The Zapatistas’ vision of global solidarity

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“Marcos is gay in San Francisco, Black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Isidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains. Marcos is all the exploited, oppressed minorities resisting and saying ‘Enough’. He is every minority who is now begining to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He makes the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable – this is Marcos.”

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, EZLN
People’s Global Action 2002
Read Awestruck Wanderer’s posts about the Zapatistas

Christopher Hitchens vs. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Read the Book & Watch the Documentary)

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In 1994, Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) made a documentary for BBC called Hell’s Angel. It was a bold and highly controversial investigation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, vaunted by many devotees as a saint. Prior to Hitchens’ critique, almost every book or film about Teresa portrayed her as a holy icon, worthy of reverence, a hero of charity on behalf of the wretched of the earth. But the great iconoclast Hitchens, in his book The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and in Practise, dared to ask some inconvenient questions about Mother Teresa.

Seeing beyond the mist of idealization and deification, which had turned Teresa into a religious celebrity of worldwide prominence, Hitchens attempts to reveal the nitty-gritty of her actions and relationships. He especially focuses on her campaigns against contraception and abortion, and her questionable relationships with right-wing political leaders.

Hitchens discovers that Mother Teresa’s career was far from spotless and immaculately clean: by “keeping company with several frauds, crooks and exploiters” (HITCHENS, p. 8), she managed to amass millions of dollars in donations from some very wicked sources. In his book The Unbelievers – The Evolution of Modern Atheism, whose last chapter is dedicated to Hitchens, J. T. Joshi remembers some of the revelations about Teresa’s questionable funding process and suspiciously well-furnished bank accounts:

Unbelievers“Charles Keating, for instance, donated more than $1 million bucks to her – much or all of it gained from his avowedly criminal activities in the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s. (…)  Perhaps some of this can be excused by her need to drum up charitable contribuitons from all possible sources for her Missionaries of Charity. But there seems to be much more to it. Why was she so keen on hanging around such lowlives as the vicious dictator Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier of Haiti? (…) This behaviour might be forgiven if the charity work that Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta for decades were actually worth doing – but of even this there are strong doubts. Her devotion to the poor, the diseased, and the friendless would seem to be exemplary of the best that religion can do. Why is it that, even though one of her many bank accounts (this one in Utah) contained the sum of $50 million, her hospitals around the world were so poorly equipped?” (JOSHI, p. 237)

 Teresa belief in her God-given mission to fight the two world’s most horrible evils – abortion and contraception – is also a theme which Hitchens explores with fierce criticism, especially considering that India has a population of more than 1 billion and 200 million people (and with a massive problem of undernourishment and widespread hunger). “It is difficult to spend any time in Calcutta and conclude that what it most needs is a campaign against population control” (HITCHENS, p. 24).

Teresa’s missionary endeavour had also as one of its main goals, of course, conversion. As Joshi points out, she believed it was her duty to convert “as many non-Catholics as possible so that hell is not filled even more than it already is with benighted heretics and unbelievers.” (JOSHI, 238) She tried to convince agonizing Hindus and Muslims to consent to baptism by asking them: do you want a “ticket to heaven”? Susan Shields, who worked with Mother Teresa, revealed also that those who didn’t consent to be baptized Christians were secretly baptised anyway: Teresa  used to pretend she was cooling the forehead of the diseased with a wet cloth, while she said quietly the necessary words of baptism. Perhaps she truly believed she was saving them from burning in the ever-lasting fires of hellish torture for the terrible sin of remaining faithful to Hinduism or Islam.

Mother-teresa-AIDSI would argue that to worship such a woman, as if she was sacrosanct and morally irreproachable, is a dangerous attitude we should avoid as highly pernicious idolatry. We only need to remember the preposterous claim she made about the AIDS (SIDA) epidemic – “it is just retribution for improper sexual conduct” – to be aware of how questionable is her purported saintliness. She and many other people of the cloth “have maintained that AIDS is a punishment meted out to homosexuals for their sinful behavior.” (JOSHI, p. 241). I ask you, fellow earthlings: do you believe that homophobia and sectarianism deserve to be celebrated as saintly virtues? Should we worship a nun who went on a Cruzade against condoms, even though we know of the millions of lives that could have been saved if safe-sex campaigns were not boycotted by religious leaders?

