Pussy Riot selfies v. koala-cuddling photo-ops

Coverage of the G20 summit in Brisbane at the weekend centred on the “frosty” reception given to the Russian president Vladimir Putin by other leaders because of Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine. Never mind the Australian summer heat, Putin received a “Siberian” blast. Relations are “chilled” (etc, etc). Oh, and there were lots of photos of politicians (Abbot, Putin, Rousseff, Obama) holding koalas.

Hmm. So-called “koala diplomacy” is apparently a thing. (Whether you think it’s a good thing probably depends on whether you think it’s ever acceptable to use animals as props and commodities. I personally don’t. Put that koala down, Barack).

Anyway, in media terms at least, the G20 was about ticking off Russia. There’s been quite a lot of this recently. Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina’s ongoing visit to Britain has included numerous volleys of anti-Kremlin criticism. In between taking selfies on the Underground and having their now-famous faces photographed at Amnesty's office in east London, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have scathingly denounced the Russian authorities for holding “political prisoners”, for treating prison inmates like “animals”, and for harrying NGOs and the independent media - the latter now easily countable on “the fingers of one hand” they reckon. (See the full video of their Amnesty talk at the top of the blog).

One assumes that members of the Russian political elite don't exactly lose sleep worrying about what members of Pussy Riot might say to the Western media or attendees at human rights events. Or do they? Certainly the 2012 trial of Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich reeked of political motivation. Similarly, the outsider blogger and political critic of the Kremlin, Alexei Navalny, has come in for suspiciously aggressive attention from the authorities (which is presumably why Tolokonnikova and Alekhina say they consider Navalny a “friend”).

In any case, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina sail on, and I wish them well with their efforts to raise awareness of human rights abuses in Russia. It’ll surely be an enormously long haul, but they appear to have the stamina for it. I’m assured by my Russian-speaking girlfriend that Tolokonnikova’s first name Nadezhda (pronounced “Nad-ye-jeh-da”) means “hope”, which, I guess, is tailor-made for the purpose.

Finally, a word on ... the Cockney Rejects! Why, I wonder, do Pussy Riot keep name-checking this particular band as an influence on their “punk” identity? Of all the hundreds of punk, new wave, post-punk, art-punk (you name it) artists they could have alighted on, they’ve picked out this curious bunch of oi-punk practitioners. Kind of strange, nyet? But then again, now I think about it, no stranger than a powerful politician posing for a photograph holding a 12-kilo arboreal marsupial in their arms. Over here, Mr President! Look at the camera! Smile! 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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