ICA Quickfire: Pussy Riot

What impact has the group and their trial had on Russian society and their freedom of speech? Join the debate...

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As part of their new Quickfire series (impromptu conversations in response to current debates) tonight sees the ICA hold a discussion on Pussy Riot, assessing the effect of the dubious execution and outcome of their trial on contemporary culture and freedom of speech. Taking part in 'Holy Mary!' is renowned human rights specialist Mark Stephens, art historian Nadim Samman (who has curated a string of exhibitions featuring the work of Russian artists) and the recently appointed Chief executive of Index (an international charity devoted to defending the right to freedom of expression) and expert on international politics, Kirsty Hughes. You can tweet ICA any questions you’d like to hear answered. And in case you can't make it, we've already put some of our own questions to her...

Putin's re-election and his increasingly authoritarian approach to governing has created a strong reaction from Russian civil society. The mood is certainly tense, and people want to push back against what they see as growing authoritarianism

Dazed Digital: Do you think all the media attention the Pussy Riot case received contributed to the severe handling of the case?
Kirsty Hughes:
Not at all - the case is a highly politicised one, which reflects the reaction of the Russia state and leaders to challenges to their power and authoritarian rule. The media attention has been positive by focusing attention on Putin's power grab and the poor state of free expression in Russia - possibly the attention even stopped a yet more severe sentence being imposed.

DD: In the long term what kind of affect do you think Pussy Riot will have on the political mood in Russia? - Could we see Putin revert back to a dictatorship? How would you describe the mood in Russia at the moment?
Kirsty Hughes: Pussy Riot is emblematic of a new mood in Russia especially amongst younger people who fear a return to the country's authoritarian past. Putin's re-election and his increasingly authoritarian approach to governing has created a strong reaction from Russian civil society. The mood is certainly tense, and people want to push back against what they see as growing authoritarianism.

DD: What can we do now to support Pussy Riot? Do you think it's important to keep the dialogue surrounding them going even if we can't change their fate?
Kirsty Hughes: It is very important that we keep Pussy Riot in the spotlight and don't let them, or the issues and rights they are defending, be forgotten. This is part of a broader question of how do we support Russian civil society and those in Russia who want speak out. The media highlighted the Pussy Riot case. But they also have to highlight other cases of censorship and new restrictive laws, such as the new NGO law that will place Russian charities and NGOs that accept foreign funding on a public list that will deem them "foreign agents"(a term meaning "spy" in Russian). Too many Western firms do business with Russia with little corporate responsibility.

DD: Also, in the context of Femen, do you think nudity is a valid freedom of expression? Do you consider the arrest of the protesters in London to be an attack on freedom of expression?
Kirsty Hughes: The question of nudity shows that what is considered to be offensive is subjective and often depends on context. Topless protestors may be perceived as offensive but being topless on a beach (or in a tabloid newspaper) is not. Fundamentally, Index supports people's right to protest as long as they do not cause harm to others or incite violence. 

More info HERE

The next Quickfire talk will be with Thomas Houseago on 8 September

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