In the last decades, we have seem an upsurge of best-selling books from atheists and agnostics, from sceptics and freethinkers. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and André Comte-Sponville’s L’Esprit de L’Athéisme are among the more widely read and discussed of them. Christopher Hitchens has joined this wave of atheistic literature with his highly controversial God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything, in which he “draws keenly upon his world travels as a political journalist and sometime foreign correspondent, revealing at first hand how religion actually operates in the real world” (JOSHI, p. 239). This, in a nutshell, is Hitchens’s conclusion:

Hitchens

“My four irreducible objections to religion are: 1) it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos; 2) because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism; 3) it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression; and 4) it is ultimately grounded on wishful-thinking.” – CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, God is Not Great

Trip on:

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The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
Christopher Hitchens (1995, Verso, 96 pgs)

Synopsis: “Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, feted by politicians, the Church and the world’s media, Mother Teresa of Calcutta appears to be on the fast track to sainthood. But what, asks Christopher Hitchens, makes Mother Teresa so divine? In a frank expose of the Teresa cult, Hitchens details the nature and limits of one woman’s mission to the world’s poor. He probes the source of the heroic status bestowed upon an Albanian nun whose only declared wish is to serve God. He asks whether Mother Teresa’s good works answer any higher purpose than the need of the world’s privileged to see someone, somewhere, doing something for the Third World. He unmasks pseudo-miracles, questions Mother Teresa’s fitness to adjudicate on matters of sex and reproduction, and reports on a version of saintly ubiquity which affords genial relations with dictators, corrupt tycoons and convicted frauds.”

DOWNLOAD E-BOOK (VIA LIBGEN.ORG)

Read also:

“Throw FIFA Out of the Game”, by Dave Zirin in The New York Times. He’s the author of “Brazil’s Dance With The Devil” (Haymarket Books)

THROW FIFA OUT OF THE GAME
Dave Zirin / The New York Times

ZirinMost people associate FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, with the quadrennial joy of the World Cup. But as the 2014 tournament begins next week in Brazil, FIFA is plagued by levels of corruption, graft and excess that would shame Silvio Berlusconi.

Despite the palatial estates, private planes and pompous airs of FIFA’s current leaders, the organization actually has quite humble origins.

FIFA was founded in 1904 in Paris as a simple rule-making committee that aimed to regulate the guidelines for a new, rapidly expanding sport when played between nations. Because it was founded in Paris, the organization took its acronym, FIFA, from the French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association. What began as an effort to make sure that practices like punching one’s opponents would not be seen as a legitimate part of the game, morphed over time into one of the most successful and disreputable organizations in the history of sports.

Under the iron-fisted leadership of Sepp Blatter, FIFA has been steeped in rotating scandals for so long, it’s difficult even to imagine its not being immersed in one public relations crisis or another. Mr. Blatter succeeded his mentor, the similarly scandal-plagued João Havelange in 1998. Under his stewardship, FIFA officials have been accused of financial mismanagement, taking bribes and projecting a level of sexism and homophobia that seems to come from another century.

FIFA’s corruption has been such an open secret for so many years that when new reports emerge, they tend to provoke more eye-rolls than outrage.

FIFA is supposed to police match-fixing, yet a New York Times investigation revealed that only six people on its staff of 350 are responsible for that enforcement. It is supposed to monitor corruption, but it’s not clear it does. There have long been allegations that bribes secured the 2022 World Cup for Qatar.

The head of FIFA’s own independent governance committee (which was recently disbanded) suggested holding a new vote for the right to host the 2022 World Cup. And the European football federation’s representatives to FIFA have threatened to protest against Mr. Blatter when he declares his intention this week to seek yet another term as FIFA’s head.

