by Rafaella Gunz

In February 2012, members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot performed only 40 seconds of a song in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The song, named “Punk Prayer” or “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away,” came right before the re-election of Vladimir Putin and critiqued Putin’s ties to the Church. At the time, Kirill, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, had openly supported Putin’s re-election.

This short performance, an expression of free speech, resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of three members of the band. While Pussy Riot’s protest song was intended to be a political statement, persecutors took it as the group attempting to incite “religious hatred” against the Church and nothing more.

The three women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), Yekaterina Samutsevich (Katya) and Maria Alyokhina — were convicted and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. They were named political prisoners by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty International.

Putin believed this sentence to be fair, stating the women “got what they asked for.” The court eventually released Katya with two years probation, but denied the appeal requests of Nadya and Maria.

In June 2013, Putin signed a bill that imposed fines and jail time on citizens who have “offended” the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nadya and Maria were released from prison in December 2013.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election here in the states, 17 agencies of the CIA (with the exception of the Director of National Intelligence, who oversees them) have concluded that Russia interfered with the election by organizing hacks of the DNC and by dictating how that information would be disseminated. NBC reports that Putin himself was instrumental in these hacks. According to the top intelligence officials, the hacks were not only meant to sabotage the election for Hillary Clinton, but to expose corruption in U.S. politics in order to make America look less credible on the global stage.  

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Exacerbating geopolitical concerns, Trump has selected Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil who has a close relationship with Putin, to serve as his Secretary of State. This could likely end the sanctions the United States placed on Russia during the Obama administration, effectively putting money into the pockets of the Russian aristocracy.

Since the Cold War, Russia has participated in many devastating acts that have harmed marginalized communities both inside and outside of Russia. For instance, the 2014 invasion and annex of Crimea in the Ukraine, which isolated the country economically. More recently, Russia was heavily involved in the Syrian refugee crisis, bombing the city of Aleppo repeatedly. Russia’s airstrikes on Aleppo have had a huge death toll — and civilian women and children disproportionately experienced harm.

Related: This 7-Year Old Syrian Girl’s Chilling Tweets of the War Will Break Your Heart

“This is probably the lowest point we’ve seen in U.S.-Russian relations since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979,” says Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

“Reports have said that some of you call your country’s leader ‘Tsar.’ This is exactly what your troops are doing in our land: Russian aircrafts bombard schools, hospitals, and residential buildings daily, leaving thousands of dead and injured in a ferocious war waged by one of the world’s biggest armies against the poorest areas of Syria, with an arsenal of advanced and internationally banned weapons,” says Syrian writer Odai Al Zoubi in an essay published in Newsweek.

Since 2007, Trump has praised Putin’s leadership, referring to him as a “big hero in Russia.” Putin similarly lauded Trump as a “lively, talented man” and a “bright person” during the presidential race. And in Montenegro, where Russia plays a big economic role, this billboard of Trump, Putin, and the phrase “Let’s Make The World Great Again — Together” appeared after Trump’s election victory.

It is clear from Trump’s admiration of Putin that he does not care about the Russian, Ukrainian or Syrian people who have been harmed economically and physically under Putin’s rule.

Political science experts have avoided labelling Putin as an outright dictator, but do see a great deal of authoritarianism in his leadership, such as state control over the media and manipulation of Russia’s elections which ensure his continuous control. But Trump clearly has no problem claiming the title “dictator,” as shown in this 2004 music video for The Apprentice. Trump also has a history of praising actual dictators, including Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, and Benito Mussolini.

Famous linguist and political scientist Noam Chomsky compared Trump’s rise with the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, saying “Fear, along with the breakdown of society during the neoliberal period,” was a driving factor in the followings of both Hitler and Trump. Yet, Trump isn’t bothered by the comparison between him and the leader of the Nazi party. Trump is also hesitant to condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who support him, as demonstrated in the wake of a conference put together by “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer, which was complete with cries of “Heil Victory” and Nazi salutes.

“It’s important not to say to yourself, ‘Oh, it’s OK,’” Nadya of Pussy Riot recently told New York Times journalist Jim Rutenberg. “It’s important to remember that, for example, in Russia, for the first year of when Vladimir Putin came to power, everybody was thinking that it will be OK,” she continued.

Nadya is critical of the checks-and-balances system in the United States, as the president has the power to change those institutions as well as change “public perception of what is normal.”

Trump’s crackdown on freedom of speech has already begun, even though his Inauguration is a month away. On November 29, he tweeted that those who burn the American flag should spend a year in jail or even have their citizenship taken away. Throughout the campaign, he threatened journalists who criticized him with lawsuits, such as what happened when the New York Times published his tax returns. Earlier this year he even threatened to “open libel laws” so that he can have an easier time suing organizations who speak against him. He used Twitter to attack private citizens, like in the case of 18-year-old Lauren Batchelder, who dared question his views on women during a political forum in New Hampshire last year. To this day, Batchelder still receives death threats and other violent, hateful messages from Trump’s followers.

“What happens in one country makes huge influence on what’s going on in other countries,” Nadya said. “So, I didn’t want Donald Trump to be elected because it would obviously encourage authoritarian politicians around the world to be more authoritarian, and it did.”

In October, Pussy Riot released a new music video for one of their first English-language songs, “Make America Great Again.” In the video, Nadya foreshadows what could possibly become of America during a Trump presidency. Watch the video below, but be warned there are some graphic and violent scenes.

During that same New York Times interview, Nadya says, “You are always in danger of being shut down,” referring to those who speak the truth, such as journalists and activists. “But it’s not the end of the story because we are prepared to fight.”

Now that we have an authoritarian president-elect with dangerous ties to Russia, it seems feminists must prepare for battle.

Rafaella Gunz is a graduate of The New School in NYC, where she majored in journalism and minored in gender studies. Her work has previously been published on Ravishly, Slutist, Feministing, Guerrilla Feminism, The Tab, and DeadState. Visit her website: ellagunz.com.

 

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