begun a hunger strike in protest against her treatment in the penal colony. Family, friends, feminists and solidarity networks around the world are pressuring the Russian state via social and global media in an attempt to keep her and Pussy Riot in the public eye. At the Etihad Football stadium, a ‘Free Pussy Riot’ banner was unfurled, and quickly removed by stewards, at the Manchester City game against CSKA Moscow. In the same week the world’s media attention and activist networks are focussed on the 30 Greenpeace ‘pirates’ suffering similarly harsh treatment in Russian Courts. What these and the Pussy Riot 2 share is that their political messages are able to raise global attention and shared concern (particularly when contextualised within the recent revitalisation of feminist movements and activism). However the plight of Taisiya Osipova, the wife of a  leader in the  Other Russia movement, hasn’t garnered similar concern, perhaps as her cause is one of Bolshevik nationalism. The international campaign to free Osipova and has raised little media attention, yet her experience too reflects and is reflective of the indivisibility of domestic and international understandings of class and gender relations

  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/28/russia-taisiya-osipova-jailed-drugs

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19397203

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One thought on “Pussy Riot, Feminism and International Relations

  1. Pingback: The Fifth Annual Politics and Applied Global Ethics Festival | LeedsPAGE

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