It’s easy to be cynical about all of this, but cynicism is a luxury we can no longer afford. Anyone paying attention to the myriad injustices emerging in the international soccer of the 21st century can see that the stakes are a great deal higher than whether a few palms are greased.

A Protest In São Paulo, Latin America's biggest and most populous metropolis, states that if there's no Rights respected, there will be no World Cp.

A Protest In São Paulo, Latin America’s biggest and most populous metropolis, states: if there’s no Rights respected, there will be no World Cup.

In Brazil, site of the 2014 World Cup, the FIFA-driven push to build new stadiums at a breakneck pace has led to the deaths of nine construction workers. FIFA’s demands for security and infrastructure may end up displacing as many as 250,000 poor people, who live in the favelas surrounding Brazil’s urban centers. The cost of the games continues to tick upward, the latest figures climbing as high as $15 billion. Brazil’s own 1994 World Cup star, Romário, called the 2014 tournament “the biggest heist in the history of Brazil.”

The situation is even worse in Qatar, site of the 2022 World Cup. Hundreds of migrant workers have already died in the oil kingdom’s efforts to build new “FIFA-quality stadiums.” This, along with recently emerging bribery allegations, has led some high-level FIFA officials to talk openly about moving the event to a new locale. Even Mr. Blatter now says that giving the cup to Qatar “was a mistake.”

For decades, FIFA has entered the nations of the world with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball causing catastrophic damage, and every four years it gets away with it. As the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano wrote in his classic book “Soccer in Sun and Shadow”:
Gaelano
“There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world.”
EDUARDO GALEANO

Yet, for the first time, this secret kingdom is being dragged from the shadows. In Brazil, striking teachers, security guards, firefighters and bus drivers are demanding “FIFA-quality wages.” Housing activists are occupying land and asking for “FIFA-quality homes” while nurses call for “FIFA-quality hospitals.” Wherever FIFA shows up, as the World Cup approaches, protesters dog its every step. As a friend in São Paulo told me, “FIFA is about as popular in Brazil as FEMA was after Hurricane Katrina.”

Finally, the world is seeing FIFA for what it is: a stateless conglomerate that takes bribes while acting as a battering ram for world leaders who want to use the majesty of the World Cup to push through their development agendas at great human cost.

People don’t have to be displaced and workers don’t need to die for soccer. The World Cup can be staged in countries with existing stadiums and infrastructure. Moreover, the secret bidding process for host countries must end so that soccer isn’t abused for economic and political ends.

International soccer desperately needs two entirely distinct bodies. One would be in charge of monitoring and actually stopping corruption, bribery and match-fixing.

The other could be in charge, in the words of Mr. Blatter’s predecessor, Mr. Havelange, of selling “a product called football.” The fact that one governing body is currently in charge of both the cash register and making sure no one is robbing the store is a recipe for graft. It is also a recipe for international soccer’s eventually collapsing under the weight of its own problems with corruption.

Yes, soccer is still unquestionably the most popular sport on the planet. But a cloistered, corrupt society like FIFA cannot function in a WikiLeaks world.

It is past time to abolish FIFA. It is like a gangrenous limb that requires amputation before the infection spreads and the beautiful game becomes decayed beyond all possible recognition.

Soccer is worth saving. FIFA needs to take its ball and go home.

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PUBLIC EYE

THE PUBLIC EYE AWARDS 2014:
FIFA HAS BEEN ELECTED IN THE 3RD POSITION AMONG THE WORLD’S WORST COMPANIES

HERE’S WHY:

“Brazil has come face-to-face with the negative impacts of the realization of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, especially those living on or near the project sites.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the 12 host cities have been forcibly evicted and have lost their homes and livelihood. Moreover, FIFA has no intentions of allowing small and family businesses to benefit from the emerging opportunities during the Cup.

