Pussy Riot

MOST Slovaks have no idea what “pussy” means or how “riot” is pronounced. Yet the combination has become rather popular in recent days. Concerns for freedom of speech, a dislike for autocrats, and simple human compassion are some of the reasons why the story of the Russian punk band has universal appeal. But in Slovakia the case also resonates with unique local experience.

MOST Slovaks have no idea what “pussy” means or how “riot” is pronounced. Yet the combination has become rather popular in recent days. Concerns for freedom of speech, a dislike for autocrats, and simple human compassion are some of the reasons why the story of the Russian punk band has universal appeal. But in Slovakia the case also resonates with unique local experience.

First, this week’s anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia reminds us of the special nature of relationships between Russia and its former satellites, which makes central European countries extra-sensitive to indications that Russia may be slipping back towards totalitarianism.

Then there is also an appreciation for the role artists can play in defeating dictatorships. In the 1960s, two songs became symbols of the resistance to Russian occupation – Karel Kryl’s “Little Brother, Shut the Door” (“My brother don’t you weep / They aren’t no monsters / You are grown up by now / They are only soldiers / They came in their edgy caravans of iron.”). And also Marta Kubišová’s “Prayer” (“May peace forever be with this land / Evil, envy, cries, fear and lies / Let them disappear, may they disappear.”). Writers formed the core of local dissent.

In Prague, the Velvet Revolution was led by playwright Václav Havel, in Bratislava, by actor Milan Kňažko. Students of performing arts were some of the first to join the movement. The departure of the Soviet Army was negotiated and supervised by rocker Michael Kocáb (and although his hit about being “with someone else’s woman, in someone else’s bed” also suggests an open-minded approach, it does fall somewhat short of group sex in a museum).

In short, clashes between oppressive regimes and creative, free-thinking people have a long tradition in this part of the world. Contrary to popular belief – when it comes to rioting, artists are no pussies.

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