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Fame and celebrity

After Pussy Riot protest at World Cup final, four other high-profile performances anti-Kremlin group has carried out

With Russian political protest group Pussy Riot back in the headlines after an audacious pitch invasion during yesterday’s World Cup final, we look back at some of their previous memorable performances – and the repercussions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 6:07pm

Fifty-two minutes into the World Cup final, with France 2-1 up and edging ever closer to victory, four people dressed as Russian police officers stormed the field, holding up play. Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist anti-Kremlin protest group which stages guerilla performances in public places, claimed responsibility for the invasion.

The group posted on its Facebook page that the intention was to draw attention to human rights abuses in Russia and to the actions of the police, such as “illegal arrests on rallies” and “fabricating criminal accusations” to keep people in jail “for no reason”.

During the match, four members of the group, wearing white shirts with police insignia, black trousers and police hats, ran onto the field from behind the French goal.

Punk band Pussy Riot takes responsibility for World Cup pitch invasion protest

A female member of the group was pictured high-fiving French player Kylian Mbappe. They were swiftly chased across the pitch and caught by security.

According to the Pussy Riot Facebook page, all four members are still in police custody.

The spectacle that lasted less than one minute was witnessed by the jeering crowd in the stadium, as well as Russian president Vladimir Putin and the French and Croatian presidents who attended the match. The protest group’s linking of politics to the pitch was the only security breach during the month-long tournament, and came only a day before Putin’s meeting with Donald Trump.

Women of Pussy Riot use Russian prison experience as inspiration

Over the last decade, Pussy Riot have gone from a little-known feminist punk group to an open collective staging actions that are filmed and posted online to worldwide reception. Their distinctive coloured balaclavas, which feature in some of their acts, have become a widely recognised symbol.

Their provocative performances and music videos focus on feminism, LGBTI rights, and opposition to Putin and the Kremlin. Here are four others that have caught global attention in the past decade.

Public sex (2008)

Members of Pussy Riot were involved in a public sex act protest in 2008 with another political performance art group known as Voina. In the protest titled “F**k for the heir Puppy Bear!” five couples undressed and performed public sex acts at the Timiryazev State Museum of Biology in Moscow.

The museum orgy, as it was called by some media outlets, was a satirical protest about calls to increase the birth rate in Russia. “Puppy Bear” is a reference to the politician – now prime minister – Dmitry Medvedev, who led the calls.

Punk prayer (2012)

Two weeks before Russian President Vladimir Putin was elected for the second time in 2012, Pussy Riot gained global notoriety when they staged a performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

Dressed in balaclavas, five members of the group took to the altar for a “punk prayer”, singing: “Mother of God, drive Putin away.” The protest was directed at the church’s support of Putin during his re-election campaign.

While their performance only lasted for 40 seconds, the repercussions were enduring. Three members – Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich – were jailed and convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. Samutsevich was released soon after on appeal, while Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova spent 22 months in prison. They were pardoned in December 2013, as the Kremlin tried to improve its image before hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Their imprisonment gained much global attention, with Paul McCartney and Madonna even campaigning for their release. Since their release they have performed at Britain’s Glastonbury music festival, shared the stage with Madonna at an Amnesty International concert and appeared in an episode of House of Cards.

Sochi Winter Olympics (2014)

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, five members of Pussy Riot were attacked with whips and pepper spray by Cossack militia and other security officials while performing and filming their song Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland 20 miles from the games.

The Guardian reported that one Cossack appeared to use pepper spray, another whipped several group members, while other Cossacks ripped off their masks and threw their guitar away.

Earlier, two members of the group, which included Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, were detained by authorities apparently on suspicion of stealing a woman’s handbag.

The group had been highly critical of Putin, who had been the driving force behind the Winter Games, saying that the games were a political event. Police questioned witnesses, however no one was arrested. A representative of the International Olympic Committee stated that the incident was not connected to the Olympic Games.

Make America Great Again (2016)

Over the last few years, Pussy Riot have shifted their focus from performing to video art. While the group came to prominence making extremely low-budget videos of their performances, since Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova’s release from jail they have been assisted by some of the biggest names in the music industry to produce their politically provocative videos.

Pussy Riot band member arrested by Russian police after protest at Federal Security headquarters

Their most notable music video – Make America Great Again – was made by Jonas Akerlund, who has directed videos for Beyoncé and Metallica. It was released one week before the US election in 2016. The clip, featuring Tolokonnikova in an American dystopia where she is imprisoned, tortured and killed by the state, was meant as a wake-up call to America.

“Let other people in // Listen to your women // Stop killing black children // Make America Great Again,” the lyrics read. The video features footage of Trump at rallies and giving speeches and has been viewed more than three million times on YouTube.