FIFA maintains exclusion zones with a 2km radius around stadiums and fan sites where they control the movement of people and the sale of products, putting countless street vendors out of business.

The poor are bearing the brunt of the burden and are met with fierce repression when they try to stand up for their rights.

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Consequences

“FIFA’s World Cup contributes to the violation of several human rights, such as the right to adequate housing, the right to free movement, the right to work and the right to protest. Illegal under international human rights law, forced evictions have occurred all over Brazil in the wake of the Cup and have left many homeless and destitute.

Affected families often receive no information, compensation, alternative housing, or access to remedies.

In Recife in 2013 alone, over 2.000 families from the Coque Community were forced out of their homes. Moreover, the creation of FIFA exclusive zones will force countless street vendors out of business. In Belo Horizonte, over 130 have lost their source of income during the reconstruction of a stadium and are now prohibited from selling in the vicinity.

* * * * *

Causes

FIFA has caused severe harm to many Brazilians. The company lacks a sense of responsibility and denies any connection to the alleged human rights violations. FIFA’s promise to leave behind a positive legacy stands in sharp contrast to the reality so far.

FIFA has imposed a series of conditions onto the host country which have contributed to these violations. FIFA’s business practices make it complicit in the violations of people’s rights.

FIFA seems to believe that the ‘urgency’ related to their infrastructure projects, as well as the profit they claim to be generating for society, justify their irresponsible behavior. FIFA is exempt from paying taxes, depriving Brazil of at least 1 billion reals (over US$ 400 million).

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Perpetrator

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association („FIFA“), headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, employs some 310 people from over 35 nations.

The association that has set itself the goal of improving soccer, organizes soccer tournaments, most famously the FIFA World Cup. In 2012, FIFA reported a net profit of $89 million and financial reserves of $1.378 billion. FIFA remains largely exempt from taxes as it is officially seen as a not-for-profit organization.

The organization has been involved in a number of cases of corruption and heavily criticized for their complicity in human rights violations. However, FIFA has largely denied the legitimacy of these claims.

HERE: http://publiceye.ch/en/case/fifa/

Angela Davis in “The Meaning of Freedom” (With art by Shepard Fairey and music by Fugees, M. Fanti and Arrested Development)

Power

Art by Shepard Fairey

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Angela Davis

ANGELA DAVIS in The Meaning of Freedom.


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“Beware of those leaders and theorists who eloquently rage against white supremacy but identify black gay men and lesbians as evil incarnate. Beware of those leaders who call upon us to protect our young black men but will beat their wives and abuse their children and will not support a woman’s right to reproductive autonomy. Beware of those leaders! And beware of those who call for the salvation of black males but will not support the rights of Caribbean, Central American, and Asian immigrants, or who think that struggles in Chiapas or in Northern Ireland are unrelated to black freedom! Beware of those leaders!

Regardless of how effectively (or inneffectively) veteran activists are able to engage with the issues of our times, there is clearly a paucity of young voices associated with black political leadership. The relative invisibility of youth leadership is a crucial example of this crisis in contemporary black social movements. On the other hand, within black popular culture, youth are, for better or for worse, helping to shape the political vision of their contemporaries. Many young black performers are absolutely brilliant. Not only are they musically dazzing, they are also trying to put forth anti-racist and anti-capitalist critiques. I’m thinking, for example, about Nefertiti, Arrested Development, The Fugees, and Michael Franti…”

Listen to Fugee’s The Score (Full Album)

Download Arrested Development’s album 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…  

Michael Fanti’s albums for download in one single torrent

* * * * *

“There are already one million in prison in the United States. This does not include the 500.000 in city and county jails, the 600.000 on parole, and the 3 million people on probation. It also does not include the 60.000 young people in juvenile facilities, which is to say, there are presently more than FIVE MILLION people either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation… Not only is the duration of imprisonment drastically extended, it is rendered more repressive than ever. Within some state prison systems, weights have even been banned. Having spent time in several jails myself, I know how important it is to exercise the body as well as the mind. The barring of higher education and weight sets implies the creation of an incarcerated society of people who are worth little  more than trash to the dominant culture.

Who is benefiting from these ominous new developments? There is already something of a boom in the prison construction industry. New architectural trends that recapitulate old ideas about incarceration such as Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon have produced the need to build new jails and prisons – both public and private prisons. And there is the dimension of the profit drive, with its own exploitative, racist component. It’s also important to recognize that the steadily growing trend of privatization of U.S. jails and prisons is equally menacing… We therefore ask: How many more black bodies will be sacrified on the altar of law and order?

The prison system as a whole serves as an apparatus of racist and political repression… the fact that virtually everyone behind bars was (and is) poor and that a disproportionate number of them were black and Latino led us [the activists] to think about the more comprehensive impact of punishment on communities of color and poor communities in general. How many rich people are in prison? Perhaps a few here and there, many of whom reside in what we call country club prisons. But the vast majority of prisoners are poor people. A disproportionate number of those poor people were and continue to be people of color, people of African descent, Latinos, and Native Americans.

Some of you may know that the most likely people to go to prison in this country today are young African American men. In 1991, the Sentencing Project released a report indicating that 1 in 4 of all young black men between the ages of 18 and 24 were incarcerated in the United States. 25% is an astonishing figure. That was in 1991. A few years later, the Sentencing Project released a follow-up report revealing that within 3 or 4 years, the percentage had soared to over 32%. In other words, approximately one-third of all young black men in this country are either in prison or directly under the supervision and control of the criminal justice system. Something is clearly wrong.”

 (pg. 25, 27 and 38)

* * * * *

“When a child’s life is forever  arrested by one of the gunshots that are heard so frequently in poor black and Latino communities, parents, teachers, and friends parede in demonstrations bearing signs with the slogan ‘STOP THE VIOLENCE.’ Those who live with the daily violence associated with drug trafficking and increasing use of dangerous weapons by youth are certainly in need of immediate solutions to these problems. But the decades-old law-and-order solutions will hardly bring peace to poor black and Latino communities. Why is there such a paucity of alternatives? Why the readiness to take on a discourse and entertain policies and ideological strategies that are so laden with racism?

Ideological racism has begun to lead a secluded existence. It sequesters itself, for example, within the concept of crime. (…) I, for one, am of the opinion that we will have to renounce jails and prisons as the normal and unquestioned approaches to such social problems as drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and illiteracy. (…) When abolitionists raise the possibility of living without prisons, a common reaction is fear – fear provoked by the prospect of criminals pouring out of prisons and returning to communities where they may violently assault people and their property. It is true that abolitionists want to dismantle structures of imprisonment, but not without a process that calls for building alternative institutions. It is not necessary to address the drug problem, for example, within the criminal justice system. It needs to be separated from the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation is not possible within the jail and prison system.

We have to learn how to analyze and resist racism even in contexts where people who are targets and victims of racism commit acts of harm against others. Law-and-order discourse is racist, the existing system of punishment has been deeply defined by historical racism. Police, courts, and prisons are dramatic examples of institutional racism. Yet this is not to suggest that people of color who commits acts of violence against other human beings are therefore innocent. This is true of brothers and sisters out in the streets as well as those in the high-end suites… A victim of racism can also be a perpetrator of sexism. And indeed, a victim of racism can be a perpetrator of racism as well. Victimization can no longer be permitted to function as a halo of innocence.”

(pg. 29 – 31)

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A Shepard Fairey exhibition

“Black people have been on the forefront of radical and revolutionary movements in this country for several centuries. (…) Not all of us have given up hope for revolutionary change. Not all of us accept the notion of capitalist inevitability based on the collapse of socialism. Socialism of a certain type did not work because of irreconcilable internal contradictions. Its structures have fallen. But to assume that capitalism is triumphant is to use a simplistic boxing-match paradigm. Despite its failure to build lasting democratic sctructures, socialism nevertheless demonstrated its superiority over capitalism on several accounts: the ability to provide free education, low-cost housing, jobs, free child care, free health care, etc. This is precisely what is needed in U.S. black communities… and among poor people in general. Harlem furnishes us with a dramatic example of the future of late capitalism and compelling evidence of the need to reinvigorate socialist democratic theory and practise – for the sake of our sisters and brothers who otherwise will be thrown into the dungeons of the future, and indeed, for the sake of us all.

During the McCarthy era, communism was established as the enemy of the nation and came to be represented as the enemy of the “free world”. During the 1950s, when membership in the Communist Party of U.S.A. was legally criminalized, many members were forced underground and/or were sentenced to many years in prison. In 1969, when I was personally targeted by anti-communist furor, black activists in such organizations as the Black Panther Party were also singled out. As a person who represented both the communist threat and the black revolutionary threat, I became a magnet for many forms of violence… If we can understand how people could be led to fear communism in such a visceral way, it might help us to apprehend the ideological character of the fear of the black criminal today.

The U.S. war in Vietnam lasted as long as it did because it was fueled by a public fear of communism. The government and the media led the public to believe that the Vietnamese were their enemy, as if it were the case that the defeat of the racialized communist enemy in Vietnam would ameliorate U.S. people’s lives and make them feel better about themselves…”

(To know more about the Vietnam war, please watch Peter Davis’ Oscar-winning documentary Hearts and Minds)

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angela-davis-poster

“The connection between the criminalization of young black people and the criminalization of immigrants are not random. In order to understand the structural connections that tie these two forms of criminalization together, we will have to consider the ways in which global capitalism has transformed the world. What we witnessed at the close of the 20th century is the growing power of a circuit of transnational corporations that belong to no particular nation-state, that are not expected to respect the laws of any given nation-state, and that move across borders at will in perpetual search of maximizing profits.

Let me tell you a story about my personal relationship  with one of these transnational corporations – Nike. My first pair of serious running shoes were Nikes. Over the years I became so attached to Nikes that I convinced myself that I could not run without wearing them. But once I learned about the conditions under which these shoes are produced, I could not in good conscience buy another pair of their running shoes. It may be true that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods had multimillion-dollar contracts with Nike, but in Indonesia and Vietnam Nike has been creating working conditions that, in many respects, resemble slavery.

nike2

Not long ago there was an investigation of the Nike factory in Ho Chi Minh City, and it was discovered that the young women who work in Nike’s sweatshops there were paid less than the minimum wage in Vietnam, which is only U$2.50 a day… Consider what you pay for Nikes and the vast differential between the price and the workers’ wages. This differential is the basis for Nike’s rising profits. (…) If you read the entire report, you will be outraged to learn of the abominable treatment endured by the young women and girls who produce the shoes and the apparel we wear. The details of the report include the fact that during an 8-hour shift, workers are able to use the toilet just once, and they are prohibited from drinking water more than twice. There is sexual harrasment, inadequate health care, and excessive overtime… Perhaps we need to discuss the possibility of an organized boycott… but given the global reach of corporations like Nike, we need to think about a global boycott.

Corporations move to developing countries because it is extremely profitable to pay workers U$2.50 a day or less in wages. That’s U$2.50  a day, not U$2.50 a hour, which would still be a pittance. (…) The corporations that have migrated to Mexico, Vietnam, and other Third World countries also often end up wreaking havoc on local economies. They create cash economies that displace subsistence economies and produce artificial unemployment. Overall, the effect of capitalist corporations colonizing Third World countries is one of pauperization. These corporations create poverty as surely as they reap rapacious profits.”

(pg. 44-46)

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meaning

All quotes in this post from…

Angela Y. Davis (1944 – ) 

The Meaning of Freedom
And Other Difficult Dialogues

City Lights Books / Open Media Series
www.citylights.com

San Francisco, California. 2012.

PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER… Watch the full documentary about Russian art-punkers in “Occupy Red Square” and other Anti-Putinesque adventures…


PussyRiot-DVD-F

PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER
Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin
(2013, 1h 28 min)
Watch it on YouTube (full movie):
http://youtu.be/iEF440_k-Og

“Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, 
but a hammer with which to shape it.”

BERTOLT BRECHT

NOW magazine (Toronto):

“Note to authoritarian regimes: don’t think you can mount a show trial if the defendants are more media-savvy than you are. This and about a dozen other ideas – including the value of performance art and the power of Putin – are behind this kick-ass doc about Russian punk art collective Pussy Riot and the trial that ensued after the group put on a guerrilla performance – playing an anti-Putin anthem – in Moscow’s central cathedral. Charismatic arrestees Masha (Maria Alyokhina), Katia (Yekaterina Samutsevich) and especially Nadia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) and coverage of the trial and demonstrations both for and against Pussy Riot give this pic electrifying energy. See it.”

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Maxim Pozdorovkin, director of "A Punk Prayer"

Maxim Pozdorovkin, director of “A Punk Prayer”

Hail Pussy Riot. But, says doc director, learn some basic history first.
By SUSAN G. COLE

Ah, Pussy Riot! Instinctively, we love them – especially given their home country’s human rights record – but many of our assumptions about the brazen Russian art activists are false.

The case of the female threesome who became a worldwide cause célèbre when they were charged with hooliganism and jailed after their anti-Putin performance in a church is badly misunderstood.

So claims Maxim Pozdorovkin, co-director of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.

For starters, Pussy Riot isn’t a punk band. The arrested women are members – though their standing among their comrades is in question now that they’ve blown up worldwide – of a loose collective of artists, filmmakers and journalists working to create a different iconography for protest.

“They see themselves as contemporary artists determined to bring theatre into life,” says the hyper-articulate director on the phone from New York City. He’s there on the eve of an Amnesty International benefit, where recently released activists Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are set to appear – introduced by Madonna. He’s hanging out with them and planning to make a short film of the event.

“I always said that the story was misrepresented in Russia and in the West – I’m not sure where it was worse,” Pozdorovkin declares.

In Russia, they’re wrongly accused of being anti-religion, he claims.

“And in the West, it’s assumed that because they were a punk band singing an anti-Putin song, they went to jail. That’s nonsense. If they’d sung the song outside of the church, or anywhere else, no one would have cared.

“They had done so many things before that you’d think would’ve landed them in jail. In the U.S., for example, you couldn’t do the orgy in the National History Museum [explicitly shown in the film] and not go to jail.”

Pozdorovkin, who grew up in Moscow, played in punk bands and has a PhD from Harvard in found-footage filmmaking, is almost apoplectic at the idea that Putin’s regime can be compared to even the lighter anti-gay side of Stalinism. He sees more chaos than control in the new Russia.

“One of the biggest mistakes Westerners make is seeing the oppressive aspects of the arrest and trial as somehow organized and coming from the top down. That’s simply not the case.”

It was the women themselves – not the Russian authorities – who requested in a motion that the trial be filmed. The motion was granted, resulting in some of the doc’s most mesmerizing footage. A Russian news agency did the shooting, and Pozdorovkin, blown away by the quality of the initial rushes, then set the project in motion.

Though he allows that Pussy Riot are incredibly media-savvy, he says they weren’t totally aware of what they were getting into by making their statement inside a church.

“They didn’t mean to offend people. They felt they had the right to do what they did, and that maybe they’d be fined for, say, trespassing, but not be criminally charged. There’s something about the story that’s anachronistic, beautiful, idealistic.”

But the radical troupe is changing the way people look at performance and politics, which was precisely Pussy Riot’s intention. Soviet culture had never before been confronted by punk ideals and conceptual art on a mass level.

“The public awareness that you got with [the Sex Pistols’] God Save The Queen, that never happened in Russia until Pussy Riot.”

pussy_riot__a_punk_prayer_ver2_xlg